Because we don`t know what we`re doing
Russell Degnan

I ranted below about doing strategic planning without demonstrating arguments for why, or even a clear statement of goals. The evidence for why its is bad keeps piling up.

Exhibit A: Regional Fast Rail Project

This is a project that was devised with one purpose only: to win votes in the country. Unfortunately it worked a little too well, because suddenly the Bracks government had to find a way to provide faster rail services to regional areas. This would be fine, except they are a) small and uneconomical, and b) cutting through difficult terrain. The original $80 million was a ridiculous pipedream. But it has meant the whole project has been ridiculously poorly planned from start to finish.

Consider the pronounced goal: shorter travel times to Melbourne. Why would country people want that? That might seem ridiculous -- of course they want them -- but it isn't, because they want it for a reason. They want it so they can commute to Melbourne, and live in a regional centre. There is far more to this project than just the reduction of travel times. It offers a potentially substantial number of people a lifestyle choice. Done properly, it would increase demand for housing in regional centres -- at the expense of the outer suburbs with longer, slower commutes. [1]

But this also means it impacts on dozens of other government areas: health, education, local transport, water, and the relative strength of different regional and metropolitan economies. It should be done in the context of planning for those services and others. But of course it wasn't and won't be, because we don't plan like that. Instead we assume that all other factors will remain the same, and then predict the infrastructure needs given those trajectories.

[1] Of course, it wasn't done properly. It is a complete balls-up of a project that won't reduce travel times at all.

Exhibit B: Flinders Street Overpass

I love this article. It is a triumph of circular reasoning and contradictory stupidity. Cauchi starts by stating that the Flinders Street Overpass is being removed because it is ugly. He then adds that after it was built "hotels closed and shops and showrooms were boarded up". Last I checked, destroying the economic vitality of an area was a more serious problem than just "ugly". It is a problem that has remained, because pedestrians don't walk down ugly, windy, littered, dirty and noisy streets noone in their right mind would try and operate there.

Having misrepresented the proposed change he then states that it is necessary for the suburban commuter to speed their way into the city. He completely fails to see that the overpass is a trade-off between the commuter and the amenity of local residents and businesses. An argument for which I will always argue in favour of the locals, if you hadn't noticed.

He then acknowledges that reducing commuter amenity is also a useful way of getting people onto public transport instead -- once again, it is a trade-off. But his argument against it: public transport in outer-suburbia is bad and people have to drive. This is a tiresome, ridiculous argument, public transport is slow and infrequent, so people don't use public transport, people need to get to the city though, so people drive, all those drivers slow down the morning commute, so you need to spend money on freeways to make faster commutes, noone uses public transport because it is faster to drive, so public transport gets less funding, public transport is slow and infrequent, so people don't use public transport...

His last statement refers to the fate of the railway viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations. On this, as I have said before, I believe it should be removed, not because it is ugly but because it obstructs two city blocks worth of valuable land. It should be removed underground along with Flinders Street traffic as well, to open up the river to development and pedestrians. No doubt it would provide a pleasant vista for Mr. Cauchi as he speeds along King Street to his suburban residence in the evening.

Sterner Matters 13th June, 2005 16:55:37   [#]