Council meeting minutes are fun. No really, they are. Bear with me…
On Tuesday 26 February, Deputy Mayor and Chair of the Public and Active Transport Committee, Cr Adrian Schrinner had this to say about Gabba Ward Councillor Jonathan Sri and people opposed to a road widening project (which Cr Schrinner and others insist on calling an “upgrade”) in South Brisbane:
Now, when Councillor Sri says no one is telling him that they want this upgrade, this is a very interesting example of the echo chamber that he lives in and that is the people who, of course, talk to Councillor Sri, a lot of them do hate cars and think everyone should get their little wicker baskets and ride on their bikes and walk around and that cars are evil. We understand there are people who believe that, but we understand that more people voted LNP in his ward than voted Green. We also understand that.
Er, hello. What? We’ll happily raise our hands as being opposed to this road widening project – and (some of us) to being wicker-basket owners. We don’t think cars are evil, simply that they are over used and over catered for in Brisbane.
We’ve documented our opposition to this project on Facebook, in video, and in writing to the Lord Mayor. But for a full explanation of why it’s a particularly bad idea, we’ll defer to Cr Sri’s rather excellent speech on the subject in that Council meeting on 26 February 2019. Council records are publicly available for 12 months, so here is the text of that speech for the record:
From the MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS of the 4582 meeting of the Brisbane City Council, held at City Hall, Brisbane on Tuesday 26 February 2019. Page 55.
Thanks, Madam Chair.
I rise to speak on the report regarding the—I use quotation marks—‘the Brisbane Metro Local Traffic Network improvements’, because some of these improvements have very little to do with the Metro and are actually just a road widening disguised as a public transport project. I am referring specifically here to the proposed widening of Vulture Street from two lanes to three lanes in South Brisbane.
The DEPUTY MAYOR knows my position on this, but I want to sketch out the concerns very clearly just for the interest of any other Councillors or anyone else who might be reading this transcript later. So the proposal is to spend somewhere between $2 million and $3 million relocating kerb and channel, digging up services, removing two jacaranda trees and widening the short stretch of Vulture Street from two lanes to three lanes.
There are quite a few problems with this. I will start with the impacts on amenity and the streetscape. There is an important value that I think this city’s planners are starting to understand that we need to make it easier for pedestrians to move around our neighbourhood and we need to make the streetscape more comfortable. Now, what that means in inner city areas is that we should be slowing down traffic, we should be planting more street trees, we should be widening footpaths and fixing up those little problem spots.
It means that we should be promoting an active, vibrant streetscape but when we convert a two lane road into a three lane road, and the speed limit is getting up—it’s at 60 kilometres an hour through there—essentially what we are doing is we are changing that neighbourhood to feel more like a through corridor or more like a highway. Now, along this street, it is actually a high density residential area, there is quite a few new apartment towers have gone up recently.
The City Plan identifies this area as—it is intended to be an activated streetscape area and on the northern side of Vulture Street we are seeing that cafes are popping up, that there is a gradual transition between the private sphere and the public sphere. In some respects, the design of those apartments has actually been okay in terms of how they engage with the streetscape because they are trying to encourage and promote that activated pedestrian thoroughfare.
But when you ram a three lane highway through that, you change the feel of that neighbourhood. You are bringing more air pollution and noise pollution into that corridor and you are signalling to pedestrians that they are no longer welcome in that environment. So I think this is a step backwards in terms of pedestrian amenity and comfort. It will discourage pedestrians from using that corridor and make it harder for that area to transition into an active and vibrant precinct.
The road widening is also very concerning in terms of cyclists’ safety. Although the majority of cyclists are going to be travelling along the Stanley Street component of the Woolloongabba Bikeway, there are still quite a few cyclists who are travelling eastbound on Vulture Street to get into Kangaroo Point or the northern part of East Brisbane or further to the northeast.
So that Vulture Street corridor is going to remain important going into the future. I have had a briefing from the Council officers and they suggested that because of the hill of Vulture Street, they do not expect as many cyclists to use it. I think that, given the rise of electric and motorised scooters and bicycles, we will see more and more cyclists using that corridor and climbing that hill which, personally, I climb every day as well. I ride home that way. It is a lot quicker and safer than going back through Stanley Street.
But, unfortunately, if this road widening goes ahead, that is going to take away that space on the roadway for cyclists to ride safely without getting in the way of cars. That is going to force those cyclists on to the narrow footpath and the footpath simply is not wide enough at that point to accommodate the high volumes of pedestrians and more cyclists. So this road widening is going to cause more conflict between pedestrians and bikes. It is going to push bikes on to the footpath in an area where there are high volumes of pedestrians and then I, as the local Councillor, am going to have to deal with those complaints of residents who say they no longer feel safe on the footpath because they have got Lime scooters and bicycles racing past them.
So I would much rather see Council use that road width that we have there to create a dedicated separated bike lane along Vulture Street eastbound at least as far as the Allan Street intersection where they can safely mount the footpath which is wider and less busy in terms of pedestrian volumes. That would be a better outcome from a cycling safety perspective and it would also be a better outcome from a streetscape and amenity perspective.
But the broader concern I have here is that by widening that road corridor, by spending those millions of dollars, cutting down trees, relocating services, narrowing the footpath and making the area more hostile for pedestrians, you are also encouraging more traffic through that corridor when really what we should be doing is encouraging traffic to stick to the Riverside Expressway and to the Pacific Motorway.
It is not in the city’s interests from an urban planning perspective to be encouraging more traffic through the Grey Street corridor and along that section of Vulture Street. We do not want Grey Street to become a major thoroughfare for cars. We want Grey Street as, kind of, the gateway to South Bank, we want that area to evolve into an even more pedestrian and cyclist friendly neighbourhood. We want to be dropping speeds and making it a better place for pedestrians to move through.
But if Vulture Street is widened and another lane is added there, that is going to encourage more cars to travel down that Grey Street corridor. It is also going suck more cars in along Vulture Street further to the west which is only at two lanes now and cannot be widened further. So the stretch of Vulture Street that crosses the rail line just before the South Bank train station, that stretch of Vulture Street, is always only going to be at two lanes at the most because you literally have no room to get any wider between the new apartments that have been built, Somerville House and the train line and the rail bridge limitations.
So there is no scope on that stretch of Vulture Street to widen it further, yet you are encouraging more cars to use that corridor by widening Vulture Street further to the east. So even from a traffic planning perspective, I am not convinced it makes sense but I think we need to recognise the broader principle here is that we should not be spending money which was allocated to a public transport project on widening roads. If there is a genuine case for widening this road, I would like to see it. I do not think there has been a feasibility study or a business case specifically for this road widening.
I do not think it stacks up, but I am particularly concerned that the public is being duped into thinking that this project is somehow related to Brisbane Metro or is somehow related to the Woolloongabba Bikeway project. It is being delivered at the same time—or is proposed to be delivered at the same time as the Woolloongabba Bikeway project because, apparently, that is more convenient. But it has nothing to do with the bikeway project. It reduces cyclists and pedestrian safety and comfort, it does not increase cyclists and pedestrian safety and comfort.
So I am very clear in my opposition to this project. I do not think those trees need to be removed. I do not think the footpath needs to be narrowed. I do not believe that the road needs to be widened. The whole purpose of the Brisbane Metro project is to encourage people to use public transport to get in and out of the inner southside. But what this road widening does is say: ‘don’t worry about catching the Metro, we don’t want you to use the public transport corridor, we would prefer you to keep driving’.
You are incentivising and encouraging drivers to continue driving in an area where the clear and obvious need is to encourage and support people to shift towards active transport and public transport. When I think about the other things that are needed in my area, it really frustrates me to see that this huge amount of money is being wasted on a project that residents do not want.
I have not found a single resident—and I have talked to a lot of people about this, I have been canvassing it broadly because I am considering further direct action and I wanted to make sure I had the community’s support—but I have talked to a lot of residents about this and no one thinks that that added lane and widening that corridor is a good idea. So let us talk about what else that $2.5 million could be spent on in the area.
There are any number of points along Vulture Street that needs safe pedestrian crossings. There are any number of locations throughout this city that could benefit from intersection upgrades and pedestrian safety improvements that would be a lot cheaper than that $2.5 million and which would support people to leave their cars at home and take other modes of transport. So if we think purely in terms of how that money could be spent, I think we need to recognise that widening a road in an inner city area is not a particularly good use of it.
Let us talk about park acquisitions, let us talk about public transport facilities. There are so many other uses that that money could be put to instead of wasting it on a road project that the community does not want, that the local Councillor definitely does not want, which has not had a feasibility study or any kind of clear business case attached to it and which seems to have been a knee jerk response to some internal request of about how can we improve traffic flow through this area.
It is really frustrating to me that these proposals to widen road corridors can pop up so quickly with no meaningful public consultation, with no notification to residents and suddenly we are getting a presentation on it as though it has already been a done deal. I am hoping, and I have this much respect for the DEPUTY MAYOR, that this is just a proposal at this stage and that he will consult further and he will listen to the community before making a final decision.
I acknowledge that just putting forward a proposal in a Committee meeting does not necessarily mean it definitely has to go ahead. It can just be put out there to seek further feedback and what I am hoping is that that is what is happening here, that this is a question of we are putting this out there to seek feedback and we will listen to that feedback. I am very clear that the feedback is that we do not want this road widening project through Vulture Street.
Well said Cr Sri. Perhaps if we had more councillors prepared to consider the wicker basket brigade, our city would be healthier, safer, and less congested.