Adelaide grows up: ambitious plan to bring back trams to build 'creative city'

Premier Jay Weatherill proposes five lines to link suburbs and beaches with CBD in transformation partly inspired by Bordeaux

Something is happening in Adelaide. Australia’s fifth largest city is growing up.

Biannual arts festivals have become annual events, new legislation has backed small bars, a government-endorsed laneway culture has emerged and a $565m upgrade of Adelaide Oval is nearing completion that will attract up to 50,000 Australian Football League supporters into the central business district regularly.

Now the South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, wants to fortify Adelaide’s fledgling vibrancy with an ambitious plan to install a major tram network.

His government has released its 30-year integrated transport and land use plan, which proposes five new tram lines to link Adelaide’s suburbs and beaches to the CBD, along with a city circuit to connect its entertainment and eating/shopping precincts.

The centrepiece of this plan is a tram network Weatherill wants constructed within the next decade as a crucial step towards his vision of a “creative city” and a doubled CBD population of 50,000 people.

“We want to really unlock people’s creativity, so they can express themselves and be successful in what they want to do,” Weatherill says.

“They can choose to be part of an inner-city experience, a new urban experience, or in the outer suburbs or the country – we want them to have every option available to them to suit the different stages of their life.”

The “transformation” plan was partly inspired by similar investments made in Bordeaux, France, a city that shared both Adelaide’s fortune, being in close proximity to a world-famous wine region, and its folly – it ripped up its original tram network to make way for the “era of the motor car” in the 1950s.

“This is about having a sustainable city that continues to function and doesn’t get congested, but it’s also about the attractiveness of the city and that being an asset that attracts and retains people,” Weatherill said.

The plan includes the continued electrification of metropolitan train lines, the potential for an underground city train circuit, more cycling infrastructure and the completion of a north-south freight corridor through Adelaide.

Flinders University school of the environment adjunct associate professor Clive Forster is sceptical of European cities being used as models for Australian ones but says there is a lot of enthusiasm for light-rail developments across the world.

“This is largely because of the role of fixed-rail transit in stimulating building investment because it represents a major long-term public infrastructure investment that can’t easily be moved or changed,” Forster says.

“The main issue is how to find the money for such a massive infrastructure investment.”

The full 30-year plan comes with a hefty price tag of $36bn and the federal government has played its card, pulling a reported $76m in funding from one SA train electrification project, the Gawler and Outer Harbor train line, citing a need to focus on rail freight and big road projects instead.

It is the second time the project has been thwarted after revenue write-down in the 2012-13 state budget resulted in the electrification being put on hold.

Weatherill argues there has been a dramatic increase in private and public sector investment in the city and different aspects of the transport plan would find support under the changing persuasions of federal governments.

Major rail, expressway and hospital upgrades are under way and last week Lonely Planet listed Adelaide in its top nine cities to visit in 2014 – largely due to its annual “Mad March” festive season and the Adelaide Oval redevelopment.

Weatherill says it is proof Adelaide’s transformation is being noticed internationally.

And in the true fashion of a city that is always out to prove a point, the listing was celebrated with an impromptu government-endorsed street party on one of its new laneway entertainment strips, Leigh Street.

“It was a good street party with a good vibe,” he says.


Malcolm Sutton in Adelaide

The GuardianTramp

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