Daniel’s theory of paving: The better it looks, the slipperier it is.

I reckon the better a paving surface looks, the slipperier it is, particularly in the wet.

Asphalt: ugly, but grips well, even in the wet.

Tiles (as platforms at Flinders Street station have been converted to, but thankfully not ramps) and blue-stone (increasingly common on CBD streets) look nicer, but are more slippery.

And some types of tactiles (bumps, for the vision-impaired) often aren’t that great in terms of grip either.

Flinders Street station ramp

Agree? Disagree? Is it my shoes?

The new Swanston Street superstops – do they work?

Last week the first of the new Swanston Street tram superstops opened. On Monday I went down at lunchtime to have a look, and came across Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, City of Melbourne planner Rob Adams, and Yarra Trams’ Michel Masson all down there having a look, and talking to the media about it.

Robert Doyle at the Swanston Street - tram stop/bike lane
Robert Doyle fronts the media — note the man incorrectly crossing the tracks behind the tram

It’s good to see this space finally being rid of cars, and the priority given to the main users of Swanston Street — pedestrians, tram passengers, and cyclists. And of course it’s great to get some more accessible tram stops in the CBD — the first for Swanston Street that are actually within the Hoddle Grid.

A pedestrian walks along the Swanston Street tram stop/bike lane

During the first couple of weeks, they’ve got people dressed as lifeguards and umpires etc using some humour to direct people to the right spots.

This is important because the space needs to deal with tram passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Thankfully motorists are (theoretically) out of the equation, though at one stage I observed a motorcyclist unwittingly ride in.

A motorcyclist intrudes at the Swanston Street tram stop/bike lane

The real problems here are that (a) they’re a unique design — in fact one keen observer reckons they’re unique in the world –and (b) they’re not intuitive.

For pedestrians, it’s simply not obvious that the space where you board the trams is not where you should walk along. For cyclists it’s a little clearer where they should be, and from what I saw, they seemed to realise they needed to stop and give way to passengers getting on and off trams.

I haven’t been there at the relevant times, but I’m particularly curious to see what happens when large numbers of tram users getting on and off (such as during the University peaks) intersect with large numbers of cyclists.

Cyclist rides along the new tram stop/bike lane

Even after adding small “bicycle” markings onto the bike lane, pedestrians and passengers seem confused. Maybe they’ll learn, but it will take some getting used to — something acknowledged by Masson and Doyle (and Adams I assume). I’d expect some further tweaking, but I doubt there’ll be any major re-design any time soon.

Like anything else, it requires the critical mass of people to know how to use them, and then (most) visitors will hopefully just follow everybody else. Whether this will happen, only time will tell.

And in the mean time, work will begin on the next two stops, further south.

Hidden gems

There’s vandalism, and then there’s street art.

Some have trouble distinguishing them, but for me, it’s not hard to see that these hidden gems in Finlay Lane (off Little Lonsdale Street, near Queen Street) are clearly the latter.

Street art, Finlay Lane, Melbourne

Street art, Finlay Lane, Melbourne

Street art, Finlay Lane, Melbourne

Street art, Finlay Lane, Melbourne

Street art, Finlay Lane, Melbourne

Well worth a look, if you’re passing (and you can find it!)

Flagstaff Stn and William St pedestrian/passenger congestion needs fixing

This is Flagstaff station yesterday at 8:50am.

Flagstaff station, 8:52am

It’s not a once-off occurence, but happens regularly. As patronage has grown at Parliament and Melbourne Central, more gates have gradually gone in… fitting more in at Flagstaff is probably a challenge, but one that will have to be looked at, perhaps in conjunction with the conversion from Metcard to Myki gates in the next year or so.

But the problems aren’t confined to the station.

The footpaths on William Street and also Little Lonsdale Street no longer cope with the pedestrian traffic coming out of the station in the morning, and going back into the station in the evening.

William Street pedestrian congestion
(This doesn’t quite capture how crowded the footpaths get, but there is a reason multiple people are walking on the road.)

Some people resort to walking on the road to try and speed up their journeys.

I haven’t got out there with a measuring tape, but my perception is that the footpaths around Flagstaff are narrower than comparable spots around the other CBD railway stations. It’s probably in part due to the fact that Latrobe and William Streets are some of the few CBD streets that allow two lanes of car traffic (in each direction) during peak hours.

Street furniture such as news stands and cafe tables are important for the street scape, but don’t really help pedestrian flows.

Given a clear preference for sustainable transport access into the CBD, I think it’s time that was reviewed. Something more along the lines of Collins Street might be appropriate — one lane for trams, one lane of traffic, a bike lane, and one lane either for parking or for tram superstops.

Of course it wouldn’t help traffic congestion. But parts of that area get clogged in peak hour anyway (especially on Friday night), even with two lanes of traffic.

If there are multiple demands on that space, the priority should be for the most space-efficient use of it — which is clearly pedestrians and public transport.

PT on Lonsdale Street

In central Melbourne, if you want to travel a reasonable distance east-west, it’s easy to do so on most of the streets by hopping on a tram. Flinders Street, Collins Street, Bourke Street and Latrobe Street all have multiple routes serving them, making for reasonably frequent services most of the day.

Not so Lonsdale Street.

Once upon a time, Lonsdale Street had trams. Cable trams ran from Collingwood and Carlton via Elgin, Lygon and Russell Streets, and also from West Melbourne, to Lonsdale Street, from the 1880s to the 1930s — though some sections of track were built as late as the 1920s.

It’s all buses these days, but until recently they were a mass of different routes, turning off at different places, and many of them running infrequently outside peak hours.

However, late last year (just in time for the election) a batch of four bus routes that go down Lonsdale Street from the Doncaster area got upgraded to Smartbus status, under the name Doncaster Area Rapid Transit. (As one wit observed, lucky it doesn’t serve Frankston.)

Smartbus in Lonsdale Street

There’s some doubt over whether they’re the best solution for Doncaster to CBD travel (many would like to see a train line), but within the CBD the result is that four frequent (well, for Melbourne) routes combine to make a very frequent service virtually all the way along Lonsdale Street — from about half-a-block from Spencer Street to Spring Street (and beyond to Victoria Parade).

With their totems, the bus stops are easier to find than the average Melbourne bus stop, though are not as prominent as tram stops, and are not quite as consistently spaced (though there is a stop roughly every block).

Smartbus stop, Lonsdale Street

The buses are distinguished by their 900-series route number (905, 906, 907, 908) and the grey and orange Smartbus livery, making them easy to spot amongst the others that use the stops (but don’t go all the way down Lonsdale Street).

The combined frequency is a bus each way about every 3-4 minutes on weekdays from about 7am to 9pm, with more during peak times. That puts it roughly on a par with other east-west CBD streets during off-peak hours, and more frequent than Latrobe Street.

On weekends and in the evenings it’s a bus about every 7-8 minutes.

Not bad, and while many may prefer trams to buses, this completes the set of frequent routes along Melbourne’s CBD’s main east-west streets.

They’re not perfect. They have a lowish frequency at times, lack of bus lanes outside peak hours, and the buses are likely to be a tad slow due to heavy loading eastbound in the evening peak hour. And the fancy automated signage at most of the eastbound stops doesn’t work yet.

But already I’ve spotted people other than myself using the buses for hops along Lonsdale Street, and it’ll be interesting to see if this catches on. Perhaps if they were clever, they’d promote it.

How about some wider footpaths?

There are around 70,000 parking spaces in Melbourne’s CBD [source], and cars are a minority access mode.

So don’t you think they could forfeit a few street parking spaces in the “Little” streets so some narrow footpaths could be widened?

Little Lonsdale St, near William St
(Little Lonsdale Street looking towards William Street. The truck was legally parked.)

For instance, Little Lonsdale Street has parking along both sides for most of its length, and has so many pedestrians at busy times that some are forced to walk on the road.

Removing parking spots along one side would be only a few dozen lost, but would make a big difference to the width of the footpaths — to cope with (and encourage) increasing pedestrian numbers, and also to ensure wheelchair (and pram) accessibility.

Where are the green men?

A number of traffic lights used for crossing the “little” streets in central Melbourne don’t have green/red men.

William/Little Lonsdale Sts

Some do, however, particularly along Swanston Street where there are heavy pedestrian flows and — I suspect — more people likely to be just following everyone else like sheep, and not looking for cars before they cross the road.

Swanston/Little Bourke Sts

I had been assuming that if there was no green/red man, you could cross at any time if no cars were coming. Not so, says the VicRoads web site:

Fines apply to pedestrians who commit the following offences:

cross against an amber or red traffic light

Of course, it’s uncertain what is likely to happen if caught crossing on a red in a spot where you can’t physically see the light in question.

Queen/Little Lonsdale Sts

King Street

What’s so special about King Street, in Melbourne’s Central Business District?

Well, it’s the only main street in the Hoddle Grid which has absolutely no scheduled public transport running along it.

So you might think, given the rhetoric is to help people get onto PT, especially for trips into the CBD, that they’d avoid giving private vehicles along King Street priority at intersections — especially since Wurundjeri Way and Citylink are available as city bypass routes.

But no.

King Street is the only main street in the CBD that gets 2/3 of the signal cycle time at most intersections — 60 out of 90 seconds, which means pedestrians get less time to cross it, and trams and buses along intersecting streets have to wait. In the case of the trams, they stop despite the lack of any tram stops there.

King/Bourke Sts - tram waits for lights

King Street is about the only main street in the CBD that gets green arrows for right-turning traffic, even in the middle of the day. (At least one Exhibition Street intersection gets them in peak hour, but certainly not at lunch time.)

King Street and Bourke Street is one of the only CBD intersections where turning cars don’t have to do hook turns to stay out of the way of the trams. At least, that’s how it works in practice. It’s uncertain quite what was intended, because although the correct arrow markings are on the street for hook turns, no signs are displayed, so motorists ignore the arrows. So it’s not uncommon to see trams having to gong their bells because of cars blocking them, and also cars zooming off narrowly avoiding pedestrians when they see a gap in the traffic.

King/Bourke Sts - tram and right-turning car

All this makes King Street an anachronism. It belongs to the 60s car-domination thinking which is long gone. It probably doesn’t need PT services serving it (given blanket coverage of surrounding streets), but it sure as hell shouldn’t have the road traffic priority that it does.