Planning the ticket to good public transport infrastructure


Transport infrastructure planning expert Diane Legge Kemp has seen some public transport disasters in her time but there have also been some real wins for communities in the form of well-designed and imaginatively funded public transport projects.

Ms Legge Kemp, who is the Vice President of design consultancy CallisonRTKL, is based in Hong Kong but she has worked in many major cities including New York, Shanghai LA and Chicago.

She spoke to Government News while in Sydney for Green Building Day about properly planning good public transport infrastructure and how multi-million dollar projects can be let down by scrappy preparation.

Because infrastructure can take decades to deliver, planning needs to begin many years in advance so that projects are ready to go when the funding and political will to do them eventually coincide.

Legge says: “Sydney is tossing around the idea of high speed rail. Well, even it is 15 years from now it needs to be planned. All the pieces have to be in place, notwithstanding funding.”

Tips to success

  • Integrate the planning process

Legge says it is critical to ensure that planning is a collaborative process done between transport agencies, development organisations, business and communities.

“There’s an understandable focus on providing transportation services, which is the primary goal of those agencies, but at the same time the major land holders have the potential to make or break a plan based on the presence of transit so it’s very important that there’s this broad perspective.

“There’s a much more powerful potential when you put these things together.”

There is value too, in looking beyond the immediate vicinity of transport hubs, such as train stations, when predicting the benefit of new public transport infrastructure, especially where people can walk or cycle to a transport hub.

  • Intermodal connectivity

Whether it’s mixing cycling, train and bus or any other mode of transport, intermodal connectivity is the key to smart infrastructure planning.

“This seems so obvious but you would be surprised, especially in China,” she says. “You need them [modes of transport] all working together and you need to make walking and biking safer.”

Taxis and ride-sharing services can also be taken into account.

  • Don’t fear density

Density, says Legge Kemp, can be a good thing. Allowing more development to occur in, around, above and inside can bring transport hubs to life and maximise the return from the presence of transportation.

“You’re not saying that every development needs to turn out to be a mini CBD. It can be up to four storeys in some locations,” she says.

Obviously, metropolitan areas with transport hubs can often achieve higher densities.

  • Consider the social aspect

Planning public transport should not just be about the potential economic benefits projects can deliver. Legge suggests looking at the social goals and aspirations of the community it will serve and the social problems transport could help fix.

Measuring the potential impact of projects demands a broad perspective, including considering access to human services such as health, education and training, as well as job creation, the uplift in property values and the increase in gross national product.

“Looking at the people aspect of mobility is critical, whether people are the users of transport or the beneficiaries, for example, business growth, affordable housing and jobs,” Legge says.

  • Urban fabric

Good planning should take into account the size, shape and composition of buildings and the composition of open spaces, and how places interact with each other. This does not just include transport hubs but also cultural and education buildings and they intersect.

  • Mixed use

Good planning tends to be mixed use, says Legge Kemp, rather than segregating transport from jobs or housing.

In Hong Kong, where land is scarce and development occurs over train stations. There are shopping malls, offices, colleges and community centres above transport hubs, something that Legge says is likely to occur more frequently in Australian cities as urbanisation gathers pace.

  • Designing transport hubs to fit each location

Stations can be designed using a template but with variations allowed to fit the characteristics of a place. For example, a station may have a focus on industry or agriculture or serve a stadium.

Legge Kemp has worked extensively as a consultant on Malaysia’s high speed rail.

Two of seven stations were in rural, predominantly agricultural, areas. In these two cases planners also looked at the possible development of other industries in tandem, such as food processing, or non-food products that could be made from agricultural crops, e.g. using recycled wood for furniture.

She says: “Each station has its own industrial character but the industry might be healthcare, education or other services.”

She points to the uniformity of trains stations in China, a planning process that involved little public consultation.

“They just built the stations the same, over and over again, and repeated the same mistakes and the same connectivity problems,” Legge says. “They didn’t consider how people move around the stations. It is bad for the citizens and it’s not mixed use. Stakeholders need to be involved.”

 Examples of good public transport planning

“I’m utterly amazed and totally respect what Hong Kong has done.  Building above stations on Hong Kong Island. New train lines to the New Territories have built up some of those rural communities,” says Legge.

She points to the benefits and rewards of private public partnerships (PPP). For example, the Hong Kong Central to airport line has been primarily funded by private investment and development rights sold off along the corridor.

The project has ended up a relatively low cost one for the government.

“When funding is scarce – and it always is all over the world – these kinds of investment strategies for funding projects make a great deal of sense and have delivered benefits back to government, if governments will let itself take advantage of this.”

It is also essential to sell the benefits of a project because it promotes public acceptance and makes plans less likely to be kyboshed by subsequent governments. Public consultation too so that projects not derailed or poorly designed.

She says the Malaysian government saw the potential of delivering high speed rail and set up a new transit agency to oversee the PPP.

“They showed the long-term benefits of investing in high speed rail to the immediate community, the state and the nation and it went from being: “gee, this would be really nice” to “this is an absolute must do program.

“Investing in infrastructure is the number one way to move a nation up in economic global status.”

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