Tuesday, 20 May 2014

On yer bike Mike

In the Technical Papers "20021 with light rail scenario" Booz & Company waffled on about traffic pattern changes in the wider network: "These changes can be summarised as follows:

  • Capacity reduction due to Light Rail along Devonshire Street and the Railway Square precinct is likely to see increased traffic filtering through Surry Hills via Campbell Street, Hunt Street and Goulburn Street."
The response of the Government to this is extraordinary. A bus stop is being established in the middle of Campbell Street forcing buses to block traffic flows when picking up passengers!
Campbell Street bus stop
It was this proposal that alerted me that there was something rotten in the state of New South Wales when it was released a few days before the Sydney's Light Rail Future brochure - you can read my submission here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-qlvU_c829ZPcsLIQS-9muU3KYBXavQoQrHZR9_ZIm0/edit

My objections have been totally ignored and the project has gone ahead. The left-turn lane is redundant as I pointed out in my submission and could have been used to give buses priority access to the right turn lane into Crown Street, bypassing the queues of vehicles that turn into Riley Street. The North Shore rump of the Liberal Party has decided otherwise without explanation.

If the tram tracks go along Devonshire Street, Riley Street will be blocked off at both ends according to the lane arrows on the diagrams. As I pointed out, Riley Street is the only street that give access to the road grid west of Crown Street.

The only explanations for the decision of the Baird government to proceed with this project are:

  1. There has been feedback from the Assessors about the flaws in the light rail project and the self appointed Minister for Infrastructure is reluctant to proceed.
  2. Baird has decided his political future is in being seen to be even nastier than his Federal North Shore colleagues.

"I resent that"

Harcher with skinhead (his son)

 The expensive legal teams engaged by politicians called before the ICAC inquiries advise them to reply "I do not recall" rather than make denials which could lead to charges of lying to the inquiry - Harcher used this response 35 times in giving testimony on Monday. But a different response was required when asked if he had pocketed $4000 from a cheque made out to the Liberal Party that had been laundered through his old law firms trust account as had been alleged by an employee in sworn testimony. Hence the new response "I resent that". More will be revealed when the inquiry resumes in August.

Baird would be taking a huge electoral gamble to proceed with a project that benefits no-one and inflicts irrecoverable damage on residents south of the Harbour.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

"Run over the bastards"

Five segment tram
I asked the tech guy at the final "information session" before the close of the exhibition period what kind of emergency braking will be used by the LRVs. He said that that would be left for the PPP (Public/Private/Partner) to decide. He also claimed that current trams could stop in the same distance or better than rubber-tyre buses - not physically possible. In the past some trams used electromagnetic controlled blocks between the wheels of the bogies that dropped onto the tracks to dissipate kinetic energy but modern trams use the equivalent of ABS braking on rubber-tyre vehicles to stop them going into the infamous death slide where the driver saw the tram accelerate as the wheels locked. The point at which antilock braking cuts in depends on the friction between the small-diameter steel wheels and the steel track. This depends on whether the track is wet or dry and on the cleanness of tracks level with the road surface but it is low - Chris Lock told the meeting at Sydney High School repeatedly that trams cannot go up grades greater than 7% as they "cannot stop". They cannot swerve to avoid a collision as well.

Hey Kids, ain't trams fun to play with?
Goldlinq tram cutout
The companies that manufacture segmented tram chassis internationally are few and far between but their web sites give no information on emergency braking, and what would be the point of speculating on where the PPP would source the trams. The Gold Coast is the only place in the world that will run seven segment trams, in small part, through existing streets so we will use this as an example.
The Gold Coast trams are undergoing testing for safety this year. Kid's activity packs and colouring-in books have been issued and school kids are being lectured on the "science" of trams. Queensland is the only state where tradies died through not turning off the power when installing ceiling insulation so safety would be an important consideration. Contrary to the conventions of the Westminster System, North Shore politicians set up a Royal Commission and released redacted Cabinet documents. The former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd successfully had restrictions on the information removed and in his testimony did not suffer the "massive memory losses" experienced by Sinodinos and O'Farrell and other politicians at ICAC hearings. The Royal Commission has given family members of the four workers who died a multimillion dollar platform to rend their sackcloths, but more importantly, under the tit-for-tat rule of politics, a Royal Commission into Transport for NSW following the inevitable deaths and serious injuries by trams will be able to access the Cabinet deliberations of the Baird government if the Project is approved.
Tram stopping Gold Coast traffic
The safety campaign states that safety is a shared responsibility but the message is that if you are hit by a tram it is your fault. This will no doubt be challenged by contingency law firms - the PPP is apparently being indemnified by the State Government and Gold Coast Council. The web site emphasises that the tram tracks are separate from the from the road tarmac and have a different colour. For the most part the tracks are completely separate from the road system, having their own bridge across the Nerang River and travelling alongside the Gold Coast Highway.
Gold Coast Hospital, Nerang Street 
The exception is where the trams make a dogleg along Nerang Street and Scarborough Street to provide stops at the Gold Coast Hospital and the Southport city centre. The stop at the hospital occupies roadway formally used for 90 degree central parking - the tracks are separated from the roadway with raised kerbing except for the ambulance-only crossing (top right). There are separate lanes for turning and straight-through traffic at the few minor crossings where right-hand turns across the tracks are permitted. The differences between the situation in High Street at Prince of Wales Hospital could not be more stark.
The stop at the hairpin bend into the Southport retail centre is the only place in the system where the trams pass through a pedestrianised area - it is only one block long. Pedestrians are being instructed to cross the rails only at signalised crossings. The black lines presumably represent where trams are required to stop when pedestrian movements are taking place. It is of course physically impossible to stop people crossing the rails at tram stops but the crossings are at the natural pedestrian paths. In Devonshire Street the only signalised crossing between Crown Street and Elizabeth Street will be at Marlborough Street which is not and never will be a pedestrian path. Contingency lawyers will have little difficulty in arguing that it was not a realistic expectation for pedestrians to divert to this crossing.

The light rail feasibility study

The Goldlinq project had a long gestation period. It was first mooted in a Gold Coast City Council Transport Plan in 1996 and the Queensland and Federal Governments funded a professional feasibility study in 2002 - the draft summary report was released in 2004. Alignment diagrams for the entire route have been published and show the lane direction arrows in adjacent roads. The Queensland Government committed $464 million to the project in 2009 supplementing $365 million provided by the Federal Government and $120 million from the Council and contracts were awarded in June 2011.

In NSW the route for a light rail project was determined on the whim of the then Premier. The project has never been subjected to a feasibility study and has never been endorsed by successive Federal Governments. Alignment diagrams for the portion of the route through areas in the jurisdiction of the Sydney City Council were inadvertently released in the Council's submission for the EIS but these have been superseded in the Preferred Infrastructure Report.

"There are winners and losers"

The Deputy Director General Transport for NSW Chris Lock told the Randwick Business breakfast in April 2013 that there are winners and losers. I for one had already raised concerns to the Minister about the unacceptable hazard that the design would impose on pedestrians and passengers - the losers would not only be those who lost their livelihoods but also those who lost their lives. There has been no attempt to address these concerns.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Brown Peril

During the 1950s political parties distributed posters warning of the threat from the north. These posters showed a yellow arrow targeting Australia from south-east Asia. They were never published and have disappeared from records - in today's political parlance they would be described as white-only ops. The term that arose was "The Yellow Peril" and was embedded sufficiently in the Australian psyche for it to be used to describe a sculpture by a New South Wales sculptor that won a commission for an art piece for Melbourne Square in 1980.

The sculpture has since been moved to a number of different sites in Melbourne. The art piece that attracted equivalent derision in Sydney would be the "poo on a stick" sculpture privately commissioned for the forecourt of the apartment tower over the Kings Cross Tunnel.

Vault sculpture aka The Yellow Peril
I was recruited by my dad to put Liberal Party pamphlets in letter boxes during the 1949 federal election - I had just started primary school. The big issue at this election was nationalisation of the banks which had been ruled as invalid by the High Court but upheld by the Privy Council in England. Over the past week various Liberal Party elders have drawn contrasts between the present day party and the party of Sir Robert Menzies. My family was staunchly Liberal and would agree.
The Party of Menzies has become a party of sloganeering

We will stop the boats
We will turn round the boats

We will stop the buses turning around

The threat from the north in New South Wales

The main threat to residents south of the Harbour has always been closer to home. Forty five years ago suburbs in the inner Eastern Suburbs, South Sydney and the Inner West faced wholesale devastation by radial motorways passing through Darling Harbour. Green bans by the Builders' Labourers Federation run by Jack Mundey was all that staved off what is now recognised as an unqualified disaster for Sydney. The North-Shore based government of Bob Askin was pressing ahead with the plans at any cost but was defeated in a cliff-hanger election by Neville Wran.

Now the North Shore rump of the Liberal Party is back in power following a fraudulently-funded election and the inner Sydney suburbs are under threat again.

The Brown Peril
This time they are being more surreptitious. Crown stated that they wanted to build a casino for high rollers only at Barangaroo. When approval was given there was no commitment to restrict the access of local punters. Now Sydney City Council is outraged on learning of unpublished plans that more than double the floor space available to the developers of properties in this area over what had been approved. The developers are not being asked for any quid pro quo for the financial advantage they will be receiving. They could hardly be asked to contribute to the provision of public transport to the area since there are no such plans, other than to terminate buses, god knows how, at Walsh Bay.

In order to reach destinations in Barangaroo passengers on bus services from Parramatta Road and City Road will be dumped in Pitt Street and forced to catch a tram or train to Town Hall or Wynyard then to transfer back to a bus for the rest of the journey - an expensive three-trip journey. There was no disclosure of this when the brochure of Sydney's light rail future was released.

Dec 13 2012 brochure
The yellow dotted line purported to show a western CBD/ Barangaroo transport corridor, ominously passing through Paddys Market, connecting to Harris street and Broadway. The changes in the bus routes in the CBD that eventuated in the EIS were distressingly predictable: bus services from the North Shore and the Northern Beaches are taking over the Castlereagh Street/Elizabeth Street routes and have access to the growth area in Barangaroo from Wynyard. Bus services from the Eastern Suburbs and the inner west are stuffed.

Which brings us to the Brown Peril. The current politicians from the North Shore are the most duplicitous to emerge from the rump of the Liberal Party, ever. Turds that are difficult to flush away are not yellow so it would be more appropriate to describe the peril from the north as brown.

Demonstrating at Parliament House

The upper house voted today, May 8, on a motion from the shadow transport minister Penny Sharpe calling for disclosure of documents of the Business Case for the CBD South East Suburbs Light Rail. These motions are very rare in Parliament but this was the second one this year. The motion passed with a majority of two. The government has 28 days to make the papers available.

I took part in a demonstration in front of Parliament House attended by people from Surry Hills and Kensington in support of more disclosure of the Project.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Who are they?

The Eastern Distributor under Darlinghurst is a tunnel wide enough to to carry three lanes of traffic on two levels. Where it is joined by the off ramp tunnel to William Street it is the widest tunnel in the world. The tunnels were drilled from north of William Street and from Moore  Park  meeting under Taylor Square. Suspending the upper three lanes on precast planks from the walls of the tunnel was a feat of engineering.

I was gobsmacked when Clover Moore rattled out her achievements at the end of the community forum on the light rail in April (she had the only microphone): "They did not want to grade-separate the carriage ways along South Dowling Street". It would have been an extraordinary feat of engineering the bring the lower southbound level up to grade. In my letter to the minister calling for the Harbour Tunnel and the Cahill Espressway to jointly provide the traffic needed  to make the moribund Eastern Distributor project economically viable I had pointed out that there would be a grade-separated highway from Chatswood to Botany Bay and eventually beyond - the grade separation of the carriageway along South Dowling Street was always an essential  part of the business plan.

The EIS for the Distributor, archived in the Fisher Library, lays out what was actually planned and was abetted by "concerned citizens" forums dominated by Moore. The exclusive bus road through Moore Park was to be shut down, and Riley Street and Reservoir Street were to be closed off to force drivers to use the motorway. The objections I and others raised were upheld be the assessors and the Distributor went ahead without controversy. That is to say the assessors accepted that changes to bus routes and road closures were matters that had to be disclosed and made a part of the Assessment process. The revised CSELR EIS, aka Preferred Infrastructure Report, demands that these matters, that were outlined in the EIS, be disregarded and be left for TfNSW to determine before the Project goes into operation.

One of the section figures in the EIS for the Eastern Distributor showed a bus stopped at Drivers Triangle. I pointed out that a passenger who alighted here would have nowhere to go but to jump into the entrance to the tunnel. This would have been regarded as an error in good faith and would not have been grounds for challenging the EIS if it had been a matter of community concern. The newly sworn in Baird government is dominated by politicians of faith, but they are clearly not of good faith.

Viaducts over Anzac Parade

The exhibited EIS contained an entire chapter of 34 pages detailing how the self-proclaimed geniuses at TfNSW had grappled with "the design for the preferred CSELR route". Chapter 4.3.1 dealt with the "vertical alignment through Moore Park". The "two main options considered" were the tunnel under Anzac Parade announced in the December 13 2012 brochure and a viaduct over South Dowling Street, Moore Park west and Anzac Parade.

The EIS conceded that a viaduct would have safety benefits and would "avoid traffic impacts to local roads and South Dowling Street". It would also have lower cost. The EIS failed to realise that elevated platforms would also provide much greater access to crowds arriving and leaving events at Moore Park venues. The section concludes: "Whilst the viaduct is a lower-cost option, avoids an additional signalised intersection at South Dowling Street and would result in a marginal journey time benefit, this is not, on balance, considered to be sufficient to counter the potential visual impact and severance of the Moore Park playing fields".

The then Premier announced on 26 February 2014 that a pedestrian/cyclist bridge would be built over Anzac Parade. This bridge will be as wide as a tram viaduct, will have a greater impact on the Moore Park public spaces with its spiral access ramps and does not provide connections with existing cycle or pedestrian paths. The Premier's announcement stated that consultation has been carried out with stakeholders including event operators, local trusts, businesses, City of Sydney, Veterans Affairs and Transport for NSW. Clover Moore has denounced the plan following his admission of lying to the ICAC so the honesty of this assertion is also in question.

An alternative motivation for the announcement became obvious a couple of weeks later when TfNSW released the Preferred Infrastructure Report revising the preferred route in the exhibited EIS.

The signalised pedestrian crossing adjacent to Sydney Girls High School was to be closed down and a pedestrian bridge built across Anzac Parade with a zig-zag access ramp on land excised from the school grounds. Cyclists have an aversion to zig-zag ramps. So there will be two bridges, neither linked to existing cycle or pedestrian paths, within a stone's throw of one another.

The exhibited EIS stated: "at the EIS preparation phase exhibition for the CSELR undertaken in September 2013 the cut-and-cover tunnel was generally the preferred option of the community... Based on this options assessment, the cut-and-cover tunnel was retained as the preferred alignment". The "exhibition" consisted of handing out a postcard sized questionnaire with boxes to be ticked. Only extremely naive respondents would have returned the cards - not a scientific pole. If the people who responded to the questionnaire had been informed that the alternative to a tram viaduct would be two closely spaced overpasses they would probably have ticked another box.

Since the EIS cites this survey as the only reason for retaining the tunnel option, the survey must needs be repeated when the community has been fully informed before the Assessors can be asked to approve the Project.

A week is a long time in politics

17 April 2014
Over the Easter weekend newspapers carried advertisements by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure seeking to recruit Assessors. The ads cited the number of coal mining projects that would need to be assessed as one of the reasons for the recruitment drive and listed the wide range of qualifications that applicants should possess. The ads concluded that the function of assessors was to give professional, impartial advise to the Minister.

But which Minister? A week after being sworn in as Premier, Baird announced that he would be Minister for Infrastructure and Pru Goward was made Minister for Planning. Brad Hazzard, who had admitted along with Nick Greiner that their statements to the ICAC inquiry into the Metherell affair were wrong, is the new Attorney General - his old department is no more. The recruitment drive has disappeared from the face of the earth.

Nick Greiner had proclaimed O'Farrell to be an infrastructure Premier and Baird has said that infrastructure projects are the key to winning the next election for the coalition, but this is the first time that infrastructure has been separated from planning and the environment.

A week after the latest cabinet was sworn in by the State Governor two of the appointments have resigned after being named in the latest ICAC inquiry. The latest was the Police Minister who was also the government leader in the upper house.

Since the revised CSELR EIS depends on the Liberal Party government still being in power to implement closures of bus routes in the CBD years after the State election on 28 March 2015, the Assessors are faced with a moral and professional dilemma: do they approve an EIS that failed to disclose where terminated buses would physically turn around and rescinded whatever information on bus routes that had been published in the exhibited EIS and hope that the problems can be resolved?

The Manly boys

There was no information on where Baird lived before he became Premier - this was restricted. It turns out his house is in neighbouring Fairlight. Bob Askin lived in Manly all his life but had electorates on the Northern Beaches. Brad Hazzard grew up and went to school in Manly.

Dr Peter Macdonald was the independent MP for Manly and one of the four independent MPs who threatened to vote for a no confidence motion and forced Nick Greiner to resign as Premier. Brad Hazzard was not asked to resign as he was just a back-bencher when he admitted to giving false testimony to the ICAC.

Baird has made himself Infrastructure Minister but the plan to run trams along George Street is seen as a whim of the former Premier O'Farrell. Will Cabinet press ahead with the Project and face spending another 45 years in opposition?

Only the foolish would try to predict what will happen next in New South Wales politics.