We write to submit comments regarding Brisbane City Council’s proposal for new pedestrian and cycling bridges from West End to Toowong and West End to St Lucia.
This is a joint submission from the offices of Dr Amy MacMahon MP, Member for South Brisbane, and Councillor Jonathan Sri, Councillor for the Gabba Ward.
This submission broadly reflects the current position of the Queensland Greens, however our focus is primarily on the needs and interests of residents and stakeholders from our electorates on Brisbane’s inner-south side, and this submission should be read alongside the submission of Michael Berkman MP, Member for Maiwar, who represents the inner-western suburbs at the State Government level.
This submission is structured according to the following themes:
- Broad concerns about consultation and transparent sharing of information
- General concerns about potential impacts upon public parkland
- Maximising opportunities if a bridge project does proceed
- Current views and key concerns regarding Toowong Bridge
- Current views and key concerns regarding St Lucia bridge
- Other public and active transport priorities for the inner-south side which urgently require funding
We wish to emphasise that this submission is not a complete statement on the entire proposal for new bridges. At this stage we are responding primarily to council’s request for feedback regarding preferred landing locations. We have a great deal more to say about the design of bridges, optimal public consultation approaches, exactly how green space impacts might be mitigated, and how bridges may or may not fit within a broader vision of improved transport infrastructure and services to support the inner-south and the inner-west to become less car-dependent.
Further advice pending
This is an interim submission, as we are waiting to see the findings of the BCC administration’s public consultation process, as well as our own consultation and community voting processes, prior to forming a final view on whether both bridges are needed and which locations might be preferable. We also want time to read and digest the many thoughtful submissions offered by residents and stakeholder organisations whose opinions we respect. Once BCC releases its Consultation Outcomes Report, we will add this information to the results of our own consultation processes and submit final comments clarifying our position as elected representatives.
We note that some representatives of the LNP’s BCC team, such as Councillor James Mackay, have already expressed a strong and unequivocal preference for particular bridge locations prior to public consultation concluding, and we are concerned that this both undermines public confidence in the official consultation process, and also puts undue pressure on us as ‘crossbench’ elected representatives to rush into forming a view before we’ve had time to hear from all impacted stakeholders.
While we are committed to working collaboratively with the administration, we reserve the right to change our position as new information becomes available. Our own community poll (available at www.jonathansri.com/bridgevote) is scheduled to close on Monday, 12 April, and we anticipate having access to a larger, more representative sample of responses by that date to give us a better idea of the breadth of community views.
We will consider this along with the various other forms of community consultation that we have engaged in, including:
- A doorknock of local residents in West End on 21 February 2021
- An open public forum held in King George Square on 27 February 2021, attended by approximately 150 residents who were interested in both the Toowong-West End and St Lucia-West End bridges
- One-on-one and small-group face-to-face meetings with directly impacted residents, as well as feedback via emails and phone calls to both the Gabba Ward Office and the South Brisbane Electorate Office
We are happy to provide Council with the results of our public vote after 12 April if BCC wishes to include that data in its Consultation Outcomes Report, and we will await a response from the bridges project team to that offer.
Suboptimal Consultation and Decision-Making Process
Considering the cost and scale of these projects and their significance for the whole city, it is surprising and disappointing that more funding and resources weren’t put towards a wider, deeper level of public consultation.
As Greens members, we support grassroots participatory democracy, which enables residents to have direct input and control over important decisions that impact their lives. We envisage that through participatory budgeting processes similar to the one used by Councillor Sri for local park upgrades, residents could identify where they think money most urgently needs to be spent, and talk to each other and to subject matter experts before making a collective decision (as opposed to one-way feedback to council, with elected representatives making the final decision).
We believe that a best-practice approach to the bridges question would focus on a well-resourced and widely-promoted deliberative decision-making process that starts with a question along the lines of:
What are the accessibility, connectivity and transport priorities for Brisbane’s inner-west and inner-south, and what projects or services should be funded to meet those needs?
This would invite a deeper, broader inquiry about exactly what problems and needs the bridges are seeking to solve and fulfill, and whether other options or strategies might be more effective. For example, we tend towards the view that a new Citycat terminal for the western side of West End (in the vicinity of Victoria St) would perhaps be a higher priority than a bridge between UQ St Lucia and West End. However such ideas aren’t really on the table for discussion in BCC’s approach to consultation.
By simply asking residents to rank their support for the three alignment options for each bridge, council has artificially narrowed the conversation and obliterated the opportunity for more nuanced responses. For example, some residents might be inclined to support a particular alignment for the St Lucia bridge if that’s the only bridge project which is likely to proceed, whereas they would support different alignments if both the Toowong and St Lucia bridges are definitely happening.
Because the council survey doesn’t include a ‘no bridge’ option, many residents who object outright to a bridge are unlikely to fill out the survey, or might perhaps express strong objections to all proposed landings. Failure to include ‘no bridge’ and ‘please explore other locations’ as options on the council survey means it will be impossible to distinguish accurately between the respondents who are expressing strong opposition to specific alignments, and those who are generally opposed to any bridge. This is one of the main factors which led us towards setting up our own polls which specifically include ‘no bridge’ options, so we can have a richer, more specific understanding of community sentiment.
There is definitely a better way to make important decisions about the future of our city, and it starts with greater transparency and public access to information.
Council’s public consultation on bridge alignments was originally promoted as ending in January 2021. Running a 2-month consultation for such massive projects over Christmas holidays does not promote thoughtful deliberation or widespread engagement. In fact, it places unnecessary stress and pressure on individual residents, stakeholder groups and community organisations to consider a lot of information and arrive at a viewpoint within a very short space of time, reducing both the quantity and the quality of feedback received.
The St Lucia Option C bridge alignment proposes acquiring private homes along Boundary Street. We were particularly concerned to hear from the residents living in these homes that they only became aware of this possibility late last year at the time the public consultation process began. We consider it disappointing that more warning wasn’t provided, particularly in a context of the original short timeframes on the public feedback process.
We are grateful that BCC responded to public pressure and extended the consultation timeframe to 31 March 2021, however considering the unique circumstances imposed by Covid-19, we feel that even more time would have allowed for deeper deliberation. Three or four months might seem like a lot of time for residents to talk to council, but many residents also want time to talk to each other and to hear a wide range of perspectives before they provide feedback through official channels.
Lack of information
For a public consultation process to be seen as legitimate, and worth spending time to engage with, it’s important residents feel like they’re being provided with all the information they need to make an informed decision.
While we acknowledge BCC has provided slightly more information about the 6 potential bridge landing options than it does about some public projects, the level of detail still falls short of what many residents desire. While concerns about overwhelming people with too much information are understandable, this is easily addressed by providing simpler summaries for time-poor residents, with further links to more detailed documents for those who have the time and interest to read more deeply.
Recently, the Gabba Ward Office published these detailed documents, which showed some of council’s behind-the-scenes thinking and planning regarding the bridge proposals. Ideally, such reports and studies would have been made publicly available by BCC at the outset of the consultation, rather than leaving it up to the local councillor to go through the formal process of submitting file requests.
Dozens of residents have told us that in order to be able to provide meaningful and informed feedback, they require more information about the proposed alignments. In particular, residents would have liked more detail on:
- Exactly which trees might be at risk of removal for each alignment
- Likely construction time-frames
- The bridge landing footprints - in particular the extent of concrete pathways leading to the bridges (it would, for example, have been simple enough for council to publish general information about the minimum required widths its designers require for high-volume bikeways and footpaths in inner-city areas)
- Population projections and origin-destination demand modelling (some of this is available in the consultant reports that the Gabba Ward Office eventually got access to, but should have been made easily accessible from the outset)
- Costings and sources of funding
Understanding gaps in the BCC consultation process
To date, it looks like BCC’s consultation process has primarily revolved around:
- locally-distributed printed newsletters that direct people to a very narrow online survey, and,
- a series of poorly promoted drop-in sessions where attendees talk directly to an individual council officer, but aren’t encouraged to talk to each other or hear the perspectives of other stakeholders.
- Residents who live further away are much less likely to know about the project and the consultation
- Residents who don’t have the time or engagement level to attend the consultations or proactively search for and fill out an online survey aren’t likely to give feedback at all
BCC has not organised any public meetings, Q&A sessions with elected representatives, or small group facilitated discussion opportunities. Qualitative and quantitative data from survey responses have also been kept secret.
Previous rounds of council consultation, and observations at the most recent consultation sessions suggest that in general, older residents, longer-term residents and home-owners tend to be over-represented at these sessions, while younger residents, renters, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds are grossly under-represented. For example, the 2016 census suggested the median age in the 4101 postcode was around 30, while the median age in the suburb of St Lucia was only 23, whereas the vast majority of residents who attended the in-person drop-in sessions appeared to be aged 50 and older.
BCC is also notoriously ineffective at engaging meaningfully with university students in general and international students in particular. Conducting consultation over the summer break amplified this problem. This is especially concerning given that connectivity to UQ St Lucia is one of the major drivers behind these bridge projects.
Under-representation of young people and university students in BCC’s consultation risks seriously delegitimising the results. Bridge proponents will argue that the consultation results underestimate community support for the projects due to low numbers of student participation, while bridge opponents may perhaps argue that the consultation shows no strong evidence of demand from university students.
Some might argue that the under-representation of renters, students etc. is justifiable, as these individuals don’t have a long-term stake in the neighbourhood. This underestimates the long-term attachment that people can form to a community even if they don’t own property. Even more relevantly, renters make up around 65% (and growing) of Kurilpa’s population. While young renters move around more than older home-owners, this demographic will continue to have a strong presence in the area long-term, so the insights and collective needs of that constituency still need to be heard and accounted for through any consultation process, even though individual younger residents come and go.
Aside from skewed and unrepresentative samples of the population, by far the biggest gap in council’s consultation process is that it doesn’t facilitate conversations between stakeholders or encourage a participant to view the project’s positives and negatives through the eyes of other residents who might have different needs or may be effected in different ways.
The problem is particularly pronounced in terms of the lack of facilitated discussion between residents on opposite sides of the river. All council’s feedback pathways involved a one-way flow of information from individual residents to council, without residents being able to hear or see the feedback that others in their community had provided, or the questions that others were asking. BCC’s style of consultation - asking a resident to choose between a narrow range of predetermined options without necessarily talking to other residents or hearing other perspectives - exacerbates adversarial conflict and potentially undermines support for projects of this nature.
Bridge impacts and benefits are unevenly distributed
Like many major infrastructure projects, the connectivity benefits of these bridges would be widely dispersed, while the negative impacts will fall heaviest on residents and community groups closest to the bridge landings.
This raises difficult questions about how much weight should be given to the needs and views of directly impacted ‘immediate locals,’ compared to local residents of Toowoong, West End and St Lucia more generally, and to residents and stakeholders from across the whole city.
Relevantly, the money used for these bridges will come from a combination of local council rates, fees and charges, but probably also from state or federal funding. Greater weight should arguably be given to the views of those most directly impacted, but the needs of residents who live further away can’t be ignored entirely.
Generally speaking, major infrastructure projects tend to negatively impact lower-income residents, as projects involving land acquisition (e.g. a new school) often target cheaper land. Similarly, major transport projects usually occur along main roads where property values are lower, directly impacted residents are poorer, and communities have less access to political decision-makers.
The recent widening of Lytton Rd in East Brisbane, which compulsorily acquired around 50 residential homes, and also negatively impacted hundreds more residents (predominantly low-income renters), was a key example of this. The negative impacts of that project upon local residents were far more severe than the impact of these proposed West End bridges, and the benefits of the road-widening were virtually non-existent (with no long-term improvement to traffic congestion). However those severe negative impacts were justified on the basis that the project served the greater good.
These bridge projects are unusual, as they tend towards impacting residents of higher-value inner-city riverfront (or river-adjacent) properties. With some exceptions, these residents will tend to be more effective at political advocacy than residents who are usually impacted by major infrastructure projects. This means that the nature and volume of feedback which council receives from different demographics and stakeholder groups may not be directly comparable to the feedback ordinarily received from other projects.
Overall we remain concerned that BCC has not done enough to inform the wider public about the details of these proposed projects, and foster a culture of engaged democratic deliberation. Despite not having the resources of the BCC administration, our own consultation processes as elected representatives have sought to cast a wider net, including holding public meetings, conducting targeted doorknocking, and sending printed letters to every resident in the Gabba Ward.
Our consultation has revealed that the majority of residents are still largely unaware of the proposals for two different bridges, and certainly don’t have access to enough information to be able to provide informed and meaningful feedback. This failure of engagement lies primarily at the feet of Brisbane City Council, and raises serious questions about whether the results of council’s public consultation can confidently be described as representative of the wider community’s views.
Impacts Upon Public Green Space
The potential loss of public green space and possible impacts to established trees (on both private and public land) is very clearly a major concern for a large number of residents who have engaged with our offices.
As elected representatives, we have strong concerns about the potential removal of existing trees, and also about the extent of parkland which might be converted from green space into concrete hardstand.
While we understand that detailed design has not yet commenced on any of the specific bridge alignments, it’s unfortunate that council’s public information did not even attempt to identify exactly which trees might be under threat from each alignment option. The GHD Alignment Study report goes into some detail in identifying the specific span and likely landing area of each bridge alignment, which should have allowed council to make an educated guess about the relative likelihood of removal for individual trees. We have included our own very rough guesses at some of the likely impacts upon trees further down this submission in our commentary on the specific bridge options.
Standard ‘Offset Planting’ is not satisfactory
If the community’s preferred bridge options do go ahead, we are very clear in our position as elected representatives that council’s conventional approach to offset planting is not satisfactory or acceptable.
Often, when a large tree is removed for a major project, council’s approach is to replace that existing tree with smaller saplings, telling residents that five years after planting, the new saplings will have grown enough to provide equivalent canopy cover to the tree being removed. This flawed methodology ignores the fact that the existing tree would also have grown over the following five years and likely had a larger, richer canopy by then. It also ignores the higher risk of some of the smaller saplings dying due to lack of watering, or being removed to facilitate other subsequent projects.
Even more importantly, replacing a large, established tree with smaller trees that may or may not offer the same amount of shade and canopy cover overlooks the many other amenity benefits and ecosystem services that older trees provide, including habitat for wildlife, soil stabilisation and erosion control, air purification, wind buffering, visual screening etc.
Our position is that established native trees should not be removed to facilitate construction of new bridges, even if this means adopting a slightly more expensive alignment or design. If no practical alternatives to tree removal are available, council should replace any removed trees with multiple mature specimens that immediately offer greater net canopy cover than the removed tree. Crucially, the specific locations for replacement tree plantings should be identified prior to any existing tree being removed.
For some projects in the past, council contractors have removed trees and simply paid a lump sum into the council arborists’ general budget for new tree plantings, which supposedly represents the estimated cost of replacing the trees. This is not satisfactory. Frequently in the inner-city, council’s arborists are experiencing significant difficulties identifying appropriate locations for new trees to be planted, with the result that money is sometimes left sitting in the offsets planting budget without anywhere to actually use it.
It is incumbent on the managers of a project that’s seeking to remove a tree to identify exactly where a replacement might be planted, to inspect for underground services and other obstacles that might interfere with replacement planting, and to consult with nearby residents and other impacted stakeholders if necessary. Council also needs to ensure ongoing funding for watering and care of replacement trees, to ensure they survive.
Qualitative impacts upon public green space must not be overlooked
Well-designed bridges can offer various public realm benefits in terms of additional lookout points to view the river and surrounding areas, places for people to gather and socialise, and improved connectivity between public spaces that increases their accessibility and useabilty.
However, locating bridge landings in riverside public parks does also have material negative impacts on how those spaces can be utilised, how they look and feel as people move through them, and how much foraging and nesting habitat they offer for wildlife.
Crucially, the concrete hardstand and other artificial structures associated with a bridge do not have the same capacity to soak up rainwater and mitigate stormwater-related erosion. They also have a negative impact in terms of exacerbating the urban heat island effect.
Unfortunately, commentary from the LNP Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner and the Chair of Public and Active Transport, Cr Ryan Murphy, appears to overlook or misunderstand such impacts.
A smaller, low-impact bridge landing, such as the northside landing of the Kurilpa Bridge, might displace around 300 to 400m2 of public green space with concrete hardstand. A higher-impact landing, such as the southern end of the Kurilpa Bridge, can directly occupy as much as 1200m2 of parkland. Although this space will remain publicly accessible, it is no longer available as a space to plant trees, to locate another park-related facility like a playground, or space for kicking a ball or holding a picnic.
The Kurilpa Bridge South Brisbane landing has an area of roughly 1200m2 (excluding the tree and grassy lawn in the middle)
No rational person would accept an argument that the landing area occupied by the Kurilpa Bridge serves the same purpose as a greener area of genuine parkland, either in terms of amenity for people, or as habitat for wildlife.
It’s certainly the case that bridges (and the adjoining concrete plazas) do provide some form of positive amenity, along with significant connectivity benefits to other public spaces. However they also have negative impacts, offering a very different kind of amenity to that which is offered by green space, and leaving virtually no habitat whatsoever for native animals and plants.
While bridges and bridge landing areas might still constitute public spaces, they are not necessarily able to be used in the same way as public parkland.
Inner-city public green space that’s located along a riverfront is of particularly high value. In a neighbourhood where public parkland is in short supply relative to the high population, 1000m2 of riverside parkland might actually be more important to a community than 5000m2 of parkland would be to an outer-suburban neighbourhood where both public parkland and private yard space is more abundant.
We’ve heard LNP representatives make arguments along the lines of “If you object to the impacts that a bridge landing causes to a park, then do you also object to a footpath or a toilet block in the park?” The obvious answer to this is: Don’t be silly, you’re drawing a false equivalence.
But the more nuanced answer is that when installing new infrastructure like footpaths, toilets and playgrounds, council officers and designers (and councillors of all political parties) do indeed try to avoid locating such infrastructure right in the middle of high-value open green spaces, and will instead try to keep them near the edge of a park where they have less negative impact on the useability of prime picnic and recreation spots.
Recently, council’s NEWS team actually spent several hundred thousand dollars removing the old Davies Park toilet block and building a new facility on land that was already bitumen hardstand, with one of the main benefits of this expensive toilet block relocation being to increase the amount of natural green space in this much-loved West End park, and open up views to the river.
Crucially, bridges can have a particularly large impact on a riverside park, because they can break up the continuous green corridor along the water’s edge. While the impact of this upon how humans use and experience a space is significant, the impact on movement and foraging for native wildlife can be even more dramatic.
Our view is that any bridge structure will inevitably have some negative impacts on an area of public parkland. The scale or degree of this negative impact depends on specific questions of design and accompanying public realm improvements, along with the total physical area of the green space which is being lost to concrete hardstand and bridge structures.
We believe that in order to offset the negative impacts, it is essential that the lost area (in m2) of public riverside green space which is taken up by a new bridge landing should be offset by the creation of new public green space of the same area in the vicinity. This can be achieved either through the conversion of publicly owned bitumen roadway into green space, or through acquiring and converting privately owned blocks of land into public parkland.
Bunyapa Park in West End has a total area of approximately 950m2, and demonstrates that even quite small green spaces are of significant value to inner-city communities. The acquisition cost of this 950m2 area of new parkland was roughly $3.2 million. This perhaps highlights that a bridge landing which takes up even a comparatively small area of usable parkland along the river potentially represents a loss of millions of dollars’ worth of public park infrastructure.
However, in the context of bridge projects which are estimated to cost well over $120 million each, the land value of the displaced parkland is comparatively small. As such, our position as elected representatives is that we do not support bridge locations that result in a loss of public parkland unless that loss is offset by the creation of new publicly-owned, publicly-accessible parkland of an equivalent or greater size and quality, within walking distance of the bridges.
This new green space that is created should not be parkland that’s already identified for delivery in BCC’s Local Government Infrastructure Plan or Long-Term Infrastructure Plan (which should be delivered anyway, regardless of the bridge projects), but must be new parkland that is specifically created to offset park losses due to the bridge.
We are pragmatic about the costs and challenges of securing additional land along the West End riverfront, and we do not necessarily expect that new parkland would be created immediately adjacent to existing riverside parks. However one simple, cost-effective option to deliver this above-mentioned outcome would be to narrow the width of Hill End Terrace and Orleigh St where these roads run along existing riverfront green space.
Narrowing the road corridor to widen the available area of parkland has the added benefit of slowing down traffic and making these streets easier to cross for people who are travelling to the park, or to a possible future bridge. This idea is discussed further in the following section of this submission.
Another opportunity to create new parkland is to acquire a significant portion - or ideally: the entirety - of the site at 600 Coronation Drive, Toowong. Whether or not a bridge lands within this site, the block represents an ideal opportunity to create new riverside parkland. We understand BCC is currently negotiating with the developer of this site to deliver a small portion of the site as privately owned, publicly accessible open green space, and we wish to stress that privately owned green space does not offer the same public benefit and cannot necessarily be used in the same ways as genuine public parkland.
A further option would be to acquire land next to Davies Park, currently proposed as the site of two 25+ storey towers by Manly Properties. Community sentiment is very much opposed to this development. Being adjacent to Davies Park, this site offers council the opportunity to significantly expand existing greenspace, and create multi-use areas for sport, rest and play. The developer has already proposed gifting a very small section of land to the state government as public greenspace - we urge council to reject Manly Properties’ development application, and take advantage of the opportunity to expand Davies Park by acquiring the entire site.
While we firmly believe that the true and complete value of natural assets like established trees can never be adequately represented by and reduced to a mere dollar figure, we also require that for the purposes of evaluating the financial impacts and true costs of these proposed bridges, the full asset value of any trees which might be removed, and the full cost of offsetting lost green space, must be factored into the cost-benefit analyses of the bridges. To be clear, when factoring in the costs of removing and replacing a tree, the asset value of a mature, healthy tree that offers similar ecological and amenity value should be used, as opposed to the value of the tiny saplings that council ordinarily plants when big trees are removed.
Public realm design and investment
Inevitably, a new pedestrian and cycling bridge will draw more people into an area and help activate that space. However, there’s a dramatic qualitative difference between a public space which serves as a through-corridor for people in transit, as opposed to a public place where people feel comfortable to linger and enjoy the amenity of the location.
The southern access to the Goodwill Bridge near the Queensland Maritime Museum is perhaps a lesson in what not to do from a placemaking perspective. The space around this bridge landing and access is heavily constrained by the proximity to a roadway that still carries cars. The space’s design has focussed on moving as many pedestrians, bikes and cars in and out of the area as quickly as possible. As a result, there’s nowhere around the beginning of the Goodwill Bridge for people to pause and interact without feeling like they’re standing in the middle of a cycling velodrome and inconveniencing the active travellers around them.
Google Streetview image of the South Bank access to the Goodwill Bridge
Both the Toowong and St Lucia bridge proposals represent opportunities to reimagine the spaces where they land. Through sensible design, some of the negative amenity impacts could be offset. Large new trees could shade footpaths and screen the appearance of concrete bridge structures. Seating and drinking water taps would support people to linger in the space. And bespoke public art projects could highlight the character of the locations, facilitating play and sparking wonder.
Crucially, as elected representatives we are very concerned that the desire for wide concrete paths approaching the bridge doesn’t lead to large, hot, concrete plazas dominating public parks which locals currently value as vegetated green spaces. Instead of adding new wide concrete bike paths through existing parks, it would be preferable to convert existing bitumen road-space into safe, separated bike lanes (even if this involves removing a few parking bays). Repurposing part of the roadway for active transport commuters is a more efficient use of space than cannibalising green space for cycling highways.
Regardless of whether both bridges are built and where they end up being located, there is ample opportunity to create extra parkland through road space conversion in the vicinity of the various proposed locations.
The bitumen cul de sac at the southern end of Boundary St represents a 320m2 area of underutilised road space. Even if a bridge isn’t built in this particular location, this section of roadway could be restored to public green space and amalgamated with the existing small riverside park and the neighbouring State Government-owned block of land to create a larger, more useable area of public parkland.
300m2 of roadway at the southern end of Boundary St is surplus to transport requirements and could be converted into green space
Similarly, the existing split road along Orleigh Park near the South Brisbane Sailing Club offers significantly wider bitumen roadway than is necessary for vehicle traffic. One side of this split road could be converted entirely to green space, while the other side (which currently serves as a very wide southbound lane) could be repurposed as a dual carriageway roadway with one lane in each direction. Narrowing roads alongside parks can slow cars down dramatically, making it easier to cross the road to access the park, and making the adjoining green spaces feel significantly safer, particularly for parents with small children who might worry that their child is about to run onto the road. If a slightly longer stretch of roadway was narrowed from Forbes St to the Sailing Club, this would potentially create over 1300m2 of additional parkland.
Converting one side of the Hill End Terrace split road would create over 1300m2 of additional green space, while the other side of the road could be used by cars travelling in both directions.
We offer these two road space conversion possibilities not as specific proposals, but as examples and suggestions to highlight that offsetting lost green space associated with the bridge landings may not be as expensive or difficult as some councillors might be inclined to assume. The key concern for us is that bridge projects which do not offset lost green space have a significantly greater negative impact on the amenity of an area than bridges which do offset green space losses and which include sufficient investment in public realm improvements.
We believe it is possible to create spaces which are safe and functional as high-volume active transport routes, but which also still feel lush, green and inviting. ‘Upgrading’ a public space does not necessarily mean cramming it full of concrete and bollards.
Importantly, the embellishment of these spaces needs to be properly funded, and the community should be given meaningful input and control over the design. Whereas the design and feel of a bridge itself might be limited heavily by engineering constraints, there’s no good reason why the design of the spaces around a bridge cannot be the subject of a deliberative, participatory process that centres the voices and needs of local residents.
We are concerned that funding - both for the footpaths and bike paths linking to the bridges, and for public realm upgrades immediately around the bridges - will be delayed and inadequate. We want to stress again that ‘a bridge’ and ‘the upgraded paths and public spaces which connect to a bridge’ should be conceptualised, planned and budgeted for as a single holistic project.
Pedestrian, cycling and public transport connections to the bridges
While it’s beyond the scope of this submission to identify every one of the specific intersections, footpaths and bike lanes that would need to be upgraded to connect to each of the proposed bridge landings, we wish to emphasise that significant investment in connectivity to these bridges must be a core element of the bridge projects themselves, rather than an after-thought or secondary project.
For the bridges to have the desired effect of reducing car use and easing congestion, they need to be easily accessible by all members of the community. This includes access via bus, Citycat, riding and walking. This was also a finding of the South Brisbane Transport and Mobility Study, which notes that:
5b Planning and decision-making for supporting public transport (ferry and bus) infrastructure and services as well as cycle infrastructure to maximise connectivity of the green bridges as part of a well integrated transport system.
This needs to include attention to cross-neighbourhood bicycle and bus access, so that people aren’t forced to travel via congested transport hubs (such as the Cultural Centre) to access the bridges.
In particular, attention needs to be given to disability access. This includes safe, shaded and easy-to-use pathways for people using wheelchairs, wayfinders for people with vision impairment, and safe pedestrian crossings. Council should also consider dedicated disability parking close to the bridge landings.
This investment in connectivity is important not only to ensure that people on either side of the river can access the bridge, but also to reduce the potential of people driving and parking on surrounding streets in order to access the bridges.
Council’s ongoing communication and consultation on bridge design should include opportunities for residents to provide input and feedback on pedestrian, cycling and public transport connections to the bridges.
In particular, we believe that further detailed, well-funded, well-informed consultation is needed with residents regarding the future of both Riverside Drive Parkland and Montague Rd to better understand how these two corridors work together, and the relative share of active transport commuter volumes that they are expected to carry. Riverside Drive might be expected to carry the bulk of cycling and pedestrian volumes, with Montague Rd reinforced as a public transport corridor. But Montague Rd will still also require improvements to pedestrian amenity and cyclist safety due to the high number of trip origins and destinations along Montague itself.
We request that if any bridges proceed, BCC conduct in-depth consultation and planning for connectivity to and from the bridges, including investment in pedestrian and cycle access, and bus access.
Key Concerns regarding Toowong to West End Bridge Options
The Greens have been publicly advocating for a bridge linking West End to Toowong as a core election commitment since at least the 2015 state election, and we welcome council’s support for this proposal. While certainly not unanimous, we believe there is strong majority support from residents of the 4101 postcode to the general proposal for an active transport bridge connection between these two suburbs.
The three landing locations for the West End-Toowong bridge that are included in council’s public consultation are quite close together, and essentially offer very similar connectivity benefits. The various forms of public consultation we’ve conducted so far, including the online poll at www.jonathansri.com/bridgevote, all show a strong preference for Option A.
While we will wait to see the final poll results on 12 April, it seems that Option A is likely to remain the preferred option. Option A offers the added benefit of potentially creating additional public green space on the Toowong side at 600 Coronation Drive, and has a closer connection to the existing riverside bicentennial bikeway. In contrast, Options B and C have a slightly more direct connection to the existing pedestrian overpass leading to the Toowong train station and shopping centre, but offer no real opportunity to deliver new parkland.
On the West End side, Option B and C are of greater concern to us due to the higher-impact footprints and higher likelihood of tree removals. The riverbank elevations allow the Option A alignment to avoid curving ramps leading up to the height of the bridge, with a single straight span that pedestrians and cyclists can travel over directly. If council were to proceed with alignment Options B or C, we would have stronger concerns about excessive bridge infrastructure with curving ramps taking up too much space within the park, similar to the southern footing of the Kurilpa Bridge.
We also note that the proximity of Options B and C to the South Brisbane Sailing Club and to the major riverbend would potentially have greater negative impacts on river navigation and recreational river use.
Advice from council officers and our interpretation of the Alignment Study Report prepared by GHD suggests that the Option A alignment can be delivered without requiring any tree removals on the West End side, assuming council is willing to displace the newly constructed picnic shelter (we will save our criticisms regarding the timing and cost of this picnic shelter installation for another forum). We understand from conversations with council engineers that a bridge approach can fit between the existing trees in Orleigh Park, landing approximately where the northern driveway access of the rowing club used to be located.
Possible Option A bridge landing footprint that avoids trees (not including necessary concrete pathway connections to existing paths)
Option A landing footprint as shown in GHD Alignment Study Report (page 73)
Overall, Option A seems to have the least impact on public parkland, particularly if council were to take a minimalist approach in terms of concrete pathways connecting onto the bridge. However we have two other key concerns with the Option A alignment:
Respect for Cranbrook Place Sorry Site
While the main flagpole memorial area and infrastructure for the Cranbrook Place Sorry Site is slightly further south, closer to the rowing club shed, the older memorial is quite close to the proposed landing for Option A. Even if the bridge doesn’t land on the sorry site, the fact that it lands nearby raises serious concerns as to how it could impact the amenity and experience of this space.
Part of what makes a Sorry Site special is that it can serve as a space for quiet contemplation of past wrongs and continuing injustices, and for education about the genocide enacted against First Nations peoples. The presence of a nearby high-volume active transport link carrying potentially thousands of cyclists and escooters is a genuine threat to the sanctity of this site.
If council does proceed with a bridge in this location, we believe it is possible to address these concerns through sensitive design, perhaps including the planting of a new, denser line of screening trees and bushes between the bridge landing and the northern edge of the Sorry Site.
We request that if this bridge proceeds, at least $500 000 of dedicated funding be allocated specifically towards improvements of the Cranbrook Place Sorry Site, with specific goals of highlighting and preserving its cultural heritage values, telling further stories of the history of the Stolen Generations, and screening it from the bridge landing with larger trees, so that it continues to feel like a quiet, sheltered space of sombre reflection.
The impacts to the Cranbrook Place site, both during construction and in terms of the final bridge design, must not be underestimated. We suggest that if Option A is confirmed as the preferred alignment, more detailed consultation and collaboration must be undertaken with First Nations community members and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations regarding how to respect, preserve and improve the Sorry Site, with Link-Up Queensland identified as one of the key stakeholders. This consultation must be undertaken as early as possible, as part of drafting initial design briefs for the bridge. Regular briefings should be offered to both the local councillor and the State MP specifically regarding how the heritage impacts to Cranbrook Place will be managed.
Managing impact on nearby residents
Residents overlooking the potential landing for Option A have expressed concern regarding the impact on existing greenspace, and the impacts on their peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Residents have expressed concern over potential loss of well-used greenspace, and the potential conflict between people moving along the riverfront, and people entering and exiting the bridge, citing safety concerns. Residents are also concerned about the impacts of lights and noise from the bridge coming into their homes, and safe access along Forbes Street, which currently has narrow footpaths and no separated bike lanes. If council proceeds with this option, investment is needed in minimising the impact on these residents, who would be most immediately affected by the bridge landing. This should include:
- Close consultation with residents regarding bridge design
- Landing design that minimises the impact on existing greenspace and trees, and rather enhances the location, with additional trees, seating, and minimal concrete (see above discussion)
- Landing design that minimises conflict between people moving along the riverfront vs people using the bridge
- Screening trees to reduce light and noise impacts
- Muted lighting which is sensitive to the presence of nearby residents
- Clear and open communication with residents during construction, with a commitment to no night works, or early morning construction work prior to 7:30am
While we understand that the broader public benefits of a new bridge will ultimately outweigh the negative amenity impacts upon the nearest neighbours, we do share these residents’ concerns, and ask that council does not dismiss or underestimate these impacts.
Key Concerns regarding St Lucia to West End Bridge Options
Overall, community sentiment regarding the St Lucia to West End bridge has been less enthusiastic and positive than the proposed Toowong to West End bridge, with many residents echoing our sentiment that improvements to bus services and a new ferry terminal for the western side of West End are higher priorities than a new bridge.
The following comparison of options highlights our key concerns with each of the three alignments proposed in BCC’s public consultation. We are waiting to see the final results of council’s public consultation and our own community vote before we confirm a preference for this bridge location.
At the time of writing, our online poll is suggesting that a clear majority of residents do support a new bridge somewhere between West End and St Lucia, and that Guyatt Park to Orleigh Park is the preferred alignment option for a slight majority, however the sample size is arguably still a little too small to draw definitive conclusions. We remain open to the possibility of not supporting any new bridge between West End and St Lucia if that’s reflected in the tallied responses to our poll when it closes on Monday, 12 April.
Option A - Guyatt Park to Orleigh Park
Alignment Option A between Guyatt Park and Orleigh Park seems to represent the greatest impact to parkland on both sides of the river. We have accepted in good faith the council engineers’ advice that it would be possible to land a bridge in Orleigh Park in the vicinity of Morry St without removing established trees within the park itself. Such a bridge might be reasonably close to the existing playground, but any safety and amenity concerns can be mitigated through sensitive design.
Two possible bridge landing options within Orleigh Park which avoid established fig trees
However we do note with concern that the possible bridge footprint for ‘Option 12B’ in the 2020 GHD Alignment Study report showed a landing footprint directly on top of a large existing fig tree. We accept that the Alignment Study was a draft document produced by an external consultant and that we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on the detailed drawings, which do not necessarily reflect council plans. But we want to be very clear that we do not support a Guyatt Park to Orleigh Park bridge alignment that would require removal of established fig trees, given that there appears to be ample space to land a bridge between the trees.
GHD Alignment Study from 2020 showed the bridge landing on top of a fig tree and too close to the Citycat
We note also that the landing shown in the GHD Alignment Study seems impractically close to the Citycat terminal.
We support a design solution where any curved ramping for a bridge at this location extends out over the water with only the end of the ramp landing in the park itself, in order to minimise impacts to green space. A flight of stairs connecting directly up to the bridge would avoid the need for most pedestrians to walk around the extended curved ramping.
While fig tree impacts can be avoided, it seems likely that an Option A alignment would almost certainly involve removing some mangrove trees along the river’s edge, as well as resulting in a net loss of public parkland and possibly even the removal of some trees on the Guyatt Park side.
As explained above in detail, we are strongly opposed to any net loss of greenspace or trees, and reiterate that if council proceeds with Option A, the loss of green space and negative impacts to the amenity of the parkland must be offset by the creation of additional green space nearby.
Option B - Munro St to Ryan St
The proposed Option B alignment, from Ryan Street in West End, to Munro St in St Lucia, is in some senses the option with the lowest direct negative impacts. It avoids resuming existing homes and the loss of useable parkland. It appears that this alignment would require the removal of only one tree - a palm at the end of Munro St on the St Lucia side - which we do not strongly object to providing that replacement trees are planted nearby.
This alignment would also potentially create a small but valuable riverside pocket park on the West End side of the river through the acquisition of vacant land at 113 Ryan St, representing a small net increase in public parkland.
However, in terms of connectivity to the broader transport network, Option B performs poorly. It connects two residential streets, potentially creating more conflicts between cyclists and residential driveways, and doesn’t directly connect to any of the north-south active travel corridors through West End, or to the east-west riverside pathways.
It also represents significant negative impacts to the nearest neighbours, particularly residents of 119 Ryan Street, in terms of the close proximity of noisy bridge users.
While it’s theoretically possible to create a new bus route that stops along Ryan St, running buses through lower-order residential streets is preferably avoided. The nearest practical bus stop location would be about 300 metres away on Hoogley Street.
All things considered, we can see why very few residents have told us that they prefer Option B, and we think it unlikely that this option will prove to be the most popular in council’s online survey and our online poll.
Option C - Keith St to Boundary St
Option C, while offering a direct access route from Boundary Street to UQ, has significant community opposition due to the potential resumption of homes. Council’s proposal indicates that the steep gradient at the end of Boundary Street requires a very high landing point, which would see a long stretch of bridge extending over land.
We understand the rationale behind wanting to land a bridge further up the hill on Boundary St, and accept that a bridge which lands at the bottom of the hill, closer to the river, would be less useable for many residents and thus less worthwhile to invest in. A bridge which lands at the bottom of the hill (avoiding direct impacts to residential homes) would also present a higher safety risk, as cyclists and escooter riders who are travelling south, downhill, along Boundary St to access the bridge would pick up a lot of speed before they reached it.
The proposed extent of a bridge which stretches almost all the way up to Paradise St not only dramatically affects the residents whose homes would be resumed, but also many more residents in the surrounding neighbourhood. Neighbouring residents have rightly expressed concern about privacy and visual amenity, as many houses would look out onto the bridge, which would have an elevation of around 10 metres where it crosses Dudley Street.
While not stated clearly in council’s documentation, it appears likely that a bridge stretching over land at this location would also likely require one or more vertical pylons to be located in the vacant block of State Government-owned land at the southern end of Boundary Street. This would likely necessitate removal of one or more of the large poinciana trees which are a feature of this space and the approach to the river. Further tree removals may also be required to facilitate the landing footprint on the St Lucia side.
Most crucially, we are concerned that this Option C alignment would likely require the resumption of three privately owned homes. This is of particular concern to those residents, as well as their neighbours and many in the broader community.
The impact of property resumptions, particularly for residential homes, can be immense. We have heard from a number of residents who would be affected by the proposed resumptions. The earmarked houses include multi-generational homes. For these families, losing a home would not only constitute the loss of a physical building, but the loss of a place of personal and familial significance, the loss of history, memories, and stability. As noted above, these residents were only notified of potential resumptions at the same time as public consultation opened. We empathise strongly with the distress that these families have felt.
While we have fewer concerns about resuming industrial-zoned properties or vacant land, our view is that resumptions of residential homes can have an extremely severe negative impact, and that governments should only take homes as an option of last resort, when other alternatives have been exhausted, and a clear public benefit from the project can be demonstrated. Criteria for consideration should include:
- Demonstration that there is a clear need for the project
- Acquisitions should only take place for publicly owned and managed projects
- Consideration of environmental impacts, including loss of trees and greenspace
- Consideration of heritage impacts, such as loss of heritage-listed buildings or trees
- Fair compensation for any residents being displaced, which takes into account land values, cost of relocation, but also potential impacts on residents’ mental and physical health. Residents should have a realistic option of relocating within the same neighbourhood, and compensation needs to take this into consideration.
- Extensive and thorough community consultation
- Reasonable notice periods
- Rights of appeal
- If land is acquired, and only part of a resumed site is used for a project like a bridge, the remaining surplus land should be retained as public greenspace, and not on-sold to private developers (as has been the case with BCC’s property acquisitions for the Lytton Road widening project)
We are not opposed to resumptions in theory. In a densely developed area such as West End, where forward planning for public infrastructure has been limited, resumptions may be necessary and justifiable in the broader public interest. However we have very strong concerns about resuming residential homes for this project. If Option C is selected, council would need to satisfy the above criteria, and take into proper consideration the full extent of the impacts upon the affected families. We also suggest that if this alignment turns out to be the community’s preferred option, the specific design of a bridge at this location could avoid property resumptions by landing a narrower bridge access on the existing Boundary St roadway, and realigning existing private driveways.
Other transport infrastructure priorities in the 4101 postcode
While we applaud investment in major active transport-focussed projects like new green bridges, we wish to reiterate that targeted localised investment in pedestrian and bike safety improvements across the inner-city could achieve similar results in terms of catalysing the necessary shift away from car-dependence towards public and active transport.
The following public infrastructure projects are of high priority for the Kurilpa Peninsula and the residents we represent, and we do not want these essential changes to be overlooked due to the focus on the new bridges:
- A new West End Citycat terminal along the Kurilpa Peninsula: The community have been calling for an additional ferry terminal for the western side of West End for the past decade to cater for rapid population growth along Montague Rd. The southern bank of the river has very few Citycat terminals compared to the north bank. An additional ferry terminal would help divert vehicle traffic off Montague Rd, and give people in the northern section of West End an additional transport option to access the CBD, QUT, New Farm, UQ St Lucia, and other destinations further afield.
- Increase frequency of 192 bus route and extend to weekends: The 192 bus service currently runs at a relatively low frequency on weekdays, and does not run on weekends. Increasing the frequency of the 192 would give residents in West End easy access to UQ and the CBD, and in particular would reduce traffic along Dornoch Terrace and Gladstone Rd.
- Dornoch Terrace pedestrian and bike safety improvements: Dornoch Terrace is an extremely unsafe environment, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists (it’s also a stressful corridor for motorists). Dornoch Terrace urgently needs pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, including pedestrian-priority crossings, lower speed limits, a very low speed shared zone environment near the Hardgrave Rd intersection, ‘aggressive’ traffic calming, separated bike lanes, and shaded pathways. In conjunction with improved bus services via a more frequent 192, these measures could significantly improve safety and accessibility along Dornoch Terrace.
- Separated bike lanes along Vulture: There are many active transport corridors in need of safe, separated bike lanes, however Vulture St is a particularly urgent priority as it serves as the key east-west link to Woolloongabba and the Goodwill Bridge. Having seen the benefits of the Woolloongabba bike lanes along Annerley Rd and Stanley Street, as well as in the CBD, we believe separated bike lanes along Vulture St would greatly assist in promoting active transport, including by separating pedestrians and escooters who currently share narrow footpaths
- Safety and connectivity improvements for Montague Rd: Increased density in West End has put increased pressure on Montague Road. There have been a number of accidents and near misses on Montague Rd in recent months, as well as severe congestion during peak hours. The corridor would be safer and calmer with an increased frequency of public transport, dedicated transit lanes or bus-priority lanes at intersections, separated bike lanes, and safe pedestrian crossings. In addition, the road would benefit from more deep-planted trees, to help shade and cool what is currently a hot, hostile environment. The State Government has stated that they will allocate $1 million towards a corridor study for Montague Rd, but that this money may not actually be allocated until 2023/24. We encourage BCC to work with the State Government to expedite this study, and allocate funds to alleviate pressures on Montague Road.
- Traffic calming: Many streets through West End and Highgate Hill are experiencing more severe rat-running. Greater investment in local traffic calming would make walking and riding safer and more comfortable, and thus encourage more residents to switch from driving to public and active transport
- Improving ramp access to Riverside Drive: Several of the streets at the western side of West End (most notably Ferry Rd and Beesley St) which connect to Riverside Drive do not have ramps which are accessible for wheelchairs and bikes. The lack of accessible connections to and from Riverside Drive Parkland (and the associated active transport corridor) is a major concern, and will become an even more pressing issue if new bridges are delivered.
Overall, it’s encouraging to see the council investing in important public infrastructure that will improve pedestrian and cycling connectivity not just for our residents, but the wider city. Congestion on Brisbane’s roads has only gotten worse over the past twelve months, and Brisbane needs more measures that will make it safe and easy for people to take part in active transport. Investment in active transport for inner-city suburbs around South Brisbane will have a positive ripple effect for the rest of the city.
In contrast to council’s ongoing over-investment in road-widening, investment in active transport infrastructure has the capacity to reduce car use and traffic congestion. This would mean that those who are able would have the option of using safe, easy pathways to travel for work, study and recreation. Increased active transport mode share would deliver multiplier effects in terms of broader health and wellbeing improvements. For those people unable to make use of active transport, the reduced pressure on the roads would also save them time and stress. If accompanied by investment in connecting infrastructure which is planned holistically as an integral part of the project, new pedestrian and cycling bridges would be a welcome addition to our neighbourhood.
We will provide advice on our preferred bridge locations once we’ve seen and analysed the results of the various public consultation processes conducted by our offices and by the BCC administration. We reiterate that:
- We do not support bridge locations that result in a loss of public green space unless that loss is offset by the creation of new publicly-owned, publicly-accessible parkland of an equivalent or greater size and quality, within walking distance of the bridges.
- The full asset value of any trees which might be removed, and the full cost of offsetting lost green space, must be factored into the cost-benefit analyses of the bridges.
- Council should conduct in-depth consultation and planning and allocate the necessary funding to facilitate better connections to and from the bridges, including investment in pedestrian and cycling access improvements, and bus service improvements.
- If the Toowong Option A bridge proposal proceeds, at least $500 000 of dedicated funding should be allocated towards preserving and improving the Cranbrook Place Sorry Site.
- We do not support a Guyatt Park to Orleigh Park bridge alignment that would require removal of established fig trees, given that there appears to be ample space to land a bridge between the trees.
- Resumption of residential homes should be an option of last resort.
Thanks for the opportunity to submit comments on these important public projects. We look forward to sharing the results of our community voting process with you in late April.
Dr Amy MacMahon MP
Councillor Jonathan Sri