High-density around railway stations: a good idea, if done well (but that’s a big If)

I think it’d be true to say that Melbourne hasn’t done high-density development in the suburbs very well.

For example, this monolith in Camberwell, a bit too far away from the railway station, out of scale with (some of) the buildings around it, and I’m sure not well liked by many of the locals.

Camberwell Junction, July 2013

But that doesn’t mean high-density around railway stations is a bad idea.

The topic came up yesterday in an Age report that Metro’s plan to upgrade the Dandenong includes such development around stations such as Murrumbeena.

Residents of Melbourne’s politically sensitive south-east face the possibility of high-rise development at their rail stations including Murrumbeena, under a confidential deal between the Napthine government and a consortium led by the city’s private rail operator.

The deal for the proposed multibillion-dollar upgrade of the Pakenham-Cranbourne rail corridor – contained in documents leaked to The Sunday Age – includes a specific clause about development around sites identified for level crossing removals.

In some ways this shouldn’t be any great surprise — Metro’s parent company in Hong Kong makes a lot of money from development around stations, and there’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about development around stations helping to pay for grade separation. The tiny (in comparison) development of a cafe at Caulfield was a flop, but a grade separation, new station and re-development of the whole precinct would actually work… if done well.

Population growth is happening. Planned, targeted in-fill development is better than never-ending sprawl, and better than a free-for-all that destroys local streets and leads to more car dependence because you get lots more people living where public transport isn’t convenient.

I’ve lived in Murrumbeena twice — for a couple of years last decade, as well as in the 80s when I was a teenager. In that time the shopping centre has always moribund. To an extent, the railway line split it east-west, and the busy road split it north-south, and it could never compete with Chadstone and Carnegie, both nearby. Getting a lot more residents in the immediately vicinity of the station could re-vitalise it, and make much better use of the land currently used for parking.

I’m not sure about how high they should go. Chris Hale proposes 15 stories in The Age article; having seen the blocks go up around Footscray, and the Camberwell example above, I don’t think in most suburbs (outside the inner city, at least) you’d want to go above 8-10 for now, staggered downwards as you get further from the centre/station.

There are provisos to all of this, of course:

  • as Chris Hale says, good design, including green space — Melbourne seems to be lacking good examples, but experts cite cities such as Vancouver as having got this right
  • mixed use development so people can do much of their daily shopping without going elsewhere
  • in a some areas, particularly inner-city, you’d want to be sensitive to the heritage strip shopping streetscape
  • upgrades to rail services to 10 minutes, 7-days, so it really is an option
  • ditto, upgrade to local bus services to other major nearby destinations (in the case of Murrumbeena, the obvious one is bus 822 to Chadstone and Southland)
  • bike paths/lanes on nearby corridors/roads
  • limit of one car park per residence, with the option of none
  • in fact, set up a car share pod or two to further reduce car ownership
  • given much of the most obvious land for development is currently station carparks, I’d imagine it might be politically courageous to end up with a net reduction in car spaces, though improvements in bus services could counter this. A reduction in spaces is perhaps avoided via development such as in Elsternwick, where existing parking was converted to multi-storey.
  • and of course in the case of the Dandenong line, the grade separation should include provision for future track amplification and platform extensions

The fact that this one is being planned in secret is obviously a concern. And is Metro’s “value capture” going to actually save the government (and taxpayers) any money? It’s not clear.

But that doesn’t mean that the concept high-density around transport hubs is a bad idea, provided the community get some say, and if it’s done well.

Based on past Melbourne experiences, that’s a big if.

What do you think?


Sorry, no time to do a proper blog post, so here’s a photo of a rainbow I snapped in Bentleigh on Monday, as dark clouds loomed:

Rainbow over Bentleigh

The Ukrainian crisis – so many familiar names in East St Kilda

Hearing the news of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has an added dimension for someone who grew up in East St Kilda. Lots of street names in the area come from the Crimean War — from the British forces, names of battles (which in turn are mostly named after locations), and even Florence Nightingale is in there.

Map of the Balaclava area (from Melway/street-directory.com.au)

There’s some guesswork here, not an authorative list:

Alma Road — The Battle of Alma, 1854.

Balaclava (and Balaclava Road) — the Battle of Balaclava, 1854, near the city of Balaklava.

Blenheim Street — perhaps after the Vengeur-Class battle gun ship HMS Blenheim which served in the Crimean War.

Cardigan Street — Earl of Cardigan, who led the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.

Crimea Street — the Crimean War, 1853-1856.

Inkerman Street — the town of Inkerman in the Crimea.

Malakoff Street — The Battle of Malakoff, 1855.

Nightingale Street — Florence Nightingale, prominent nurse in the Crimean War.

Odessa Street — Odessa, Ukraine.

Pakington Street — Sir John Pakington, secretary of state for war in the British government, and involved in several government reports into the war.

Raglan Street — Lord Raglan, commander of British forces in the war.

Redan Street — The Battle of Great Redan, 1855.

Sebastopol Street — The Siege of Sevastopol, 1854-55.

Westbury Grove and Westbury Street — Frank Atha Westbury, who served in the Crimea before emigrating to Melbourne in 1866.

Any others people have spotted?

  • 2/7/2009: Street clusters — newspapers in Cheltenham, cities in Murrumbeena, poets in Elwood, trees in Caulfield South

For sale: Idyllic home

What do you think of this house for sale?

Inner-city location, described by the real estate agents as an “Idyllic home/Office”.

House for sale, Kings Way

Very cute.

Wait a minute. Zoom out.

House for sale, Kings Way

Zoom out a bit more.

House for sale, Kings Way

Turns out it’s on Kings Way, dwarfed by surrounding buildings, and almost drowning in passing traffic.

It reminds me a bit of three properties in Caulfield: the last house resisting the expansion of Caulfield Racecourse; a similar one at nearby Monash University Caulfield; and the half-house remaining next to Dan Murphy’s.

(Kings Way house spotted by Marita.)

Service Kilometres Per Capita – are public transport services keeping up with population growth?

In the face of Labor’s proposal for 24-hour trains and trams at weekends, the State Coalition has been talking up its credentials in public transport. This tweet from Acting Public Transport Minister David Hodgett for example:

Unfortunately, Services/Trips per week can be a slightly shaky way of measuring public transport provision, partly because consistent information on it is so hard to come by.

And what does it mean? 3,870 extra bus trips sounds like a lot. But what does it represent in percentage terms? And what if those extras are mostly on really short routes?

As it happens, of the trips the Coalition has funded, many are part of the (excellent) Huntingdale to Monash University 601 shuttle, which runs every 4 minutes in term times. Terry K (not M) checked the timetable and counted 1,945 weekly trips (eg half the increase) are on that one route alone. Fantastic for Monash people, and it’s paid off in patronage, but it suggests buses elsewhere may not be doing so well.

A better measure than Trips is Service Kilometres. These are published in the budget papers every year, amongst a huge number of other measures of government performance, so you can compare them year-on-year.

It’s not perfect. An extra train, tram or bus running further is not necessarily useful to people if it runs against the peak flow, or if (particularly buses) are provided on indirect routes running from A to B via most of the known universe. And of course in capacity and speed terms, typically an extra train kilometre provides more than an extra bus or tram kilometre.

But as a raw indicator of how much public transport service is provided, it’s pretty good.

Here’s total metropolitan Service Kilometres since 2001, showing how they’ve done under both Labor (up to 2010) and the Coalition (from 2010).

Melbourne public transport: Service kilometres (millions)

(Note: the figures are for the financial year-ending, and all the 2013 figures in this post are the “expected” result. Others are all the “actual” results.)

What it shows is that in the early Labor years there was little if any increase in services. Around 2006 they finally woke up (as I said the other day, this was when crowding was really starting to bite) and extra services were introduced. This continued under the Coalition until around 2012. In the last year or so, extra service kilometres flat-lined.

This is likely to change when the Regional Rail Project opens, providing extra capacity (which, one hopes, would be used) on the Williamstown/Werribee and Sunbury lines. It’s also worth noting that PTV is slowly reforming the bus network to untangle confusing indirect routes, the resulting efficiency gain being that each kilometre of bus service is getting more useful for passengers.

OK, so what if Service Kilometres was measured against Melbourne’s population? After all, services have to keep up with population growth, otherwise there’ll be trouble.

So I scrabbled around for figures of Melbourne’s population for each year in this range. Basically the population has grown from 3.4 million in 2001 to around 4.2 million in 2013, or 23%.

This gives us public transport service kilometres per head of population.

Melbourne public transport: Service kilometres (millions) per capita

Once again, this shows that Labor wasn’t setting the world alight in its early years in power, but lifted its game around 2006.

But the growth has slowed under the Coalition, the 2012 and 2013 figures show public transport provision is actually going backwards compared to population growth.

What effect does this have on patronage? When you throw in Passenger Trips (like Service Kilometres, these are also in the budget papers) and divide by population, you can then compare services vs the number of public transport trips per person in each year. This shows us not just the raw number of trips, but whether individuals are actually using PT more.

Melbourne public transport: Service kilometres (millions) per capita vs trips per capita

I’m sure there are a lot of different factors, but it’s interesting to see that from 2006 to 2009, trips per person grew at a faster rate than Service Kilometres per capita.

Perhaps apart from issues like urban planning (where people live, work, play — for instance the growth in CBD residents) it also reflects that as you add more services, higher frequencies and better connections mean the network as a whole becomes more useful for more trips.

There was a blip in 2010 (tram patronage fell slightly that year) before growth to 2012… and then it appears to fall strongly backwards. Uh oh. But remember, that 2013 figure is only a prediction.

(See also: PT boardings compared between cities)

Correlation is not causation, but it does seem that if you want to continue to grow public transport patronage — and in any big city, this is a good goal to keep people moving quickly and efficiently, and preferably out of the traffic — you need to keep boosting services.

Perhaps they have something up their sleeves, but unfortunately with the Coalition’s current focus on the East West tunnel, they seem a little too obsessed on road building instead.

It’d be great to see both sides going into the election pledging more services, particularly more frequent services all day, when vehicle and track capacity isn’t a problem.