1 in 6 have challenges just getting down the street. Don’t block the footpath.

In an ABS survey in 2009, 4.0 million people (18.5% of the population) reported having a disability.

Of people with a disability, Mobility aids used by about 15% of them.

Car blocking footpath #RoadMorons

So about 600,000 people nationwide use mobility aids of some kind: walking sticks, walking frames, wheelchairs.

Additionally, the 2011 Census says there are 1,457,571 people aged under 5. Let’s assume that all of these kids either ride in a pram pushed by a parent, or walk under close supervision with a parent, eg another 1,457,571.

And let’s ignore for a moment that some of the 600,000 people who use mobility aids are aged under 5, or supervising those under 5.

What we get is that perhaps around three and a half million people (about 1 in 6) in Australia have some challenges with simply walking down the street.

They need two things to help get around their neighbourhood.

Firstly they need adequate footpaths provided by councils and road authorities. This means both sides of the street, built with proper drainage, and designed for minimising journey distances, rather than taking long detours to get places. Adequate road crossing places also need to be provided — responsive traffic lights, pedestrian refuges (islands) and so on.

And secondly, they need people to not block the footpaths with their motor vehicles. To do so is the ultimate in arrogance and thoughtlessness for three and a half million of your fellow citizens. Yet I see it continually when walking. It’s high time there was a crackdown on it.

Personally, in the last few months I’ve left several polite but firm notes around my neighbourhood on repeat offending vehicles — they seem to work, and it’s probably easier than trying to convince the council or police to do something about it (though pleasingly, it does sometimes happen).

William Street — too much space for cars?

Heading south along William Street in morning peak hour, fighting for space on the street, are pedestrians (predominantly coming out of Flagstaff station), trams, cyclists and motorists.

How many of each?

Tram route 55 gets a tram about every 4 minutes in peak hour. The May 2012 PTV load survey said that each tram carries an average of 78.6 people between 8am and 9am southbound (actually measured slightly north from this point), making about 1179 people per hour.

William Street, morning peak

Pedestrians: Marcus Wong recently found some great City of Melbourne CBD pedestrian statistics. At its peak between 8am and 9am, about 5000 pedestrians head south from Flagstaff station.

Motorists: Vicroads network performance monitoring figures may or may not be of relevance to this specific street, but show that the arterial road average across Melbourne in AM peak is a bit under 800 people per hour. William Street southbound is only one lane, so let’s use that figure.

Cyclists? Dunno. I see quite a few heading up and down in peak, but the Bicycle Network “Super Tuesday” count doesn’t seem to publicly publish anything useful from the enormous amount of data they collect. Shame. In the absence of other figures, let me take a wild guess at 200 in the busiest hour.

The bike lanes aren’t properly configured. They fizzle-out in places, and around Little Bourke Street (southbound), cyclists often either have to squeeze between cars, or wait for them to shift.

William Street, morning peak

If you assume the footpaths are roughly the same width as each tram/traffic/parking lane, and the bike lanes are half that width, what do you get?

Mode % people % road space
Pedestrians 70% 22%
Cyclists 3% 11%
Tram 16% 22%
Motor vehicles 11% 44%

The most over-allocated, least efficient mode here is obviously motor vehicles — in part because they are allocated two lanes but one (at least in AM peak) is wasted on parking.

Meanwhile the footpaths get so crowded that many people simply walk on the road. In this terribly fuzzy mobile phone footage, you can see a bloke in a wheelchair give up on the footpath and take-off across the road for the other side:

(Note: it is perfectly legal to cross the road anywhere that is more than 20 metres from a pedestrian crossing.)

What could they do?

They could widen the footpath at the expense of car parking, particularly on the super-busy western side of the street. In the busiest section between Bourke Street and Flagstaff station that’s probably losing about 20 car spots. You’d lose a traffic lane in PM peak, but so what? Traffic is at a standstill now — it would still be at a standstill. If delays got longer, fewer people would drive.

They could install full time bike lanes all the way down. It’s crazy that cyclists get stuck behind cars.

Better enforcement of motorists blocking intersections; you see this every peak hour. (Could be a money-spinner for a cash-strapped government, in fact.)

And more fare gates at Flagstaff could ease congestion there, particularly in morning peak.

Ultimately, the station and trains are the most efficient mode available for getting large numbers of people into and out of the CBD. It already does this very well, but making the area more efficient and safer for pedestrians is vital.

Update: The video keeps disappearing out of this post — possible WordPress bug? The direct link is here.

Update 12:30pm: Someone anonymously sent me a link to what looks like it should be a Bicycle Network page with detailed stats, but it doesn’t work. The region or state specified is invalid

Update Thursday: I didn’t even notice this before — the Clearway (and thus the bike lane) inbound/southbound on William Street only operates during PM peak. What sort of craziness is this?!
Clearway in William Street southbound/inbound only applies in PM peak?!

See also: Motorcycle/scooter parking on footpaths – In a crowded city centre, this doesn’t make sense.

As a pedestrian, I hate streets with only one footpath

The Greens are traditionally strong on sustainable transport issues, but one of the local candidates for council raised my hackles with this comment:

Do we really need footpaths on both sides of the street, in every street in Tucker Ward? There are plenty of places without footpaths or footpaths just on one side. This would save a whole lot of concrete / resources and it looks much better.

Brett Hedger on Facebook

Yes, we quite definitely need footpaths on both sides of the street.

There are few things that make pedestrians (and by definition, this includes all public transport users) feel like second class citizens more than a lack of footpaths.

Leary Avenue, East Bentleigh

In many cases it forces people to cross roads where they wouldn’t otherwise be compelled to — in some cases twice, to avoid walking on the grass.

It’s doubly worse for those of limited mobility, including those with wheelchairs and other walking aids, and for parents with prams.

A side effect of no footpaths is blurred property boundaries, resulting in some overzealous home owners encroaching, resulting in public space effectively lost.

I spoke to Brett’s running mate Rose Read at Bentleigh station on Thursday morning. I think she has an understanding of why I disagree with Brett.

Brett has emphasised in an update overnight that his comment shouldn’t be taken out of context, and that’s fair enough. It’s not like he was stating a big policy position — he was just kicking an idea around. This is worth emphasising: I must give Brett credit for engaging with the community, throwing his thoughts out there and being willing to debate and discuss them, which is a lot more than some other candidates have done.

But I’d be frankly horrified if it was actually proposed to start removing any footpaths, or routinely build streets with only one.

Unlikely? One would hope so. But there is a live example, in Glen Eira, in this ward, right now:

In East Bentleigh, the area behind Valkstone Primary School is being re-developed. While most of the streets have footpaths on both sides, the access road (pictured above) east through to GESAC and East Boundary Road only has a path on the southern side, so if you’re from the north side of the access road, headed north on foot, you have to cross it twice… and this being the only road out in that direction, is likely to get reasonably busy at peak times when the estate is finished.

Sure, open space is a concern. But changes such as only providing one footpath will actively discourage walking and public transport, and encourage car use — that’s no solution at all in urban environments.

One possible way forward (not in the example above, but in quiet streets that don’t get through-traffic) might be what the Dutch call woonerfs — shared spaces, where the road is de-emphasised, allowing other users into the space, slowing down cars and making more effective use of space.

In Australian terms it’s (more or less) a Shared Zone, and there are examples such as this one on the Williamstown Rifle Range estate, developed about 15 years ago.

View Larger Map

That said, I wonder if the average person understands how to use a Shared Zone — in particular that the law says that vehicles must give way to pedestrians.

But whatever the solution, the last thing we’d want around here is more streets missing footpaths.

Councils give warnings about overhanging trees blocking footpaths – why not parked cars?

From the City of Glen Eira web site:

Property owners are responsible for keeping trees and shrubs under control and trimmed back to ensure pedestrian safety and clear sightlines for drivers.

If a Council notice is sent requesting that trees or shrubs be trimmed, the work must be completed within 14 days.

Property owners who do not comply with a notice within 14 days will be issued with an official warning notice. This provides a further 10 days to complete the work. If action is still not taken within the required timeframe a penalty notice of $200 may be issued and a contractor engaged by Council to undertake the necessary work. The property owner is responsible for the contractor’s fees.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were as keen in preventing this far more common intrusion onto footpaths:

Car illegally blocking footpath

This is inconvenient for all footpath users, but can be downright hazardous for those in wheelchairs and other mobility aids, as well as pushing prams and strollers, and children riding their bikes (which is quite legal, I might add).

While you occasionally hear of people being rightly fined for it, it doesn’t seem to be very common.

It’s particularly galling when there is plenty of space on the street (or in the driveway they’re not quite using). People are just being lazy — as well as thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Perhaps a better way for Councils to deal with it would be to do as per the trees: first send a notice advising people not to illegally block the footpath… if they keep doing it, get a contractor to tow the car and charge them costs.

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.

Who’s meant to give way?

The law says that motorists turning into a street must give way to pedestrians crossing that street.

The law also says that motorists turning in or out of a private property (such as a carpark) must give way to pedestrians.

So why does the signage always imply it’s the pedestrian that should be the one to give way?

Why warn the pedestrians, but not the motorists (who are meant to give way)?

OK, obviously it’s good for pedestrians to be aware of cars coming through, in case they don’t give way, but perhaps signage should also remind the motorists of their legal obligations (since a few appear to be unaware)?

And I wonder if there would ever come a point where building codes reflect what the law says, and preclude building high walls/fences/hedges which cause blind corners?… or ensure that mirrors or some other precaution must be undertaken so that motorists can see those they’re meant to be giving way to?

Blind corners

No choice: at Fountain Gate, the car is king

The Westfield Fountain Gate web site’s advice for getting there by public transport has a list of the buses that serve the centre (the list being out of date — the 826 and 794 don’t exist anymore and the 839 and 840 no longer go there) and notes it’s a fifteen minute walk from Narre Warren station.

Jeremy and I did indeed head down there by train yesterday. At the station we checked the bus timetable; it was twelve minutes away, and if the walk was going to be only marginally longer, we thought we might as well walk it.

(I had checked the Metlink Journey Planner before setting out. Usually it provides relatively sound advice, but this time around every answer I got out of it claimed there was a 970 metre walk from the Fountain Gate bus interchange to the shopping centre. That’s insane; it’s about the distance from Narre Warren Station for heaven sake’s. Obviously Westfield don’t care a jot, otherwise they’d have raised it. And updated their web site.)

The central bit of Narre Warren, around the station, is relatively pleasant to walk around.

Misleading signage (for pedestrians at least) to Fountain Gate

But what Westfield have created is an extremely pedestrian-hostile environment. It’s not very far (as the crow flies), but the route is badly signed and confusing, you end up crossing numerous roads and car parks, there’s little cover — it must be horrible if rainy or hot.

Even if you check the map in advance, which I did, and work out that following Webb Street from the station is the logical way, the only visual clue along the way, a huge “Westfield Fountain Gate” sign entices you off instead to the main car entrance on the Princes Highway. We followed this, which meant the trip was longer and more convoluted and confusing than necessary.

In the end, it’s true that it probably was a fifteen minute walk. But it was the worst kind of walk — the one where you’re not really sure where you’re going, nobody else is around, and at one point we were following a dirt path apparently worn by previous pedestrians into the grass, because Westfield had failed to provide a proper footpath.

Fountain Gate from above
(Picture: Nearmap.com)

The centre itself is a mishmash of separate buildings. It’s unclear how much is controlled by Westfield and how much isn’t, but as it is, I bet some motorists drive to one part of the centre, do shopping at Officeworks or Harvey Norman and then get back into the car and drive to the other, main part of the centre.

Even the bus interchange is awkwardly placed. There’s little signage inside the centre for it (actually most of the signage inside the centre was pretty poor), and if you follow the signs to the exit, you can’t actually see the bus interchange from the door you come out of. (Though it’s not a 970 metre walk. Perhaps 250 metres around a blind corner.)

I considered us catching a bus back to the station, but having not checked the route numbers in advance, and the mobile Journey Planner revealing few clues as to the waiting times (as most people know, outer-suburban bus services are pretty appalling on Sundays), I decided it was easier to walk back. Just as well; it appears the 841 bus would have pulled into the station just as the train departed — yet again showing Victoria’s mastery of bad train/bus connections.

We walked back along Webb Street, almost getting lost on Narre Warren North Road, which doesn’t even have a footpath along some of its west side — again, there were no visual clues, no pointers to the railway station, not even a street sign for Web Street that I could see.

The “balance”

Often in transport they talk about “balance” and “choice”. In this case, you’re given little choice. Walking and PT access have been made so awkward that almost nobody would use them by choice.

Woe betide if you can’t drive, if you’re too young or two old or have a disability. I would imagine trying to get here independently in a wheelchair would be absolute hell.

What can be done?

Perhaps nothing can be done in a hurry about the overall design of Fountain Gate, but a lot more could be done in terms of signage, between the centre and both the bus interchange and the station, and better pedestrian footpaths to both. It’s not hard, it just takes a little thought. You would think they’d want to encourage any visitors who might be inclined to come without adding to pressure on the carpark… but maybe they just haven’t thought about it.

It’s really no wonder that in this part of the world, the car is king… despite all the problems that brings. It’s like a case study in bad urban design — with the apparent cooperation of the Department of Transport, who back it up by unusable bus services.

On the bright side, we found what we were looking for while down there, we did get some good exercise, and it was perfect walking weather. And actually, if you get a good connection, which we did on the way down, the travel time from Bentleigh isn’t excessively higher than by car — a bit over an hour.

Bottom of the foodchain

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while now. Haven’t had time to refine it as much as I’d like, but it’s time to just get it out.

We probably don’t need footpath reports on the radio…

…but we do need more consideration of pedestrians.

I think people would jaywalk less, and I suspect there would be less vehicle/pedestrian accidents, if traffic engineers didn’t constantly put pedestrians at the bottom of the food chain.

Pedestrian crossingLong delays for the green man are the biggest problem, and in fact a seemingly relatively simple solution would help a lot.

The issue is that pressing the button after the parallel road traffic has started, in almost all cases, doesn’t get you a green man. You almost always have to wait for the next sequence.

It’s incredibly frustrating for pedestrians, particularly when you might have missed the green by mere seconds. Inevitably the temptation for some people is to jaywalk. And some will find the perceived time to walk somewhere excessive, and choose to drive in future.

It’s doubly frustrating as it’s completely needless — often there is time within the existing timed sequence to give the green man. And if there isn’t time, then it’s arguable that it should happen anyway and the sequence should be extended by a few seconds to cater for it.

And before you say it’s impossible, at some locations you can get a green man after the parallel road traffic has started.

The traffic engineers just need to implement it at more places.

Original Tweets:

  • Delays exiting Flagstaff stn due to one western end escalator to concourse stopped #MetroTrains — 9:05 AM Jun 9th
  • Also delays due to William St narrow footpath + people using those stupidly huge golf umbrellas, but you can’t blame that on #MetroTrains — 9:06 AM Jun 9th
  • People wouldn’t jaywalk as much if traffic engineers didn’t constantly put pedestrians at the bottom of the food chain — 10:17 AM Jul 3rd