The chains of Bentleigh

My local suburb is increasing in density, and (not entirely disconnected from that) it’s also interesting to see how the retail strip is doing.

The shopping centre has grown around the railway station, which is still the epicentre, though the east side of the tracks is where most of the busiest shops are located.

The chain stores (often referred to as “anchor tenants”) have maintained their presence here, and in fact new ones are moving in.

  • The banks may have pulled out of many suburbs (leaving only an ATM of you’re lucky) but the big four (Commonwealth, ANZ, and Westpac, as well as Westpac subsidiary Bank Of Melbourne) are staying. NAB strangely doesn’t list their branch on their own web site, but I’d swear there is one near the station (see above).
  • The three big supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have branches. No IGA though – there is one in nearby East Bentleigh.
  • Target is on the site of an old Coles variety store
  • Medicare was here until last year; it’s now closed. But there is a post office and dealers for Telstra and Vodafone.
  • Real estate agent offices abound: chains include Woodards, Buxton, Hocking Stuart, Hodges, Century 21.
  • Flight Centre and some smaller chains such as Glick’s bagels, Cartridge World, Discount Lollie Shop and Paint Spot. Brumbys and Baker’s Delight also have branches
  • And food giant of the moment Domino’s pizza, as well as Crust Pizza and Nandos chicken and Subway are all here, though other fast food outlets such as Maccas, KFC and Hungry Jack’s seem to prefer to be on the highways or major arterial roads.

All these chains sit alongside hundreds of individual retailers, who while they might compete, are probably glad that the chains are there to bring in the shoppers.

Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

The newest chain store arrivals are Mexican restaurant Taco Bill’s and Chemist Warehouse, the latter taking up residence just a couple of doors from Priceline… they must be delighted.

I suspect restaurants benefit from more local competition, growing the local market of diners. I’m not sure the same can be said for chemists. 

Despite the utilitarian warehouse design of Chemist Warehouse (well, it is in the name), I don’t mind them — though I’m always amused by their advertising. “Australia’s Cheapest Chemist” it proclaims, but if you look closely it actually says “Is this?” in front of that. So technically they’re not making the claim, they’re asking the question. Hmmmmmmm.

Moved to Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

It turns out Chemist Warehouse is not a new pharmacy — it’s a moved and rebranded one. Perhaps not a surprise – the Pharmacy Guild has strict location rules preventing too many chemists in one area.

These rules were recently extended by the government until at least 2020:

Rules that restrict new pharmacies from opening near existing pharmacies will be extended for another five years despite numerous government-commissioned reviews recommending they be abolished. — SMH 18/5/2015

That aside, rebranding is a clever move. I rarely saw anybody go into the old chemist. The new one has brand recognition and more promotion — and already, from what I’ve seen, is getting a lot more customers.

I guess that’s the advantages of being part of a chain.

Other rail-based suburbs I’ve lived in, such as Murrumbeena and Glen Huntly, may not have the benefits of lots of chains, but it’s pleasing to see them still getting customers in, thanks to things like quality local cafes.

Hopefully all these local centres will continue to thrive. They’re so much more interesting than the malls.

Bentleigh getting denser – and that’s fine by me

With Ormond likely to get its tower (whatever the height might be), what of other nearby suburbs?

The transition is already underway in Bentleigh and many other areas. Around the station, numerous developments are going up.

And in principle, I have no problem with this.

  • Melbourne’s population continues to grow. People have to live somewhere, and placing them close to jobs and services and infrastructure is better than having our city continue to sprawl.
  • Close to the shopping centre and the station and bus routes is the best place for this, to increase the chances of people being able to walk to what they need.

Buildings along the main street (Centre Road) in particular make sense. Car parks behind the shops provide a buffer that can help prevent shadowing onto single storey homes.

The residential zones introduced a couple of years ago mean this is spreading to nearby streets. But heights are staggered as you move away from the station, so it seems workable to me. Here’s how it looks in Bentleigh.

Planning scheme: Bentleigh
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

  • C1Z – no specific height limit (but still subject to planning approval of course)
  • PUZ2 – school*
  • PUZ4 – railway lines – as I understand it, if developed there is no specific height limit
  • PUZ6 – Public Use Zone – these all seem to be car parks
  • RGZ1 – Residential Growth – 13.5m / 4 storey limit
  • GRZ1/2 – General Residential – 10.5m / 3 storey limit
  • NRZ1 – Neighbourhood Residential – 8m / 2 storey limit
  • MUZ1 – Mixed Use – no specific height limit*

*not in Bentleigh, but in Carnegie – see below

“Inner” Bentleigh today

Bentleigh has had densification of various types over the years.

In the 70s and 80s, some blocks of flats went up, mostly 2 storeys, many of which are still around today — though nowhere near the numbers you see in inner suburbs like St Kilda.

Campbell St, Bentleigh

Since the 90s there has been a lot of subdividing. Back yards have shrunk, with either new houses being built behind old ones (this is the case behind my old house) or houses being removed and replaced with 2-3 homes, typically semi-detached townhouses.

Meanwhile a lot of homes have had extensions, increasing capacity but not necessarily occupancy.
Campbell St, Bentleigh

Buildings are bigger closer to the station. Below you can see the main street, Centre Road, a retail and residential building about five years old. It’s big, but you barely notice it at street level if you’re walking around looking at the shops. If it built were today, I’d be surprised if they didn’t aim higher.
Aldi, Centre Road

The zones above, introduced a couple of years have triggered a lot more apartment developments off Centre Road. Below is Mavho Street (3 storey limit on the west side), looking towards the Aldi building pictured above.
Mavho St, Bentleigh

Lorrane Street: This one has just been completed. It’s not really a surprise that all the recent and current developments go right up to their zone’s height limit.
Loranne St, Bentleigh

Bent Street: It’s not hard to anticipate that many of the homes in the RGZ1 4 storey zone will be re-developed in this way in coming years.
Bent St, Bentleigh

Clearly some home owners have seen the writing (and the dollar signs?) on the wall.
Bent St, Bentleigh

At the southern end of Bentleigh (near Patterson Station), and also in Mckinnon, there’s been development around the shopping centre. Despite the garage doors facing onto the street (not ideal for pedestrians), I find the scale and look of these homes quite appealing.
Philip Street, Bentleigh (near Patterson Road)

With my local resident hat on, I would like the benefits of my suburb to be available to more people, so I see nothing wrong with this, provided designs are good, nobody is forced out, and anybody who does sell up to developers is doing well out of the transaction.

If anything, I think the 3-4 storey limits should be allowed a little further from the station.

Of course there are many lovely older homes that should be preserved. Height limits across most of the area (away from the station) can help with this, but inevitably won’t save them all.

The commercial zone along the main street should be developed to ensure it includes destinations, not just residences, to increase local employment and activity — rather than the area being just a dormitory suburb. (It’s good to see the chain stores/anchor tenants are staying put in the shopping centre.)

As I said above, it makes sense to increase urban density in areas with good access to services and infrastructure. It’s good to see it happening.

Planning schemes elsewhere

Also worth looking at: the area around Carnegie and Murrumbeena.

Planning scheme: Carnegie and Murrumbeena
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

This is particularly interesting in the context of the skyrail debate; most of the areas alongside the rail line have 3-4 storeys permitted (higher immediately around the stations), though when and if this occurs of course, nobody knows.

How is it in your neighbourhood? It’s worth finding out, especially if you’re planning on buying, and/or living there for a while.

Frankston line: the big dig

So this is what it looks like when hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure gets built rapidly in your neighbourhood.

Here are some photos and video of the first week of major works on the Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossings.

(Click any photo to view it larger at Flickr — or click here to view the entire album of photos as a slideshow.)

The end result will be three stations below road level, but first all the dirt has to be dug out.

150 (double) dump trucks are doing an hourly circuit between the work sites and a quarry in Dingley, taking away the dirt. Here a queue of trucks on the north side of Ormond station.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

The view on the south side of North Road, digging out the rail line between Ormond and Mckinnon.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Loading up trucks between Ormond and Mckinnon.
South of Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Some people want a crossing at Murray Road, midway between Ormond and Mckinnon. For now, there is one, for loading up more trucks. This is smack bang in the middle of a residential area. Accommodation has been offered to those most affected by the works.
Murray Road, 28/6/2016

Temporary traffic lights are up at the end of Murray Road, to stop traffic so trucks can turn onto Jasper Road. Gotta keep the trucks moving.
Temporary traffic lights at Murray Road/Jasper Road, 28/6/2016

The hole in the ground formerly known as Mckinnon station, on the north side of the road.
Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

No shortage of interest from the locals, and from what I hear, many visitors from elsewhere around Melbourne are coming to have a look.
Onlookers watch the Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

Some shops have been affected so badly by the works that they’ve virtually given up.
Mckinnon shop, 28/6/2016

The view from near Mckinnon, looking south down Nicholson Street towards Bentleigh.
Nicholson Street, Mckinnon, looking south 28/6/2016

Nicholson Street, parallel to the railway line, is currently One Way so trucks can enter from the north, be loaded up with dirt, then head south and then east down Centre Road. I wonder how the garbage is being collected? Wouldn’t the garbage trucks only have claws on the left hand side?
Bin day on Nicholson Street, 28/6/2016

At Bentleigh station.
Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Part of the deck at Bentleigh station was built after the third track closed and the old station was demolished.
Bentleigh station looking north, 28/6/2016

Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Traffic controllers stop westbound cars on Centre Road to allow the trucks (with their large turning circle) to turn out of Nicholson Street (north side) and Burgess Street (south side) to turn in and head towards the quarry.
Centre Road, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

The trucks come through every few minutes on the truck routes. Here a convoy comes through Bentleigh shopping centre, where parking “adjustments” (eg restrictions) have been in place for about a week, as have traffic light modifications to help keep the trucks moving.
Trucks rolling through Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Despite the noise and road closures, the workers are getting on well with the locals. This bloke was asking the lady about her garden.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Queuing dump trucks in Burgess Street, south of Bentleigh station. I think if I lived here, I’d have taken the accommodation offer.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Nice to see a Hitachi on the rails again. The view from Brewer Road, south of the three stations, looking north.
View from Brewer Road, looking north towards Bentleigh 28/6/2016

On Wednesday night there were plenty of onlookers at Bentleigh. Some parents bring their kids out for an evening walk in their pyjamas to have a look. Buses aren’t currently diverted, but some overnight road closures have occurred.
Bentleigh station, south side, 29/6/2016

Looking south from Bentleigh towards Patterson.
Bentleigh looking south, 29/6/2016

Looking north from Bentleigh, as yet another truck passes by.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

North side at Bentleigh, where the station will be.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

The trucks are having a noise impact along the routes to Dingley:

We cannot sleep with the constant noise of trucks during the night. They need to stop these trucks during the night or reroute to alternate roads on every second night so that we can at least get a decent nights sleep occasionally. One day I was sitting at the East Boundary Rd. / South Rd corner traffic lights and counted 28 trucks going in all directions during a minute duration. It is unbearable!K Hills

And inevitably, dirt and dust is getting everywhere. The project team has promised they’ll clean up the roads… I wonder if that extends to cleaning cars as well?
A dump truck passes parked cars in Bentleigh, 29/6/2016

But the good news is that progress has been significant. If all goes to schedule, most of the digging should be finished early next week.

Finally, for all the construction geeks and their kids who love watching this stuff on Youtube, here’s 90 seconds of digging… view it full screen at Youtube to see it in all its glory.

See also:

Use other footpath

Pedestrians — Use other footpath.

Haha just kidding, there IS no other footpath!

You’ll have to use the road or the (possibly wet boggy) grass.

Use other footpath. What other footpath?

Silver lining: it’s not a very busy road.

(Ward Street, Bentleigh. The footpath is blocked for building construction. Not many streets in this area have only one footpath, but a few do.)

Impact from road and rail shut downs

We survived! Ten days of bustitution is over… well, almost.

Just to be clear — because some of the information is either vague, misleading or missing:

  • The Frankston line is running again, including to Bentleigh station.
  • Bentleigh station will close for demolition and rebuilding in June.
  • But Mckinnon and Ormond stations are closed and demolished. There are still buses for them every 5 minutes in peak, 10 minutes daytime, 20 minutes evening. (Oddly they don’t stop at Glenhuntly or Patterson).
  • Mckinnon Road is closed today, but will re-open to road traffic tomorrow.
  • Centre Road re-opened at lunchtime on Monday, earlier than expected.

This ten days was the second major shut for the project. The third (and longest) begins in late June, for five weeks. Originally it was scheduled for January, but was brought forward in part because of work proceeding on other parts of the network.

Impact on business

During road and rail shut downs, naturally some areas need to be fenced-off for safety. In Mckinnon, to my surprise, some sections of footpath immediately to the east of the station were completely closed off, on both sides of the street. At least some of the properties there appear to be vacant, but I didn’t think it was all of them.

Footpath closure during level crossing removal works at Mckinnon

In Bentleigh, this real estate agent on the western side of the station was basically isolated. You can navigate a way into their office, but any passing trade would have fallen to zero.

Footpath closure during level crossing removal works at Bentleigh

Some businesses are at a dead end, but are doing okay – for instance at Bentleigh on the SE side, cafes like Noisette and Mama G’s seemed to have a reasonable amount of trade, in part thanks to construction workers on the project. But some local traders have said that — despite considerable efforts to promote them being open — they are at risk from going under due to lack of revenue during closures. Mad Flowers in Mckinnon claimed it was threatening their viability, and clearly the Paint Spot in Bentleigh is feeling the impact:

Paint Spot, Bentleigh - not enjoying the level crossing works closures

Given these are both reasonably busy shopping streets, this seems a little more serious than the complaints from traders when the Gardiner crossing was being removed — Burke Road has long been a traffic sewer, with few shoppers around.

Route buses

Bus routes 701 and 703 returned to their normal routes early. Potentially confusing? Not really — the alterations meant they missed some stops. It’s no big deal if they now serve them again.

Bentleigh bus stop 703

Route 626 returns on Tuesday morning when Mckinnon Road re-opens.

For this period, these three routes plus Night Bus 979 all diverted around the works zone. From what I’ve been told, none were able to pick up or drop off passengers in the diversion section — even where there are existing bus stops. This meant for instance that bus 626 didn’t serve any stops on Mckinnon Road between Jasper Road and Thomas Street, a distance of 1.6 km. For a local route serving, in part, people with limited mobility, that’s a long way to walk for a bus.

Rail bustitution

The replacement buses have gone about as well as can be expected. With my PTUA hat on, I’ve given a bunch of feedback to the organisers (including issues from further down the line than me), but clearly significant resources went into bus operations.

There were up to five staff at replacement stops such as Bentleigh, and far more at interchanges such as Caulfield. And around 80-100 buses were operating every peak. By contrast, Melbourne’s busiest tram route 96, which is about twice as long, operates with about 20 trams in peak.

Rail replacement buses at Caulfield during level crossing works

Rather than use the buses, some people migrated to other lines (including me, on one day). Some drove to Caulfield to use the paid parking ($4/day) there, delaying buses further.

Overall it wasn’t as slow as in January when North Road was closed, but trip times from Bentleigh to Caulfield (4 stops) were up to 15 minutes longer than by train.

Workable? Just about. But I would think most people were eagerly anticipating the train service getting back to normal. And few would be looking forward to the long five week shut down scheduled for June/July — most of which isn’t during school holidays.

Remembering of course that Ormond and Mckinnon station users are on buses (or seeking alternative routes) for the next four months.

Rail replacement buses at Caulfield during level crossing works

My conclusion from all of this: it’s really really difficult to replace busy train lines with buses, even when well planned, will lots of resources.

Buses as a mode are very good for some things, but there’s a huge difference in capacity compared to trains. You get to the point where there are so many buses flowing through the road system, they’re even delaying each other.

Particularly in an urban environment where a dedicated right of way and priority can’t be provided, and longer articulated buses aren’t available, they just can’t cope brilliantly with Frankston line-sized crowds.

Now consider this: the Dandenong line is about twice as busy.

Minimising closures

The issues for traders and for passengers are a reminder than anything that can be done to minimise rail and road closures is a big help to the community.

No wonder there is a push for “skyrail” on the Dandenong line. With far fewer rail shut downs needed, all the benefits of grade separation can be achieved, while markedly reducing impacts during construction.