Friday, 28 June 2013

The 40 year excuse

One of my favourite blog posts to refer people to after a conversation about transport and urban planning is David Hembrow's much linked-to "all those myths and excuse in one post" post. They are all there.

A common one is the 40 years ahead excuse. It is even the subject of a widget:
As the post says, it is wrong anyway. The actual figure (assuming it is even relevant) is more like 15 years. What was done 40 years ago has long since been replaced and improved.

Not that long ago, part of the Parade in Norwood was resurfaced. It must have cost a fair bit. There was lots of serious machinery and a lot of tarmac. It took a couple of weeks. It was quite depressing to watch. Here was an opportunity to make some changes to the road layout as part of ongoing maintenance but it was left exactly the same. There is bountiful off-street parking but the few on street parks were kept there, blocking buses from pulling out and providing a door zone for anyone game enough to ride a bike along there.

More recently, part of O'Connell Street in North Adelaide was resurfaced:

and a close up:

Again, no change whatsoever to the road layout. I wondered how long it has been since that road was last resurfaced and so I asked by making a Freedom of Information request.

I spoke to a very helpful fellow at the council. He explained that the asset life is generally estimated to be around 25 years. However, it quite often ends up being shorter than that. The stretch of O’Connell Street that was just resurfaced was last done 15 years ago. That is no uncommon. For example, the council is finding that Grenfell Street is wearing out more quickly since the bus lanes opened. That seems to me to be a good thing. It shows that the buses are now able to travel along that stretch of road at a decent speed instead of crawling along stuck behind a line of traffic as they used to be. The drawback of course is that the road wears out more quickly.

Another thing that determines the life of the road is its foundation. On busy roads, you need a decent 50cm foundation. Where you start seeing potholes, like there are on Jeffcott Street at the moment, that is often because the foundation is a bit inadequate for the level of traffic that the road is experiencing.

A quick but important aside: different levels of government are responsible for different roads. The vast bulk of our roads are in fact council run and maintained. It is only really main arterial roads that are the responsibility of the State Government. This map shows which ones

You can see that Adelaide City Council is responsible for everything inside the ring road. That includes very busy roads like North, South and West Terrace, the café strips, Grenfell Street with its bus lanes and everything in between. The paltry amount that motorists pay for registration (not to be confused with compulsory third party insurance which is the bulk of the payment) does not go towards any of those roads. It is all paid for by local residents and business paying their rates. All those many motorists who come into (and through) the city do not pay for the roads through registration and petrol tax. Someone else pays. Granted, the city workers indirectly contribute by supporting the businesses that own the buildings for which rates are paid but it is far from a user pays system. Those motorists who simply pass through do not contribute at all.

Rates provide less than 50 percent of the revenue of the Council, with other revenue gained from fees & charges (including parking fees that are the subject of so many complaints), external funding, borrowings and commercial operations.

The Federal Government has its ‘Roads to Recovery’ program which provides road funding to local councils but it is funding that must be applied for. It does not come automatically. I was told Adelaide City Council receives $850,000 a year. It is not a great deal. Roads are very expensive.

With such limited funding sources it is perhaps not surprising that it takes a while for holes to be fixed and roads to be upgraded.

Getting back to my point, 15 years is not that long ago. Titanic won the Oscar for best picture, Microsoft released Windows 98, Google was founded and season 4 of Friends was broadcast. However in other respects it is a very long time. 15 years ago, most of today's children were not alive. It is topical because of what this recently posted video shows:

A whole bunch of children in the last 15 years have been denied independent mobility. That is a whole generation.

There is no excuse for such a crap and undemocratic system. The frequency of road maintenance shows that genuine upgrades could easily be part of that budget. And there is no excuse for crapness either. Bus lanes, well designed intersections, roads and neighbourhoods that stop rat-running and quality cycling infrastructure are all part of the same road transport system. They should all be paid for out of the same budget.

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