It’s not uncommon to see trams stopped at traffic lights along Bourke Street, sometimes in queues, at locations where there is no stop.
If you’ve wondered why your tram journey is start-stop, it won’t surprise you to learn that the lights are all over the place.
With the handy-dandy stopwatch function on my mobile phone, I timed the lights along the central and western section of Bourke Street.
Bourke 30 / Swanston 30 = 60 second cycle
Bourke 35 / Elizabeth 35 = 70
Bourke 47 / Pedestrian crossing near Hardware Lane 23 = 70
Bourke 40 / Queen 50 = 90
Bourke 30 / William 60 = 90
Bourke 30 / King 70 = 100
No wonder trams have to stop continually at lights!
Along Bourke Street, and other CBD tram streets, there are numerous improvements that could be made…
Shorter cycles — There are obviously competing demands on the various streets. Because of large numbers of pedestrians, you can’t necessarily have pre-emptive traffic lights that detect trams coming and switch instantly to give them the green. But you could certainly reduce the cycle times. Judging from existing timings, even with our wide streets, it could be as little as 30 seconds each way, or a cycle every 60 seconds. This would greatly cut down waiting times for trams and walkers and everybody else for that matter — but you’d need to check the 15ish seconds Green Man time is enough to get waiting pedestrians off the kerb.
The King Street intersection is particularly bad, giving most of its time to cars — despite Vicroads data showing traffic on all segments of King Street between Flinders and Latrobe Street dropping between 2001 and 2011, and despite that policy should not be to prioritise cars in and through the CBD.
But William Street is almost as bad, despite having much fewer trams than Bourke Street (typically 5 per hour on route 55 vs about 15 per hour on routes 86 and 96 combined).
To help tram drivers know when to depart, for the spots where traffic lights are distant from the tram stops, they should get these lights working — they’re meant to indicate when the best time is to take off. It doesn’t necessarily result in a quicker trip for the tram, but it may allow the driver to wait for passengers who might otherwise miss the tram, while knowing the tram isn’t about to miss a green light.
That’s the theory, but they never seem to actually operate.
Co-ordinated cycles — For where there are multiple intersections which are between tram stops, whether or not they are short cycles or long, they should at least be co-ordinated. In this section the important ones are the intersections at Elizabeth and Queen Streets, as well as the pedestrian light in the middle. A tram leaving the Elizabeth Street stop westbound, and not delayed by anything else, should never get a red light before the next stop — and vice versa.
Obviously you’d need to work out the best cycles for the intersecting streets as well — for trams on Elizabeth Street and buses on Queen Street. But how hard could it be?
With the recent movement of tram stops, there are now similar blocks of traffic lights between stops along Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street.
Traffic light programming isn’t the only cause of tram delays of course.
But if moving people quickly and efficiently around the CBD is a priority — and it should be — these issues need to be addressed.
- A PTUA study found up to 30% of tram travel time is spent wasted waiting at red lights