Friday, 26 October 2007

Widening the Western

On Wednesday Kevin Rudd announced that if elected, he will provide $1 billion in funding to widen the Western Ring Road and strengthen the Westgate Bridge.

The reason given (apart from the usual rhetoric about "investing in the future") is that it will reduce congestion. Pardon my cynicism, but a couple of important points need to be made here.

First, any first-year civil engineering student knows that you don't reduce congestion by widening roads. You just get more cars, and you're back where you started within five years. (In fact, anyone twelve-year-old who's played Sim City knows this.)

Second, why strengthen the Westgate bridge? It's not old enough to be needing that sort of maintenance yet. Unless you're expecting substantially more vehicles.

Or substanitally heavier vehicles. Which leads me to my third point: the imminent dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

Dredging and deepening the bay will allow more (and bigger) container ships into Melbourne's ports, which will mean a lot more trucks running through Melbourne's western suburbs. (This was the subject of many a scare campaign during the recent Williamstown by-election).

And that's what this is really all about.

The road is being widened and the bridge strengthened to allow for all the extra truck traffic. And actually, that's fine, and a perfectly valid reason for widening the road and strengthening the bridge, so why not be upfront about it?

Obviously, because it won't be popular. Promising to put extra trucks on the roads is just not sexy, and now's not the time to be pissing off voters in the safe-ish ALP seats of Gorton and Lalor. Much better to say it's all about giving you, dear voter, an easier run into work.

Political spin aside, the lack of vision this displays is extraordinary. Suburbs in the west are going through an unprecedented residential boom. With all the extra trucks expected, it will soon become clear that the road simply cannot be made wide enough.

But it's not necessarily Mr Rudd's fault. He's just stumping up the funding. It's the Victorian government that's in charge of the roads. They're the ones that have made the call on what they want.

Of course, if they were serious about congestion on the Western Ring Road, they'd put a train line out to Caroline Springs and extend the Werribee line to Wyndham Vale or Tarneit. Alternatively, they could run a new satellite train line along the length of the Western Ring Road, and connect the Werribee Line to Broadmeadows via Tullamarine airport.

(Having just spent some time in European cities where a train to the airport is standard, I find it a little embarrassing that we don't have one).

Now that would reduce traffic.

And they're going to be compulsorily acquiring land anyway, so why not put it to good use?


Shannon said...

On this I must rant.

I agree with you Matt. Two things however, you assume better PT is an election winner and the people it would help are smart enough to see the benefit. A wider Ring Road and stronger West Gate (which I suspect is suffering from more structural issues than is public knowledge) is however.

Building a train line to Caroline Springs? Along the Western Ring? To the airport? To be honest the people this would benefit wouldn’t use it anyway (with the possible exception of the airport, although the experience of Sydney and Brisbane would suggest it would be a financial disaster and we would be paying $12 one way). These people are resource wasters by their very nature. They hold on to an unsustainable 50s concept of the “good life“, a big house (bigger than required), a big car (bigger than required), front yard, back yard a pool and so much more. All this places great pressure on services and resources and means that we cannot provide the dream services you speak of. Consider PT if you will in Paris (by your own admission “the best”) and how Melbourne compares:

Melbourne: metropolitan population 3.7 million. The Met (or whatever we call it now) has 372Km of tracks and 209 stations, with an average of 308,000 passengers a day.
Paris: metropolitan population 12 million. The metro has 213Km of tracks and 298 stations, average passengers a day 4.5 million.
Melbourne has little over a third of the population Paris, a rail network 74% larger, with 11% fewer stations.

What does it prove? The Met is inefficient. I would argue that this inefficiency comes from the pressure placed on the system by excessive urban sprawl. Even down to a per capita figure, very poor.

Whilst you are a little sympathetic to our Kevin on the widening issue as opposed to improving PT (some what understandable) what is inexcusable is the fact that Labor is speaking of encouraging the states to release more Crown land for developed of these resource wasting suburbs, as opposed to encouraging redevelopment of existing areas and providing quality medium density housing (as in Europe to continue you argument). Footscray would be an excellent example of an area that has amazing potential for this sort of redevelopment.

Additionally, no one, state government, Commonwealth, the private sector, no one will invest in a system with these sort of stats. On top of this some of the best and efficient PT networks have the additional source of city funding (ie Tokyo and Berlin).

At least that is what is looks like from my Ivory Tower on Flinders Lane.

maunch said...

Shan - is it time to add a blog to your facebook capabilities? you know you want to . . .

Matt said...

On this I must rant a little in return.

Of course I don't see PT as an election winner. The fact that it never is is one of the reasons we have such crappy PT in Melbourne. Hence the comment about lack of vision.

It shouldn't be a question of comparing stats. It's a question of servicing the population wherever they happen to be.

The fact that the Met is less efficient than the Paris Metro doesn't mean it shouldn't be developed and expanded. It's still way more efficient than 1.2 people per car in peak hour. Quite apart from the environmental impacts, which should be reason enough alone.

And just how efficient will it seem in 10 years when the population of the west has doubled and petrol's at $5 a litre?

And I don't think you can apply a stereotype like that to all residents of the West. If anything, that argument should apply more to Melbourne's affluent East, and a glance at a Met rail map will tell you that more than two-thirds of the rail network is on the Eastern side of the city.

Besides, a significant chunk of the traffic on the Ring Road in the mornings is a knock-on effect from all the residents of Caroline Springs . . . driving to the train stations at Deer Park and Laverton to get into the city!

End rant.

Shannon said...


Matt said...

To which part?

Shannon said...

My point is this, you cannot have a effective public transport system when governments continues to encourage urban sprawl. The point of comparison between Melbourne and somewhere else is that it takes a network of the same size to move around one tenth of the passengers. Instead of further extending a system to serve communities that will never reach the critical mass to make an effective system viable, it would make more sense to redevelop and infill existing areas and improving the existing network. Urban renewal makes far more sense.
Further when people choose a outer suburban life (for whatever reason; affordability, “lifestyle“, space) they accept that they will be bound to their car.
Whilst, yes there are more stations in the East of Melbourne, the fact it is they are in the inner east, areas with higher density ie Prahan, South Yarra, Hawthorn, Clifton Hill, however the out east (Doncaster etcetera), is in just the same position as the outer west... it is not an east/west situation.

delilah slutspurt said...

I saw the sign . . .

Matt said...

It's not 100% efficient, it's probably not even 10% efficient, but that's no reason not to do it.

Urban sprawl won't be contained in our lifetimes, so we have to do the best we can with what we've got. Having nothing but roads to service these new developments is even less efficient than the least efficient train network.

And how are you measuring viability? Are you including reductions in congestion? Reducing impacts on the environment? Savings on road maintenance?

Shannon said...

May not be contained in our lifetime... however the process has to be started at one point, why not now?

The extensions to the network you speak of I doubt will reduce congestion, and I put it to you urban sprawl is also environmentally hazardous also.

Further more there also has to economic viability, which cannot be there the way development is being undertaken in Australia.

Matt said...

I absolutely agree that urban sprawl should be contained. I absolutely agree that it's the best and most heart-warmingly fuzzy solution.

But waiting for that process to be completed (or even underway) before starting on a decent PT system is leaving it too late. It will take far too long.

On economic viability, this is again where a little vision comes in. A study of viability has to take into account the social improvements (eg less drink driving, greater youth mobility) and environmental impacts (these are obvious) on top of the purely monetary impacts.

And of course expanding public transport will reduce congestion. How can it not?

Besides, what does not seem economically viable now, when oil is $92 a barrel, will seem very viable in 5 years if oil hits $250 a barrel. This is more likely than not, so let's get started.