PUBLIC 2015, City-making and the LRT/BRT debate


This week I have had the pleasure of attending part of the FORM symposium called PUBLIC 2015. This is the discussion behind the fabulous street art going up around Fremantle and other parts of Perth – all in the name of “building a state of creativity”.

The keynote speaker was Enrique Penlosa – former mayor of Bogota – who has an amazing story to tell in regard to transforming Bogota with dedicated bicycle networks and a focus on public transport. He is such an inspiring speaker and I love his egalitarian approach to city making.

“Public space is for living, doing business, kissing, and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics; it must be felt with the soul.”

The only thing I didn’t agree with him on is his claim Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is equally good to light rail in city making. The global evidence from Portland to Sydney is that light rail is superior in everyway except cost. As Lyle Bicknell, Principle Urban Designer at City of Seattle says, ‘Show me your transport system and I will show you your built form”

While I was in Adelaide I had the opportunity to experience this contrast first hand. Adelaide has recently extended its tram/light rail to Glenelg through to the North of the Adelaide CBD. Along this corridor is major new development including an expanded convention centre and hospital precinct.

But did you know that Adelaide was one of the first cities in the world have a dedicated BRT system? I didn’t so I decided to make the most of the opportunity ride on this BRT also.

What was interesting is that it felt suburban rather than urban in nature. The stop I got on was called Paradise but it really was just a giant parking lot (with apologies to Joni Mitchell!) with none urban density that you might hope for. From Paradise to the CBD the route was dedicated but through a nature strip with no urban density along the corridor.

That said, the BRT was almost as quick as a train or light rail between stoops getting up to 100km/h but it wasn’t as nearly as smooth or comfortable.

Enrique Penolosa is right that BRT does have its place especially where budgets are a major and ongoing constraint but BRT is no substitute for the legibility, comfort and city making potential of light of heavy rail as a whole. My experience of Adelaide only further confirmed to me that it would be better for Perth to start with smaller lengths of light rail rather than BRT if it really is to be a more liveable and sustainable city.

But as Enrique said himself: “new ideas are never born with majority support”



About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

2 Responses to PUBLIC 2015, City-making and the LRT/BRT debate

  1. Diana Ryan says:

    You have used an example of the O-Bahn that is not presenting the benefits of BRT as it could, however SA certainly thought it was worth extending a system that has worked well for them, and in recent times. Not sure, but didn’t they also get federal money to do so?

    Queensland has also invested continuously in busways, and of course the Gold Coast Light Rail came in to being when the patronage of the buses along its route had reached that great point where it was time to go to the next stage.

    Penolosa is a very well travelled man, and his enthusiasm for the viability of BRT has not waned.

    There is a dearth of local experts able to speak publicly about the benefits that BRT would have (and we do need more direct and fast bus transport; even simple expediencies like 24/7 bus priority lanes, under all govts, have taken a ridiculously long time to roll out).

    I think Dean Nalder and his team are right to at least go and explore bus systems elsewhere. The long-standing rhetoric that “bus systems get built but never seem to go on to be light rail systems” cannot be a given in the world we have today.

    Portland’s operator, TRIMAX, are struggling financially to keep up this ageing system, and not so long ago put the case to the public to ask for their preferences as to which services to cut, or cost to put up and by how much, so as to reduce its budget deficit.

    • I agree there is a place for BRT as part of the transport mix but Light Rail (LRT) is superior if you want to make more compact, liveable cities with your transport network – not just move people for the lowest capital investment.

      The fact Adelaide is now primarily focused on extending LRT not the BRT it telling I think.

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