- Two weeks ago, a small town on the outskirts of Phoenix in Arizona held a local government election. They counted exactly equal votes for the candidates — so in equal parts publicity stunt and tie-breaking process, the two guys involved drew high cards. Courtesy of an obscure and not even that old Arizona law, the decision is totally legit!
- Something else I missed last week: on Monday, a company called CLEAR that ran separate security lanes at most big American airports shut down abruptly. Their service always struck me as questionable — pay us money and we’ll overlook normal security measures! — and they never did get all the official approvals they needed, so I’m amused that the recession has killed their little scam. (Heck, second-tier frequent flyers get much the same benefit; maybe that’s why I’ve never seen anyone use a “Fly CLEAR” lane.)
- According to my local papers, an equal (or bigger!) issue than the California budget is the proposal to build a high-speed railway to LA (which won financial backing at referendum last November). It’s a curious thing to watch Bay Area residents whine about whether to spend billions on above-ground tracks or billions more below ground, while around them the state runs out of cash. (Admittedly, the project has a good chance of getting federal money, and the planning phase has at least a year left in it, nevermind the ten-ish years scheduled to build the thing.)
So the Premier used his official campaign launch the other day to promise more upgrades for Transperth, and thus I shall launch into a public transport rant!
The media release makes tantalising promises of 10 new trains, more late-night services, and improved bus frequencies (yay!). But there are bigger announcements: apparently he’ll spend $850m (ouch!) on a railway from Midland to Ellenbrook, something that’s been on the cards for years now. And even better, he intends to fix the biggest remaining hole in Perth’s rail system, due north of the city towards Ballajura.
Except instead of actually fixing it, he’s offering up a bus lane, albeit one using new “auto-tram” vehicles out of Germany (incidentally: not a proven technology, although they really are just modified buses).
No offence to Ellenbrook, but it’s got a mere ten thousand people. Compared to the sixty-plus thousand living along Alexander Drive, with thought to how much fun it is to drive that road at peak hour, and assuming the state can only afford one train line … surely the correct place for a railway (or subway or tramway or something) is not out in the sticks?
(That said, two railways is obviously better; they needn’t be that expensive!)
As today’s West Australian front page reveals (but without pictures!), the Northbridge Link masterplan was released today. Basically, the plan involves office and apartment buildings over a partially-sunk railway line, the extension of King, Milligan, and Queen Streets up to the railway to create Euro-style boulevards, and the creation of several pedestrian lanes and miniature public squares.
I still think it’s a complete cop-out that the Fremantle line will be sunk only between the station and Lake Street — the trains will dip underground for a hundred metres, and then BAM! suddenly you’re back at ground level again (albeit, in this plan, still under buildings). This means that the region where the railway stays at ground level will remain impenetrable to north-south pedestrian flow, except for an (admittedly nice) bridge-plaza structure at Milligan Street.
(Then again, this will be right next to the new Clarkson to Mandurah line and its even more ridiculous hundred metres of above-ground between the Roe Street tunnel and the entrance to the bigger new tunnel.)
There’s also a big question mark over the Entertainment Centre site — the master plan talks about replacing it with apartments and others have mentioned moving TV studios there (à la Martin Place in Sydney), but that depends entirely on what Kerry Stokes wants to do.
But aside from these (relatively minor) qualms, this plan looks to be mostly a Good Thing. There was enough guts to go ahead with a reasonably-tall building (the 25-storey planned for the centre of the Horseshoe Bridge, which should be quite cool) and the figures for office and retail space are big enough to give the area some actual value. The plan includes some nice green roofs, there’s actual honest consideration of the need to encourage vibrancy through pedestrian flow, and the proposed new bus station is an excellent feature. To top it off, the plan to beautify Wellington Street and Roe Street is awesome (and long overdue — even Adelaide’s North Terrace has long been way nicer than our northern street).
Interestingly, the disgusting carpark from the Perth Arena proposal has been replaced with a much nicer block structure with apartment buildings on top of it … but I wonder if that’ll actually go ahead? and if it will assuage the City of Perth’s worries about a lack of parking for the arena? Even more importantly, will the development create more pressure to turn that carpark into a Convention Centre-style carpark for commuters, rather than users of the facility it belongs to? And speaking of Perth Arena, that site seems to be crying out for a train station of some form, even if it’s events-only …
There’s a nice (but, naturally, somewhat sugar-coated) summary in the overview brochure, which mentions that public comment is open until early April
Aside from recently completing their tunnelling, the merry band of construction contractors has just re-started track laying on the bits of the southern railway closest to my house. As part of this, there are crazy trackwork machines parked at random spots in the middle of the freeway — weirdo sliding gantry cranes, machines that thump the sleepers for (I’m guessing) joining purposes, and ordinary-looking goods carriages that have holes in them to drop gravel under the tracks.
And freight trains. When Murdoch Station is finished I doubt you’ll see one of these parked there on a regular basis …
This morning I caught a later bus than normal to UWA, and started chatting to a friendly bloke from Saudi Arabia after he asked me how to find the Alex LT. In that ten minutes I learned more about Middle Eastern politics than what I’ve picked up from years of reading newspapers. In particular, he told me some interesting stories about conflict between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in his country, such as blatant discrimination for mining jobs in the oil-rich areas where most of the Shi’a minority live.
This is suddenly relevant, I think, considering that barely a year after the London bombings, terrorists have struck commuter trains again, this time in Mumbai (a.k.a. Bombay). This happened three hours ago, so no one’s claimed responsibility, but the early finger-pointing is at Islamic terrorists angry at the situation in Kashmir. (Some of our American friends are pointing to Al-Qaeda or others, but hey.)
More details are on various local blogs. There’s been the inevitable traffic chaos (Mumbai has one of the busiest railway systems in the world) and unsurprising responses from Pakistan’s government and India’s opposition party, but it is slightly worrying that the Indian PM has announced he’ll “take all possible measures to … defeat the forces of terrorism”. Little more than a heat-of-the-moment populist reaction, sure, but do I sense shades of the G.W. Bush school of anti-terrorism?
Meanwhile, over in the Horn of Africa, another group of Islamists has taken control of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It was sad a few years back when I read about how that country self-imploded in the early 90s, and it’s even sadder to see it happening all over again …
This afternoon I went along to one of the community consultation sessions that the Public Transport Authority set up for people to comment about planned bus changes in the southern suburbs once the new railway is finished.
The dude I talked to was awesome — he knew off by heart the number, route, and frequency of every bus in the area both now and after the planned changes happen. From my point of view, things will be substantially improved, with the 136 and 791 that I currently catch being replaced by the 530 that will have a similar route but double the frequency.
In fact, there’ll be a lot of frequency improvements across the southern suburbs — listening to this guy and seeing the documents he had suggests to me that the PTA actually takes seriously the idea that to provide a decent service there must only be a short wait between buses. However — and this had me shocked — he told me they’re limited in what they can do because apart from the big capital works spending on the new line and new buses, the PTA hasn’t had a budget increase in four years. So, he explained, whenever they improve service in one area they have to cut back in another.
Other interesting discoveries:
- trains will run Mandurah – Clarkson as well as Cockburn – Whitfords, each with a 15 minute frequency (i.e. trains every 7.5 minutes from Cockburn during the day)
- the new stations will have special displays for bus drivers so they’ll know to wait if the train they’re supposed to collect passengers from is late
- the CircleRoute timetable will not change because they don’t even bother trying to coordinate its timetable with trains at all the different stations it visits — they just assume the wait will be reasonable
- on several busy routes at peak hour, the PTA often sticks in extra buses in between the normal timetabled services to help deal with load
- bus routes considered ‘local’ typically only run every hour, while routes considered ‘regional’ (like my new 530) are given higher frequencies
- Mandurah trains will sometimes run express through some stations, including Canning Bridge, but will always stop at Bull Creek, Murdoch, and Cockburn because they’re considered ‘important’