Still waterfall when we need to be agile?

TCCS is in crisis. The process of traffic planning/modelling and penible public accountability has grown from the context where every dollar counts and changes are incremental. In the era of climate change and tipping points, we are racing to transform to a low carbon economy. Transport makes up 60% of the emissions in the ACT and needs to be addressed urgently. The rapid change requires a different approach to decision-making that is more flexible and weighted toward future expectations and political expediency. We need an agile approach (as opposed to waterfall) for transport planing at this time.

“If you want to take urban biking seriously you need to build more, you need to build a lot more, a lot faster, separated cycling infrastructure. Not on every street, but on every street that has high volume and high speeds. Painted lanes will not do. You will not even get close to 10% mode share.

Brent Toderian, CURF Seminar – Place based development, CURF University of Canberra, 36:19 to 36:50

Ken Marshall spoke to Gungahlin Community Council recently and was troubled to explain the TCCS approached to transport planning. Not so much as it may not have served us well in the past but rather it does not seem to help much with the challenges of climate change we are facing now. Here is first a summary of what TCCS plans in 2022 and a quick analysis of the limitations and likely outcome of this development.

What is clearly that the paradigm shift to move from waterfall to agile methodologies has been a challenge for government, which tends to think in waterfall terms and budgets are often constructed in that way. Certainly, TCCS currently works that way. Adopting an agile approach to infrastructure investment would allow us to better and more quickly invest in active travel – particularly cycle infrastructure – demands that TCCS work differently. Further, it would mean that cycle infrastructure be targeted specifically, which is not a holistic approach but rather a strategic one.

TCCS and waterfall

Traffic planning is about remediating old problems in the network and designing the network to align with the strategic direction (policy documents) of the ACT Government. TCCS have always attempted to do both. (The Minister Steel recently admitted in the ACT Legislative Assembly that the outcome is heavily skewed to private car transport.) The failure to address other modes of transport is now to be address with a Multimodal Network Plan, but that will require input from traffic modelling that also includes all modes of transport and not just cars – mesoscopic modelling. Unfortunately, mesoscopic modelling is new for TCCS as is a Multimodal Network Plan. Work on both the Multimodal Network Plan and mesoscopic modelling of Gungahlin town centre has begun. The sequential nature of the process would indicate that early results for Gungahlin may be available in 2023 but for the rest of Canberra, it may take longer until mesoscopic modelling is completed for that area too.

Things take a long time to get done at TCCS due to the opinion that nothing should be built until there is proof that it will make things better. At the face of it, the concern seems valid, but neglects that active travel projects have been demonstrated to:

  1. Always save the government money, as private cars are subsidised.
  2. Riding a bike has higher traffic density than cars and save space in a crowed city.
  3. Bicycles, apart from walking, have the lowest carbon emissions of any type of transport.
  4. Many cities are around the world have proven active travel works and that people will come when we build the infrastructure.

With the success of active travel as a measure to reduce emission and make cities more livable is overwhelming from what we can see internationally, what do we need to prove. It could take years of evidence gathering in the process that Ken Marshall outlines to come up with the same conclusion. Should we wait years to prove it or just start and accept that, doing new things, we will make a few mistakes along the way.

In project management terms, we are talking about “waterfall” versus “agile” methodology. The old way of doing project management is to design a perfect system and then build it – that is known as waterfall. The approach has the downside that it takes a long time to get started and, secondly, it presumes that we can predict the future over long periods. Waterfall has fallen in disfavour as it produces poor outcomes (both cost and performance) and projects are likely to fail before there is any benefit. The Agile methodology works with the idea of “sprints” to quickly get runs on the boards and to demonstrate the benefits of the project. Through the process of learning by doing and feedback from stakeholders, other priorities are then identified and address. With Agile neither the path or the exact outcome of the process is known a decade in advance as assumption is progress is doing and fixing and not just thinking about it.

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