LIGHT RAIL LUNACY: HAVE WE BEEN HIJACKED AGAIN?
Written on the 7 August 2015 by Nick Nichols
HAS the Palaszczuk Government totally hijacked the Gold Coast light rail system and short-changed the city all over again?
The latest plans by the government to fast track construction of the light rail is the most ill-advised response to an issue as any that this government has offered since coming to power in January.
Forget the scrapping of the cruise ship terminal. That is a decision that time will eventually repair as the Gold Coast inevitably drives towards a more complete tourism future that will eventually include cruise ships.
However, there's no turning back from this latest inanity which will take the light rail deep into no-man's land areas of the city that have no hope of high density development and no hope of benefitting from the light rail. It's effectively a tram system for the trees.
In its haste to have this project ready for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the government has proposed a 7.3km route that pretty much tracks a freeway and a heavy rail line. The route will run along what always has been - and pretty much always will be - urban wasteland.
The extension offers just two stops before hitting the Helensvale rail station - the most dubious being on the edge of suburban Parkwood, which will no doubt become a nightmare for locals as cars are parked there to catch a tram along Smith Street.
The other is just over the hill where the light rail system will track alongside the heavy rail line north to Helensvale. While this stop will have a park-and-ride facility, this doesn't diminish the travesty of selecting a route that has little hope of developing the population density that the light rail needs to be both effective and viable.
It's as if economic common sense has been thrown out the window by a proposal that is both cheap and nasty. Yes, of course the previous government had preferred the Parkwood proposal but its merits have always been open to debate.
Now we are being offered this inferior route as the only option and for what? A 10-day event in 2018 that already has cost the city a major piece of community infrastructure, Parklands.
It remains a sore point that the previous Labor Government usurped Parklands for high rise development, costing the city a permanent home for its annual show, live music festivals, major outdoor exhibitions and the city's harness racing economy. All would have been well served by the light rail today.
Just when we thought the Gold Coast was heading in the right direction, this proposal comes out of the blue without any real consideration for what it means to the economic viability of the light rail system and how it meets the city's overall objective to create a vibrant city that is both connected and functional.
I thought the idea of the light rail was to encourage as many people as possible onto public transport, a plan best served by taking the route through high-density residential zones in order to service as many people as possible.
What is the overall objective to connect the light rail to heavy rail? Does it make sense to run the route through bushland at the expense of routes more likely to benefit such as the growing medium-rise precinct around Harbour Town and the nearby industrial estates that support thousands of jobs.
Some business leaders have come out in support of this latest proposal, more so because they consider it better than nothing.
Maybe in this case we are better off with nothing, because this route just doesn't work for light rail. It puts too much emphasis on connectivity to heavy rail as the end game.
The patronage figures to date actually show that the light rail doesn't necessarily need heavy rail to succeed. With more than six million passengers in the first year tracking well ahead of expectations, it proves that the city's local population and tourists are sustaining the system on their own.
This can only improve over time as density levels rise, even without a heavy rail connection which should remain an ultimate priority regardless.
When the Palaszczuk Government rejected the cruise terminal it threw to the kerb private funding to build vital tourism infrastructure for this city. Now that it is spending public money, it wants to waste it on a system that adds little value to the city's light rail infrastructure.
If it's serious about value, then extend the light rail from Broadbeach to Burleigh Heads. Patronage would be better served, the system would connect more of the Gold Coast's vibrant urban villages and it would stack up as a better return on investment.
This government has tried hard to pay lip-service to the Gold Coast, but in the process has treated the city as little more than a thought bubble. This is despite its importance to the state's tourism economy and, increasingly, the education and health economy.
On the one hand Brisbane is getting a first-class integrated casino-resort in the heart of town. The design was the best of the best on offer and it will add considerably to the capital's tourism appeal.
Yet the Gold Coast has to play second fiddle to Brisbane-centric politicians who think that second best will do. They are ignoring the fundamental needs of the Gold Coast, needs that stem from growing traffic congestion the very reason the light rail was proposed in the first place.
The Gold Coast has been driven by poor planning decisions for generations and we continue to pay the price now as more people choose to live here.
This is one of those planning decisions that we really need to get right. If we don't, the Gold Coast will continue to struggle to become a world-class city and, more importantly, a liveable city.
Author: Nick Nichols