Gold Coast light rail debate shows ‘change can be scary’ but city still has public transport problem

For some “it’s a great idea”, but for others it’s an “absolute nightmare”.

The light rail debate reignited again barely a week after the election, after McPherson MP Karen Andrews publicly called on the federal government to back out of the $2.7 billion project.

Mayor Tom Tate described Ms Andrews’ decision as an “arrogant” backflip while Kath Down of Save Our Southern Gold Coast said “we’ve had many meetings with her and haven’t heard anything about it”.

But beyond politics, public transport remains an unsolved problem.

A car-dependent Gold Coast

The Gold Coast has a booming population which is expected to reach 1 million by 2036.

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Goodwin Terrace in Burleigh Heads, near a soon to be built light rail station.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

The Council’s transportation strategy estimates that each new resident adds 3.1 new car journeys per day and that “if current levels of car dependency continue, this population growth could result in a doubling of car journeys on our network.” road by 2031″.

On average, each car carries only one person during peak hours.

Eddie Priest works at a Palm Beach music store along the proposed route and said he opposed light rail without improving local bus service.

“A lot of people who live in the area generally travel east to west, not north to south,” he said.

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Eddie Priest works in a music store in Palm Beach on the Gold Coast Highway.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Mr Priest said the light rail would be “a big elephant on the way”.

“Are people still going to be able to come into the store and pick up their ropes and take classes? ” he said.

“If they can’t come here, if it’s in the basket too hard, they won’t come. »

What about foot traffic?

Palm Beach surf shop manager Nigel Ziegler said the light rail was “a great idea” and “eliminates the need for people to try to find parking.”

“A lot of businesses here could use the extra foot traffic,” he said.

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Surf Shop Manager Nigel Ziegler supports Light Rail Stage 4.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

“Many of our clients are university students or they may be here for a short time, so they don’t have their own car.

But clothing store owner Sharon Fletcher also said she was concerned that most light rail customers would go to larger malls further north, not smaller local businesses.

“It just takes away the atmosphere from our coast, takes away the relaxed vacation feel and puts it in a big city,” she said.

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Stage 4 would see the light rail pass through the middle of this section of the Gold Coast Highway.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Ms Fletcher said proposed plans which showed the motorway reduced to one lane would be “an absolute nightmare”.

But Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said no decision on lanes had been made.

What are the polls saying?

A council survey suggested 64% of South Gold Coast residents supported light rail while state government consultation showed 63% supported it.

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Proponents of the Gold Coast Light Rail claim it has increased ridership on public transport.(ABC Gold Coast: Richard Johnson)

But a survey by Karen Andrews’ office last year showed that 81% of those polled opposed the proposed route.

Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said there was a “vocal minority of very aggressive people on social media who don’t want it”.

“But the majority of people in our consultation and research want it – they are quieter about their support,” he said.

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Mid-rise and high-rise developments have met with some resistance in the southern Gold Coast.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Nigel Ziegler said he couldn’t understand why there was “such a strong debate”.

“If you have enough time to sit on social media and complain about it, you probably have time to be a little more proactive,” he said.

“It’s an easy way to get your voice heard, but it’s like shouting into the wind. »

Why not just change the route?

An alternative proposed by anti-light rail groups would see the route diverted inland at Burleigh Heads, heading south along the M1.

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This was rejected by both the City of Gold Coast and the state government, with the inland route expected to cost an additional $1.3 billion and add 30 minutes of journey time.

” [It] would use the heavy rail corridor to the airport, that would be crazy,” said Mark Bailey.

Griffith University’s Cities Institute also advocated for the heavy and light rail link to the airport, arguing that each would serve a different function for the city and the wider South East Queensland region.

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The development has been a source of community frustration in the southern Gold Coast.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

“For the Gold Coast itself, the key is to stop light rail as it connects this whole coastal corridor and in particular the tourism industry there,” said institute deputy director Matthew Burke. , in March.

“For the region, it is indeed practical to have [heavy] rail line south especially when you think of the southern suburbs of Brisbane. [Gold Coast Airport] is already Brisbane’s second airport.

“With the Olympics, we will need that connection in place. »

“Change can be quite scary”

Local councilor Daphne McDonald said the Stage 4 route would cause congestion along suburban lanes.

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Councilor Daphne McDonald represents Division 13 in the South Gold Coast.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

While the council’s own modeling indicated that such congestion would be absorbed by the expansion of the nearby M1, Ms McDonald said “that remains to be seen”.

Much of the light rail debate has to do with development in areas once thought of as small surf communities away from the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise.

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Some residents fear that high-rise buildings in Surfers Paradise will soon be built in the southern suburbs.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Mr Priest said he had seen change in 30 years.

“It was a quiet little place, all the high-rise buildings were coming in, it opened up a whole new bag,” he said.

“Change can be quite scary and people are indifferent to what will happen. »

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