I kind of have “get moderately well-off, gradually” schemes.
The worst one has been buying shares. I got a tip that shares in Xero (the online accounting software company) would skyrocket. And they did, from about $6 to something like $40. But that was before I got around to buying them. By the time I bought them, they’d dropped to about $25. They subsequently fell to $15. Currently they’re sitting at $18. I didn’t buy a huge number of shares, but I’ll hold onto them for now rather than sell at a loss.
Ooh. Alas, I didn’t get it for Christmas, but I thought maybe I’d go buy it for myself.
My mate Josh used to talk about Lego as an investment. Some Lego sets are very limited runs, and over time become quite valuable, especially if in the original box, unopened.
It got me thinking… maybe I should buy two? Keep one for myself; keep the other for, say, five years, and sell it on. I might make my money back, meaning the set I keep is free.
It had vanished from the toy shops. All the toy shops. Chains like Big W and Target had it listed on their web sites, but out of stock. I checked a bunch of them, including checking with a friend who runs a shop that sells Lego. No luck. All gone. No more coming.
The Gold Coast Light Rail, also known as G:Link opened in July 2014, making it Australia’s newest completed tram/light-rail line.
I was very impressed when I rode it last week. As you would hope and expect, they’ve put a lot of thought into the design, and there are a number of things Melbourne can learn from it.
The line is 13 kilometres, from Broadbeach South, parallel to the beach, through the very busy, dense centre of Surfers Paradise, up to the Gold Coast University Hospital at the northern end.
While not ideal — it doesn’t serve the airport or connect to the rail line to Brisbane — they obviously built it with later extensions in mind, as both termini have additional currently unused track which is intended to be used should the line be extended.
An extension to Helensvale Railway Station got underway in 2016, expected to open before the Gold Coast hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Behind hoarding at the northern terminus you can see work is already underway.
From what I saw, along almost all of the route the trams travel in their own dedicated lanes. This has resulted in closure of vehicle traffic lanes, and in some sections of Surfers Paradise Boulevard, means car traffic can only travel southbound. The nearby Gold Coast Highway caters for through-traffic.
This has turned Surfers Paradise Boulevard from something of a traffic sewer (as I recall it in 2011) into almost a transit mall, with a small amount of parking for southbound cars, but mostly they move slowly through seeking to access side streets and off-street parking.
I did see what I’m guessing was an Uber X car, doing a couple of laps trying to find their booked fare. At one point he stopped and a couple climbed in, only to get out again when it became apparent it was the wrong Uber.
There is a small section of shared roadway where cars and trams mix, northbound only between Thomas Drive and Cypress Avenue towards the northern end of Surfers Paradise — it appears this is to provide vehicle access to a few side streets.
Traffic light priority
What’s really eye-opening to a Melburnian is the traffic light priority for trams.
T lights are used extensively along the route. But unlike Melbourne, they don’t go green for trams unless trams are approaching. And when they do, they anticipate the tram’s arrival, triggering the T light to prevent the tram having to wait.
Yes, real traffic light priority. Not just reducing delays, but keeping the trams moving.
This video shows it in action.
Melbourne has almost nothing like this. The closest we have is the two former rail lines, 96 and 109, where trams approaching former rail level crossings get priority, sometimes even with boom gates.
But we have many, many other routes running in their own lanes/alignments that could benefit from this technology. At the very least, it should be implemented in places like St Kilda Road, Dandenong Road (subject to a trial in 2015 – what was the result?), Victoria Parade, Burwood Highway, Flemington Road, Royal Parade, Plenty Road…
And there should be no reason that approaching trams in mixed traffic can’t also be detected so they can get a green.
Gold Coast tram priority isn’t perfect. In the very densest part of Surfers Paradise I saw trams waiting at red lights. It wasn’t actually obvious why this was the case, as it appeared a tram green could have been inserted into the sequence without unduly disrupting other motor and pedestrian traffic.
The other issue is that sometimes the tram didn’t get the green soon enough, and had to slow down slightly. This is a noticeable issue on Melbourne’s 96 and 109 routes as well. Perhaps it’s to enforce a slower speed limit at possible conflict points with cars.
Tram stops and tram accessibility
Stop distances are far wider than most in Melbourne.
By my calculations there’s an average of about 850 metres per stop, though some in the dense area of Surfers Paradise are a bit more closely spaced.
All stops have platforms, and all trams are low-floor, meaning the entire route is accessible for mobility aids and prams — as you would hope for such a recently built system.
Possibly unique, inside the trams there are dedicated spots for surf boards, though I didn’t see any in use.
There is extensive use of ads covering the windows. Visibility from inside looking out seemed mostly okay on a clear day. But it may be quite a different story at night, especially when raining.
Announcements and screens indicating the next stop helps obviously, but it was difficult to see inside as the tram arrived to tell which section was least crowded.
Card readers are at stops, not on the trams. Of course this is possible where there is only a small number of stops — it would be difficult on a huge system of hundreds (thousands?) of stops, as in Melbourne.
Each platform has a ticket machine and information. I saw no platform staff (sometimes seen at busy Melbourne CBD stops) though it appeared common for the stops to have small retail (eg coffee shops) built-in.
The tickets are part of the Go Card system, offering smartcards or short term (single trip) tickets.
Other than drivers, there are few staff on the system. I did see what appeared to be the equivalent of Melbourne’s Authorised Officers, groups of two or more uniformed staff roaming around, it appeared with ticket checking equipment, but I didn’t see them checking tickets.
Some trams included advertising nagging people to pay their fare – as with Melbourne, the system is open, but they sometimes have ticket checking blitzes.
When you ask Google Maps to plot you a trip from Gold Coast Airport to Surfers Paradise, it tells you to hop aboard the 777 bus (which runs every 15 minutes, 7 days-a-week, which I think might make it a better level of service than just about any single Melbourne bus route, though some combined services would surpass it).
Then it tells you to alight the bus and walk ten metres and board a tram the rest of the way.
Frankly I didn’t believe it. Ten metres? They’re making it up.
But when you step off the bus, you see it’s true. The Broadbeach South interchange is really nicely setup – buses arrive either side of the tram, which is on its terminating track in the middle of platforms on either side.
When the light rail line opened, local bus routes got a shake-up. This makes sense – with a new 13 km trunk route, it’s logical to change bus routes around to feed into it rather than parallel it, though a few routes still make the north-south route parallel to the trams.
Quite obviously the designers have given some thought as to how to make interchange, particularly at Broadbeach South, as easy as possible. Other connecting services weren’t quite as good, but still — I don’t think we have anything this good in Melbourne. (There is a tram/bus interchange at Queensbridge Street outside the Casino, but it’s in a location which is unlikely to see many passengers changing between those services.)
The interchange includes bicycle parking, and there are shops nearby, though no retail directly integrated into the stop.
And how often to the trams run?
Well the “timetable” (which is actually a frequency guide) sums it up: every 7.5 minutes on weekdays, 10 on weekends, 15 evenings and early mornings, and 30 overnight on weekends.
On weekdays overnight, the 24/7 700 bus, which normally connects with the tram at Broadbeach South, is extended to parallel the tram route, running every half-hour on weekdays overnight.
This means this line runs a better off-peak, evening and overnight service than almost any Melbourne tram route, though we have more frequent peak services on some routes.
Specific times aren’t published at stops, nor on paper timetables — the stops have realtime departure countdowns, and the paper timetables only have the frequencies. This is probably almost okay when the trams are every 10 minutes or better… less so when only every 15 or 30 minutes.
The Translink web site (and it appears Google Maps/Transit) includes specific times.
Tram priority is something holding Melbourne’s trams back — and is an important part of the Gold Coast system. Putting in some proper traffic light priority to prevent trams having to wait at traffic lights would be almost imperceptable to Melbourne’s inner-city motorists, but help ensure tram travel is more time-competitive and that our huge investment in tram infrastructure is more efficiently used.
I work on Bourke Street, and often go walking along it at lunchtime.
On Friday I was on Spencer Street on a tram coming back from Docklands when it happened. Two police cars and an ambulance passed our tram, then as the tram turned into Bourke Street it was obvious there was something going on – a large crowd had formed and many emergency service vehicles and staff were on the scene.
As I got closer, it appeared the incident was still ongoing. I shot this footage of police running towards the scene – this clip and stills would later get used on TV news and online. (I’d prefer a credit, but in the circumstances it would be churlish to demand it.)
On the ground amongst bystanders it wasn’t at all clear what had happened — at least having approached the scene from the west.
A lot of journalists follow my Twitter feed. As I was tweeting, an ABC 774 producer rang me and asked me to go on-air live to describe what I was seeing. I went on, and described the large number of police, that they were expanding the cordon pushing the crowds back, and closing off streets, which included closing off the front entrances of numerous buildings. It later became apparent that some of the injured were still being treated along the footpath where the car had travelled.
No firm info on the ground, other than many people saying they heard shots. Note this smashed up car. Hope everyone is OK. pic.twitter.com/H4JCdMGbHX
Numerous bystanders helped the injured, and in some cases ran to get medical supplies to help. They forever deserve our gratitude. You often see random acts of kindness in our big city — when something horrific like this happens is when it really counts.
There’s plenty of speculation and discussion about what motivated this tragedy, the bail the suspect was granted a few days before, and the police response, as well as the mental health system. John Silvester has a good article on all these issues in The Age. All that is worth picking apart to see how an event like this could be prevented in future.
I want to consider another issue which seems to be getting no attention.
Normally it’s drivers being careless or thoughtless or clueless, but not malicious.
Being lunchtime, it’s not surprising large numbers of pedestrians were around. Being school holidays probably increased the number of children present in the city.
While nobody could expect this maniac to do what he did, I wonder if the infrastructure is appropriate, and if adequate protection has been provided for pedestrians to prevent motor vehicles accessing areas they shouldn’t go.
Swanston St and Bourke St Mall – car-free… in theory
Despite cars being banned, it is very easy to drive into Swanston Street — in part because service vehicles need to access some parts of the street. And it is common to see bewildered motorists doing this.
It is also very easy to access Bourke Street Mall, which has theoretically been car-free since 1983. It’s protected only by signage — in a similar way to painted bike lanes and laws that don’t physically prevent collisions, that some cycling advocates describe as “Administrative hazard controls” — a term also common in risk management and health & safety circles.
It’s not just a problem in the CBD, and Friday’s incident is not the only recent one involving an erratic driver in a pedestrian mall. In northern suburban Coburg in 2015, a driver fleeing police drove through a pedestrian mall, hitting a pram which was thankfully empty.
Clearly, signage alone doesn’t prevent vehicles from entering pedestrian malls when they shouldn’t.
Many cities employ tactics such as movable bollards that can drop into the road to let authorised vehicles through. Judging from this video, they seem to be quite effective.
This would only work on Swanston or Bourke Streets with some careful design. The frequency of trams would mean they’d be likely to cause delays unless they were somehow positioned and synchronised at tram stops with the traffic lights. Perhaps an arriving tram at the stop could trigger the bollards to open, with them closing after the tram had departed.
Even if only possible at the tram stops (in Bourke Street Mall these are at the western end) it would prevent unauthorised vehicles using it as a thoroughfare. (There’s certainly very little enforcement.)
Alternatively there might be options for fixed bollards which allow trams to easily enter, but discourage or at least slow down other vehicles. Currently we have narrowly-placed structures on the bicycle ramps onto the Swanston Street tram platforms; these are very effective at keeping cars off the stops.
Of course any such methods need to allow through emergency and authorised service vehicles where required. (The current design at the northern end of Swanston Street doesn’t stop cars, but can delay ambulances when they get stuck behind trams.)
I don’t know precisely which path the car took, but perhaps we can be thankful that the busy tram stops at the western end of Bourke Street have barriers at each end of the platform.
Barriers also prevent a visible impediment to cars getting up the ramps onto other platform stops, though I don’t know if they’re crashproof.
As noted above, the bicycle lane onto the Swanston Street platform stops is too narrow to allow through most vehicles. (Some motorists who ignore the signs actually get stuck there.)
What of the footpaths? It sounds like the car drove a full two blocks along Bourke Street on the northern side footpath, though it’s unclear when it left the road.
Intersections and pedestrian crossings need ramps to be wheelchair accessible. But is there something that could be employed to prevent a motor vehicle using them to mount the footpath?
Pavement edges are usually sharp, and might prevent a typical car mounting them at speed without doing some damage, but in some locations the edge is much more curved, more like a ramp.
If we don’t want cars mounting the footpath, why is it like this? To prevent damage to vehicles that hit the kerb? Should that be the priority?
Ensuring car-free spaces are free of cars
Many public spaces have had skateboard prevention brackets fitted to walls, steps and other surfaces. In most cases they don’t prevent other uses such as sitting. These seem to have been a fairly recent development, yet are cheap and effective.
There may be similar emerging technologies that can be employed to keep cars out of pedestrian areas and off footpaths, while not inhibiting the movement of pedestrians including those with prams or mobility aids.
Of course care must be taken to cater for service and emergency vehicles that may need to access these spaces, or pass through them to bypass traffic.
And we don’t want to over-react. Even bearing in mind last year’s horrific incidents in Nice and Berlin, Friday’s incident doesn’t necessarily mean that malicious drivers are a huge problem or that we should destroy Melbourne’s streetscapes for what is a very rare set of circumstances — or indeed that we can protect against every scenario.
But there is no shortage of clueless and careless motorists entering spaces they shouldn’t. It is worth considering whether the infrastructure currently in place is appropriate to properly prevent this, and protect pedestrians.
Early start. If all went to plan, I was going to be at Melbourne Airport to meet my offspring at 12:30, assuming they made their connection in Sydney at 11:15.
Being there at 12:30 meant flying out of Brisbane by 9am, as the flight is a little over two hours, and in summer there’s an hour’s time difference due to daylight saving.
To be on a 9am flight (8:55 to be precise) means being at the airport 45 minutes earlier, 8:10, which means being on an airport train by around 7:45… which would mean leaving the hotel at 7:40. How long would the queue be at check-out?
As it happens, I woke pretty early again, had a cup of tea, packed up my stuff and checked-out (very quick), before heading to the station. It was peak hour, and commuters streamed out of the gates at Fortitude Valley – a contrast to the dodgy types hanging around outside the station the night before.
Despite the train having to wait for another coming back the other way (the perils of single track) I was at the airport on time. Track congestion might be an issue, but it’s a lot less worse than the traffic congestion suffered by Skybus.
I was about to skol my bottle of water when a passing security bloke said it would be allowed through security — they’re only banned from international flights.
In the rush I hadn’t eaten breakfast (well, apart from a meusli bar) having found the gate I bought a ham and cheese toastie and ate it while I waited.
I’m surprised at how many of you have been asking if this grand rendezvous plan actually came off, and whether I was able to meet my sons on their trip Las Vegas via Los Angeles and Sydney (the final leg also being on Qantas domestic).
As if this far-too-detailed trip blog (which frankly is more for my benefit than yours!) needs a plot point for some suspense?
Well, read on…
They advertise the Sydney airport train in Brisbane and Melbourne. I didn’t notice any ads for the Melbourne Skybus…
Though I’d flown up on Virgin, but I was flying back on Qantas — part of the plan. And I didn’t check in any bags, but took my two small backpacks through security with me onto the plane. That way I could meet my sons in the terminal.
Unfortunately the plane was a bit late pushing back. But we made up time, and after a route that gave us a nice view out of the window of Melbourne’s CBD, we landed only a few minutes late.
My flight had been scheduled to arrive twenty minutes before theirs, so I made my way to their gate and waited. The sign said they’d just landed, and before too long the plane arrived. But had they made their connection? Were they actually on it?
People started to come out of the gate in ones and twos. Then there’d be a bigger group of people, then none for a while, then more.
I saw a familiar face: a bloke who lives down the street from me came out. Small world; he’d been on that flight.
More and more people came out. Then none for a while. The staff by the gate went in and went down the ramp. Was that all the people?
No! Then came a few more… including, yes, my two sons, who had successfully navigated their way through LAX and Sydney. (Melbourne Airport may not be perfect, but it is blessed with four terminals that are all within walking distance of each other.)
They’d been away for four weeks, and it was good to see them back. They’d had a good time.
We came out of the secure area of the Qantas terminal to find TV news crews… though not for us of course. I asked one of the camermen I knew what the story was; he said they were there to film/interview arriving Renegades cricket players, following an incident the night before when a player got hit in the face with a cricket bat. Ouch.
Outside the terminal it was hot – far hotter than I’d experienced in Queensland. We walked back to the car and drove back home.
Stay tuned for some eye-popping detail about the new(ish) Gold Coast Light Rail line coming soon. Queensland can teach Victoria a thing or two.
(This post backdated to the day it occurred. Posted on 20th January.)
Memo to myself: when in Queensland in summer, make sure the blinds/curtains are closed properly before going to bed.
Given no daylight savings in the Sunshine State, you can expect the sunshine to come through the window at about 5am. I found myself awake at about 5:20, and it wasn’t particularly easy to get back to sleep.
When I eventually got up, it was time to head north to Brisbane.
After the buffet breakfast ($12.50 if pre-booked, that’s reasonable — unlike some hotels that will sting you $20), I checked-out of the hotel. Google Maps gave which gave me two choices: the first was to walk a couple of blocks, wait a while, catch a bus to Nerang station, then train to Brisbane.
Or I could catch the tram a few stops, catch a different bus to Nerang station, then the same train. I took this option. It’s slightly slower but (thanks to the buses and trains only running half-hourly — but timed to meet) avoided waiting around for the bus — and I could see/cover more ground as I travelled.
That all went smoothly and as the train pulled in, the signage on the carriages remembered me two things about Queensland Rail’s services: free WiFi (on some trains?) and Quiet Carriages.
I found a good spot in a Quiet carriage. This was going to be a good trip. I fired up the laptop, connected to the WiFi and got to work catching up on emails, while glancing at the scenery.
After a few stops a lady and her chatty granddaughter sat right behind me — the granddaughter wanted to go to the next carriage, but the lady insisted sitting in this one, despite the presence of an errant Coke bottle, which she moved to another seat in the next carriage.
Whether she was aware of the quiet carriage I don’t know. Or perhaps she thought her granddaughter’s near-constant exclamations came within the definition of Quiet. Who knows. (“Look, another train!” “We’re going faster than that truck!” “Look at all the dead people!” — thankfully we were passing a cemetery; it wasn’t a zombie attack.)
No matter, I’m not a local, I don’t know what’s etiquette for the Quiet Carriage, so I persevered. Then the WiFi ran out. Turns out they only let you use a measly 20 megabytes. Oh well, you know, #FirstWorldProblems
At some point I decided I wanted to shoot some video of the passing scenery, and that it would be better without the girl’s commentary track, so I moved into the next carriage, which was quieter even though it wasn’t a Quiet Carriage.
We rolled into Brisbane and I hopped off at Fortitude Valley station and made my way up Brunswick Street.
Mind the font
Fortitude Valley station. note the gap at most doorways, and the hump to assist with wheelchairs.
The area had the air of being just the wrong side of the grungy/dodgy continuum, but after negotiating a five way intersection with pedestrian lights that you could grow old waiting for, I found the hotel easily enough, not far from the station. (Looking at the map now, it seems to have been The Wrong Side Of The Tracks.)
Despite it being only 11:30, my hotel room was ready. Nicer but smaller room, not as impressive a view. I then went off to find my uncle, which took some time thanks to my confusion about which square we’d agreed to meet in. (Note to self: St George’s Square is not the same as Brisbane Square.)
We had a bite to eat then caught a bus along the busway to University of Queensland, then walked around the lake to find my Dad’s memorial bench.
It seemed more shady than when I was last there; perhaps they’ve planted an extra tree or two. I’d gone prepared to wash bird poo away, but it was spotless, if perhaps in need of a little varnish (on the wood) and Brasso (on the plaque).
We sat on the bench and chewed the fat for quite a while, watching the swans and other birdlife on and around the lake.
Peak hour had rolled around by the time we caught the bus back. I hopped off in the City; my uncle stayed on the bus as it would take him close to home.
I wandered around the CBD for a bit, before heading back to the hotel for a cup of tea.
I’d pondered catching up with Robert (from local PTUA-equivalent Rail Back On Track) and/or exploring the new Moreton Bay rail link, but the day was racing away, and instead I went back to Fortitude Valley station and hopped on a train.
I ended up at Eagle Junction where I sat on a bench and munched some fish and chips and slurped down a ginger beer, before heading back, with a stop-off for a selfie at the excellently named Bowen Hills station — named after Sir George Ferguson Bowen, who at various times was governor of Queensland, New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius, and Hong Kong. (Bowen Street at RMIT in Melbourne is also named after him.)
Back to the hotel, trying not to stare at the dodgy types hanging around at the front of Fortitude Valley station (some of them were now drunk, walking out into the middle of the road to goad the car drivers). A little TV and I started packing. I had an early start to head home in the morning.
(This post backdated to the day it occurred. Posted on 20th January.)