Friday, April 23, 2010

Chief Minister preempts the STAP report on buslanes down Northbourne

The Canberra Times reports that funding is being made available to move the on road cycle lanes on Northbourne Avenue to the footpath area, but widening the footpaths to accommodate the cyclists. Very European.  Although bike riding commuters are a visible symbol of ‘sustainable transport’, cycling is only ever going to be a very small percentage of trips taken in the ACT, and an inordinately large amount of energy and money is expended satisfying this tiny group.

Stanhope told the CT that $4.5 million dollars would be allocated in the 2011 budget to reduce congestion on Northbourne Avenue. Maybe this is overdue recognition that adding a bike lane at the expense of a car lane has had an adverse impact on congestion.

Of greater interest, the CT also report that funding is being sought for a dedicated bus lane either on the existing road, or up the middle of Northbourne on the median strip.

This announcement appears to be  the beginning of a media dripfeed for the release of the Public Transport future planning document arising out of the Sustainable Transport Action Plan (STAP) process, but there is nothing on the Chief Ministers website, or at the TAMS website, so we have to look at the article itself to divine what this means.

''In the upcoming budget we will fund a design study on the initial set-up of developing a bus-only or transit lane on Northbourne Avenue'' He said the funding was part of a sustainable transport action plan, Transport for Canberra, to make bus travel more attractive to commuters.

This is the first mention I have seen of the ‘Transport for Canberra’ tag which is hopefully the protracted STAP butterfly finally emerging from its cocoon. It was expected in the first quarter of 2010, and obviously it has been completed and now sits in the Minister for Transports (Stanhope) in-tray.

Clearly some thought and engineering proposals have also been worked up and presented to the Chief Ministers Office. These ideas are more than thought bubbles. 

''The possibilities are closing one of the lanes [going] either way and turning them into a transit lane. The other is to build a dedicated bus lane down the median and adopt a tidal arrangement that buses travel south in the morning and north in the evening.''

I can imagine the motorists of Canberra fuming over this, but it is sensible. How ACT Roads implement this is another matter. I think the only way this can succeed is to shift a bus transit lane onto the large median strip.

''We haven't decided on a final way forward. What we are signaling is that we intend to bite the bullet over the next one to three years ... [to] provide significantly enhanced public transport measures along Northbourne Avenue,'' Mr Stanhope said.

I would be very surprised if Stanhope had NOT already decided on a final way forward, but they have to at least pretend they are seeking ‘public consultation’.

''I don't believe at the moment there is a way around a dedicated lane for buses, whether we build [it] on-road or whether we construct a new bus-only lane on the median.

''At this stage we have funded the design of an off-road dual shared cycleway footpath with a view to then determining how best to achieve either a single busway or an on road transit lane.''

These are indeed encouraging words. One of the barriers to using buses as an effective public transport tool, is that they must share on road space with Joe Citizen driving his Econocar to work. By opening up a dedicated lane, whether it be on road or on the median strip, this allows the bus to travel outside the traffic flow and deliver passengers on time. 

But note that the cycling proposal has received funding, while the demonstrable more important bus transit lane proposal is still subject to a future decision. Lets hope that is in the ‘Transport for Canberra’ report.

I’m an optimist, so lets be glad that ACT Roads have begun to realize that grade separation of public transport from on road traffic is a step forward. Importantly grade separation is a baby step towards proper mass transit, like light rail,  being introduced in the ACT. Although I am a proponent of Light Rail as the best technology to provide mass transit in the ACT, I firmly believe that the ACTION Bus service operating more efficiently is an important thing. It is something that has not been achieved in the decade I have lived here. Concepts such as REDEX, and now this bus lane idea indicate that the future can be different from the past. 

Bring on the ‘Transport for Canberra’ report.

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