If you want light rail in ACT this is how to do it.

Click link to original version of this comment at Macrobusiness  (link may be locked – but there is a free trial available)

It may just be election spin designed to appeal to the “big vision” crowd who fancy themselves as big thinkers – “its just like the Snowy Scheme. yadda yadda..”

It is also very odd considering that the master zoning document shows how little space has been zoned for high or even medium density throughout the city.


Notice how little medium density there is along Northbourne Avenue – and what there is is literally only on Northbourne Avenue.

The reasonable approach would be to

1. Get a big red pen and mark a 10 minutes walking distance (say 1.5 – 2 km) back from each of the major arterial roads where the line rail is proposed to go.

2. Immediately rezone ALL of that land as suitable for multi-level – say up to 15 storeys – and permitted for just about anything except perhaps heavy industry. Commercial, offices, residential and retail – whatever a developer reckons they can sell.

3. identify and rule out any land that is needed for heritage, parks, public facilities etc.

4. Paint a red bus only lane down the road.

5. Run some bus services down the red lane.

6. Impose land tax to catch the increase in values along the route.

By doing the above they would be creating a public transport corridor, setting up the mechanism to finance improvements in public transport and thus be in a position to convert the red bus lane into a light rail if a compelling case can be made at some future point.

And a compelling case may well arise as Canberra under the above proposal would be a low land cost city and extremely attractive to business and people.

The problem for light rail is that the point where buses, using the bus only lanes, cannot handle the demand it is probably time to be considering heavy rail anyway and that can be build underground along the route of the bus lanes.

But we are talking a long long time before that happens. Articulated buses in bus only lanes can shift a lot of people very quickly and they can go around break downs or “all stop services”

But let’s face facts here – the land development agency in the ACT is a huge money spinner and propping up land prices by dribbling out supply and gouging buyers is what pays the bills of the government.

So don’t expect action on the housing supply that would actually make mass forms of public transport viable.

Needless to say – nothing in the above should be construed as an argument for urban consolidation or UGB forcing people to live in medium density just so the anti-car crowd are happy.

People should be allowed to choose where to live – the above is on the assumption that the preference, when the choice is available, proves to be to live in medium density suburbs with reliable public transport within easy walking distance.

Oh in case you are wondering what all those colourful zones actually mean have a look at this


Any wonder why flexible and efficient use of land is so difficult and expensive and riddled with paper work (and lawyers) when there are no less than 5 residential zones and 5 commercial zones to navigate.

and this


The prices for building rail in Sydney are just unbelievable – even when it is all above ground and doesn’t involve land resumptions.

The other day someone pointed out that Spain was able to build 600km of high speed railway between Madrid and Barcelona for less than $10B.


It cost about $2.3B to build 15km of underground track between Chatswood and Epping

Check out the blow out in the 11km of track for the south west link and that is all above ground.


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