Last year, a large number of residents submitted a petition to Brisbane City Council calling for a drop in the speed limit on Montague Road, West End. I requested a speed limit review because I felt the road is too fast and too dangerous.

Council outsourced the review process to a consultancy, but bizarrely, the consultancy only looked at crash data from between 2007 to 2011, rather than focussing on more recent crash histories. As shown in the accompanying image, they also made some terrible choices in locating their traffic counters. They placed traffic recorders up near the Jane St traffic lights and down towards Orleigh Park, but didn’t collect any data on speeds or traffic volumes in the fastest and most dangerous section of Montague Road.

Below is my (long) speech to council about why I think the speed limit should be lowered (preferably to 40km/h south of Vulture Street). It’s pretty dry, but a few traffic planning geeks might enjoy it. And here’s a link to the report produced by the consultancy that council outsourced to…

SPEECH IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS ON 28/03/2017:

I’d like to unpack a couple of major flaws in the speed limit review process, which is the basis of council’s opposition to lowering the speed limit at this time. I’ll then go on to highlight some of the key arguments weighing in favour of dropping the speed limit on Montague Road.

So council conducted this speed limit review in response to safety concerns raised by a number of local residents and business owners. My general concern is that the speed limit review process which the Queensland Government encourages councils to follow doesn’t necessarily yield sensible outcomes in inner-city suburbs, particularly in areas that have recently undergone rapid development and transformation. This is in large part because the process does not include pedestrian or cyclist counts and deprioritises the needs and concerns of pedestrians and public transport users.

The speed limit review process is inherently resistant to changes that would improve pedestrian safety and amenity. It is overly bureaucratised and heavily centralised and does not sufficiently account for local context or the need to prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users ahead of cars. If we’d followed this process in the CBD, it would have recommended against dropping speed limits to 40 km/h. But I think we can all agree that 40km/h is working pretty well in the CBD and that if the State Government’s review process contradicts that, then the review process is flawed.

It’s also kind of morbid that the review process relies so heavily on crash data as the primary indicator regarding safety. This creates a situation where no matter how dangerous a road is and no matter how many residents and local businesses complain that an area has become more dangerous, council won’t act until after multiple serious crashes have occurred.

So I’m not convinced that this speed limit review process should be relied upon by council as our only tool of analysis and decision-making regarding speeds, particularly in areas with lots of pedestrians.

However, for the purposes of discussion today, I wanted to raise specific concerns about this particular speed limit review. I hope these concerns will be conveyed to the relevant council officers and that Councillor Cooper will be good enough to take these concerns in good faith as they are intended. The outcome I’m seeking is that we hold off on responding to this petition until further research has been conducted. An alternative outcome I’d like to see is that this administration will remain open to conducting another speed limit review in the most dangerous section of Montague Road sometime in the next few months, once newer crash data becomes available.

The speed limit review report relies heavily on data from two traffic recorders, which recorded both traffic volumes and speed data over a seven day period.

But unfortunately, this data is fundamentally flawed due to the poorly thought-out locations of the traffic counters.

One traffic recorder was positioned right down at the southern end of the road near Cordeaux St, which is a lower density residential neighbourhood that receives substantially less traffic than the rest of Montague Road. This is just before the approach to Orleigh Park, where the road narrows and vehicles slow down to turn onto Orleigh Street.

The other traffic recorder was positioned at the very northern end of the review area, immediately before the Jane Street traffic lights. The segment of Montague Rd between Jane St and Vulture St also receives far less traffic, because the majority of vehicles travelling into and out of the peninsula currently turn onto Vulture Street, avoiding the Jane St intersection altogether.

So the independent consultancy has put these recorders in places where there are lower traffic volumes and lower speeds than the most dangerous stretch in the middle of Montague Road. It’s a little bit like measuring how fast a bunch of sprinters are running by positioning the speed gun twenty centimetres in front of the starting line.

So even though my concerns and the concerns of residents were primarily related to the middle stretch of Montague Road near Victoria Street, the consultancy has measured the vehicle speeds and traffic volumes at the far ends of the road, away from the major trouble spots.

My second related concern is that this report doesn’t include pedestrian or cyclist counts, even though pedestrian safety issues were the primary trigger for this speed limit review. The report goes into a lot of detail about the number of vehicles per hour and what speeds they were travelling at, but doesn’t make any serious attempt to explore how frequently pedestrians cross the road or where pedestrians cross most often, which should logically be the focus for this kind of review. The report’s failure to focus at all on cyclist safety and comfort is deeply concerning, and again defeats a key purpose of the speed limit review.

My third and perhaps most significant objection is that the independent consultants appear to have relied on very out-of-date crash data in assessing safety concerns. This is particularly problematic because it seems to have been the crash data, as part of the Environment Assessment component of this review, that tipped the balance in favour of retaining the current speed rather than dropping it.

The review relied upon crash data from 2007 to 2011, even though this review was conducted at the end of 2016. This is in spite of the fact that I have repeatedly emphasised to council how significantly traffic conditions and crash frequencies have changed in the last few years. Back in 2007, Montague Road was a lot safer. There were far fewer cars and far fewer pedestrians. People didn’t have to play chicken with semi-trailers every time they wanted to get to the bus stop or the local shops.

In the period from 2007 to 2011, there were fewer than 15 significant accidents along Montague Road. Nowadays, there are dozens of accidents along Montague Road every year. I’m personally aware of five accidents that have occurred along the Victoria Street stretch since the beginning of January this year, and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t heard about.

I’m extremely sceptical of claims that no relevant crash data from 2011 onwards was available, or that more recent data was not suitable to be relied upon. I know the State Government can be pretty slow to release this sort of information, but a lag of five years is pretty hard to believe. If it really was the case that more recent data was unavailable, it would have been better to exclude crash data from the review altogether, rather than relying on crash statistics that were between 5 and 10 years old.

The Montague Rd precinct has changed dramatically in recent years. This area is undergoing a process of rapid densification, with dozens of warehouses and industrial businesses replaced by high-density residential along with commercial uses that generate higher volumes of traffic – both pedestrian and vehicles – than previous land uses.

Montague Road includes a range of uses that generate high pedestrian volumes including the blue cityglider bus route, a major supermarket, and several smaller supermarkets, commercial offices, major dance schools, high-density residential, a large new childcare centre that’s currently under construction, and the very popular Davies Park Markets. It’s also a key connector to the local primary school and the riverside parklands.

The opportunity we have along Montague Road is to create a walkable neighbourhood more reminiscent of Grey Street at South Bank, with a lively and vibrant streetscape and high volumes of pedestrian and cyclist traffic.

As the West End population grows, we need to make it easier, safer and more comfortable for people to use active transport and public transport rather than relying on private vehicle transport. This will improve local amenity and commerce, and will also allow for larger numbers of commuters to travel in and out of the suburb along Montague Road.

The LNP’s South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan reinforces this vision. It says that along Montague Road, retail development, street upgrades, landscaping and building design will establish an attractive and comfortable environment for pedestrians. So it sounds like we all share similar visions for how this road will evolve, and should be working together to achieve that vision.

A crucial and necessary step in this transformation of Montague Road is lowering the speed limit. This will reduce noise and air pollution, which will make the footpaths a more comfortable pedestrian environment, and will improve amenity for the many residents now living in apartments along the road.  It will also improve the actual safety and perceived safety for cyclists who ride along this corridor.

Dropping the speed limit will make it easier and safer for vehicles to turn onto Montague Road from side-streets and driveways, and will also reduce hassles and safety concerns for Cityglider bus drivers who are pulling out of bus stops.

During peak periods, traffic along Montague Road already moves very slowly, and dropping the speed limit is unlikely to have any significant impact on travel times for private vehicles during rush hour. However it will significantly improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists throughout the day. In the last two or three years, there’s been a significant increase in crashes and near misses along this corridor. The Victoria Street intersection near the ALDI supermarket is the most notorious hotspot for collisions and near misses.

Pedestrians of all demographics cross Montague Road on a daily basis, including dozens of school children, people with impaired mobility, and people with impaired vision. Thousands of commuters cross Montague Road each day to access CityGlider bus stops, particularly at the Victoria St intersection. If council pushes ahead with the installation of more pedestrian refuge islands along Montague Road, it would make sense to drop speed limits at the same time.