“Value capture” development above Ormond station? Good idea… in theory

Although it won’t reopen until the end of August, Ormond station has been coming along… here’s how it looked on Saturday:

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

Under the station building facing North Road is the deck for the concourse, as can be seen in the plans:

Ormond station plan

But further north from that, a second deck is taking shape.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

It’s actually easiest to see in this still from a Level Crossing Removal Authority video posted at the weekend.

Ormond "value capture" deck

In their 2014 election manifesto, the State ALP noted:

Victorian Labor will also pursue all appropriate “value capture” opportunities to best use the space around level crossings.

— Project 10,000 http://www.lilydambrosio.com.au/Victorian-Labors-Project-10000.pdf

It hasn’t been obvious until now, but at Ormond, where the level crossing is being removed and the rail line and station being put below ground level, they’ve built the extra deck for precisely that type of value capture. It’s planned for residential and retail development.

Nothing’s been officially announced, but The Age got confirmation of this today: High-rises to soar over suburban stations to help fund level crossing removals

In theory, this is a great idea.

If there’s one place you want urban renewal, and higher densities, it’s around public transport, especially around railway stations.

And this particular railway station is served by frequent trains every day of the week — every 10 minutes during most daylight hours.

This means that apart from good access on foot to around 200 local shops, as well as train to the CBD, in the next year or two Southland station will open, meaning also good access to a major suburban centre about ten minutes down the line.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

But… the devil is in the detail.

The Age reports the development may be up to 13 storeys. This will make it by far the tallest building for miles around. Will it be beautiful, or an eyesore? Is 13 storeys too much for the area?

As respected Danish urban planner Jan Gehl notes in this great podcast from 2014, “You can normally achieve a fantastic density with buildings that are 5, 6, 7 stories… The tower is the lazy architect’s answer to density.”

There are precedents in suburban areas around Melbourne. Camberwell has towers of around 12 storeys. Ringwood seems to have developments of about ten storeys. Mind you both of those centres are larger than Ormond, with more public transport services and a lot more shops.

And in Melbourne it’s very rare to see development above railway lines.

It’s immediately adjacent low-rise residential properties. The southern end of the deck is next to the station and busy North Road, but it extends up well into the nearby residential area. All the areas surrounding it are residential “GRZ1”, with a height limit of 10.5 metres, or 3 storeys.

Ormond station deck

The north-south public transport is good, but east-west isn’t. Bus route 630 along North Road to Monash Uni Clayton (a significant education and employment destination) are okayish on weekdays (every 12 minutes peak, 20 off-peak, but not frequent in the evening or on weekends), but the local 626 route to Elsternwick and Chadstone is pretty hopeless (every 30 minutes weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings).

It’s a similar story with local bike paths; north-south are there (or will be once the level crossing project is complete), but east-west means mixing it with heavy traffic.

Peak PT can be very crowded. If several hundred new residents move in, and the bulk of them want to head into the city in peak, what will it do to train crowding? Perhaps it’s not a huge increase in the grand scheme of things, but continuous capacity increases are needed to stay ahead.

How much car parking will be provided? The less the better I think. The last thing you want is lots of people moving in and adding to traffic congestion in an already busy area. Providing viable PT, cycling and walking options is important.

Speaking of parks, there’s not much green space in the area either. The closest park would be Gunn Reserve, a good 10-15 minute walk away.

This development could be great. But it’s too early to tell.

And why the big secret?

  • See also: Marcus Wong: Apartments and secrecy at Ormond station
  • Alan Davies makes some good points here: Is “the suburbs” a useful idea anymore?
  • Urban Melbourne: Context matters: Glen Eira’s level crossing removals & ‘value capture’ redevelopment
  • This Leader story mentions in passing: Mr Donnellan said an independent planning panel would take public submissions before a recommendation on the project was made to the planning minister. It is believed smaller scale developments could also be built next to Bentleigh and McKinnon stations.
  • Update 26/7/2016: I’m told that the 13 storeys will face onto North Road, but staggered down as it gets closer to the residential areas. Makes sense; similar designs have been seen elsewhere.
  • Also, already there are rumours flying around about huge developments in Mckinnon and Bentleigh; I’m told any development there will be of a smaller scale. As noted in The Age’s article: The government said developments at those two stations would be smaller in scale, in keeping with the village atmosphere.

Pedestrians in the car park – often there’s no choice

I sometimes wonder if motorists driving in and out of car parks get irritated by pedestrians walking through.

Often the pedestrians have no choice.

These pictures are from Caulfield Plaza – with the major drawcard inside being the Coles supermarket.

There is obvious pedestrian traffic from the railway station and the university campus to the southern entrance of the Plaza. There are no footpaths on this side, so of course people walk through the car park. There is a pedestrianised entrance from Dandenong Road, and another from Derby Road, but few people are likely to go the long way around.

Caulfield Plaza car park

In my suburb, Bentleigh, despite generally being very walkable, it’s a similar story at the big supermarkets:

  • Safeway Woolworths is on the corner of Jasper and Centre Roads, but provides no pedestrian access at all, so anybody coming on foot has to cut through the car park.
  • Aldi is on Centre Road, inside a bigger building, and has a dedicated pedestrian entrance to the street, as well as a car park around the back.
  • Coles has a well-placed pedestrian entrance from the eastern side, but from the western side there’s only a gap in the car spaces with some bollards (see below), and this is located well away from the desire lines, so nobody uses it.

Coles Bentleigh, pointless pedestrian path

These types of layouts are poor design, for both pedestrians and motorists.

And I guess until it’s fixed we just have to live with it. Motorists need to watch out, and consider that every pedestrian is one less car on the road and taking up car spaces.

And pedestrians need to watch out for inattentive drivers. Often visibility isn’t ideal, especially for cars pulling out of or backing into parking spaces.

I wonder though, is making pedestrians walk through a car park subtly discouraging them from walking? Particularly those who are, or are with, vulnerable walkers such as young children or those with mobility problems.

Would supermarkets and other businesses with their own car parks get more customers if they provided safe convenient paths to their doors?

Are newer car parks and shopping centres any better? How do we get this fixed?

Real estate agent signs – improving but some need more work

I’ve written before about blockages on footpaths: overhanging trees, motorcycles, cars and real estate agent advertising.

There’s at least been some pogress with real estate. It seems some agents, perhaps realising that blocking the footpath is illegal, have got newer, smaller flags.

During my walk on Saturday morning, I spotted these:

Buxton seem to have solved the problem. Their new signs are still visible, but smaller and also higher, meaning people can pass them with no problems.

Buxton real estate advertising sign

Hocking Stuart’s signs need some more work. People still have to walk around them – if they can. Those with prams or pushing mobility aids or riding in wheelchairs will still have problems. Going onto the grass is likely to be difficult. Going under the sign without a hand free to brush it away is also going to be an issue – or at least a complete loss of dignity.

Hodges real estate advertising sign, partially blocking footpath

For the sake of pedestrians, particularly those with mobility issues, I hope Hocking Stuart and other agents will see the light – and that the councils continue to enforce the rules.

Update: Hocking Stuart has said they’re looking into it.

Extra track and fleet capacity is great! But what about extra services?

If you missed the front page story in today’s Age: Melbourne to go more than two years without a peak-hour train timetable boost

See also: PTUA: Services packed while seven trains sit idle – where is the new timetable?

The Age front page 13/7/2016

To recap: Regional Rail Link separated out most V/Line services from Metro services, giving V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines a better run into Melbourne… but also freeing up space for more Metro services on the Sunbury, Williamstown and Werribee lines.

How many more Metro services did RRL allow? 23 per peak according to the literature.

How many of those 23 are used? One per peak, on the Werribee line.

While nobody expects all the capacity to be used straight away, we expect better than this in a growing city.

Flinders Street Station, platform 10

A much larger number of new services were part of a broad package benefiting a number of lines.

It appears the package was deferred because of a reluctance to remove remaining peak Frankston trains from the City Loop, which was a key part of the planned timetable.

Perhaps this is understandable given there was no immediate plan to fill those slots with more Dandenong trains. That can’t happen until level crossings are removed between Caulfield and Dandenong.

But a year later, what is happening? Are they working on a revised plan to bring in the extra services? We don’t know. And it must be well over a year since it was flagged within government that the changes would be deferred.

Crowded train, South Yarra

Meanwhile, consider these recent developments…

Since the last big timetable change in July 2014, eight trains have come into service, with only one used. Five more are on order.

The 2016 Budget papers claim 94% Metro rolling stock availability, but VicSig indicates only 185 out of 209 trains (88.5%) are actually used at the busiest time of day.

The May 2015 load survey showed load breaches (overcrowding) increased from 41 to 47 from 2014. The worst appeared to be:

  • Dandenong AM 9/PM 7
  • Sunbury AM 7/PM 6
  • Werribee AM 8/PM 9

Bear in mind the zone 1+2 fare changes that took effect in January 2015 would have had a big effect on the longer lines, but thanks to PTV cutbacks there’s now only one load survey per year, and the May 2016 results aren’t out yet… so we don’t know precisely what the picture is now.

December 2015 figures showed Metro patronage up 3.5% in twelve months.

In comparison to this growth, the 2016 Budget figures showed expected Metro service kilometres up only 0.9% for year ending June 2016, compared to the previous year.

The ABS says Greater Melbourne population growth is about 2.1% per year.

Crowding on the busiest part of the rail network is largely the result of CBD activity, particularly workers and students who mostly travel in peak hour. City Of Melbourne figures show 1.5% annual growth in the daily city population, with city workers expected to increase by about 2% annually in the near future.

Crowded Siemens train

Population growth versus rail service growth

Greater Melbourne and specifically the central business district and inner suburbs keep growing.

Getting people to employment and education is vital; it’s what drives the economy, and continued prosperity, and only mass transit can do it efficiently in a dense and thriving urban area like inner Melbourne.

It’s great that the government is pushing ahead with projects like the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel, and level crossing removals, and the now-completed Regional Rail Link, high-capacity train fleets and high-capacity signalling, all of which provide a capacity boost for extra services… but we also need to actually see those extra services provided.

Down in the trench station at midnight

(With apologies to The Jam)

While we endure the train replacement buses, work is moving along on the Bentleigh-Mckinnon-Ormond trench.

It’s really impressive to see – I worked out you can see all three bridges from the Brewer overpass; with a zoom lens, that is. (This won’t be the case once the station buildings are constructed.)
Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossing works 5/7/2016
(As always, click the photo to see it larger at Flickr. Once there you can click again to see it zoomed in.)

Works are continuing 24 hours a day. Most of the digging has been completed, and works in the trench itself are proceeding at the three station sites.

First a base level of concrete goes in, a working surface, then a thicker layer is added, in part to weigh down and seal the station, as the new Bentleigh station will be below the water table (the same applies at Mckinnon; Ormond is above the water table).

This view from Tuesday night shows preparation for the thicker concrete layer:
Bentleigh station under construction, July 2016

By Thursday night the first section had been poured:
Bentleigh station under construction, July 2016

But if you think it’s impressive from street level, it’s just amazing inside it.

Thanks to the Level Crossing Removal Authority and local MP Nick Staikos I was lucky enough to take a look inside the trench on Thursday night.

Once wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), to get down there you take one of these stairwells.

Bentleigh station under construction, July 2016

On the bottom of the trench you get a perspective completely different to what you see at street level. It’s amazing to think that just a couple of weeks ago trains were passing through here at ground level.

Here’s a quick video:

800-1000 workers are on the job at any one time doing various tasks, and I was amazed at the level of co-ordination that must go into it.

Bentleigh station under construction, July 2016

Shaun Leane (MLC for Eastern Metro) at Bentleigh station under construction

On top of the thick layer of concrete, ballast and track and platforms will be built. The ballast is apparently being sourced from Deer Park. The supplier is likely to be pretty busy over the next few years with all the level crossing removals going ahead (though ballast won’t be used on the Dandenong line). It’s a reminder that there’s a huge supply chain feeding these projects.

Whatdayamean it’s a month until the next train?!
Me at Bentleigh station under construction - whatdayamean it's another month until the next train?

The rain this week has apparently slowed down the project a little bit, but overall it’s still going well. Construction of the platform at Ormond has commenced, as well as laying of track at the Glenhuntly end.

Naturally we had to pose for a happy snap.
Daniel, Steve, Nick, Shaun. Bentleigh station under construction, July 2016. (Pic: Office of Nick Staikos)

I’m not a construction geek, but it’s all incredibly impressive. I’m told over the 37 days of the big shut down, they will spend $100 million.

The buses this week have been mostly smooth, though there have been some hiccups… it’ll be good when it’s finished.

See also: