“People should be able to choose their mode of travel”

“RACV has a very clear view that people should be able to choose their mode of travel and not be confronted by artificial policy directions that constrain particular modes of travel…

– RACV spokesman Dave Jones, Herald Sun 9/12/2013

Yes, it’d be awful if artificial policy directions prevented people choosing their travel mode.

Policy directions such as transport provision skewed almost entirely in favour of cars, resulting in a failure to provide most suburbs with fast frequent public transport services.

Decades of building roads at almost any cost, but in many areas a lack of safe convenient walking and cycling routes.

Sixty years of policies which give many Melburnians little choice but to drive their cars.

Yes, that’d be no good.

(RACV was actually railing against efforts by Yarra Council to reduce the number of cars on inner-city roads.)

Traffic heading into Southland on a Saturday morning

It’s not hard to see the effect of the transport policies of the last half-century. At Southland on the weekend, motorists circled the car park looking for spaces. The alternative – mostly hourly buses – is no alternative whatsoever.

One look at the planned EW route shows why it would have made yesterday’s #Citylink mess worse, not better

The claims that the East-West link would somehow help the road network cope with yesterday’s horrible Citylink accident are truly mystifying. It really does appear as if the motorway boosters have tried to make use of this high-profile event to promote their cause in the hope that nobody thought too much about what they were saying.

RACV public policy general manager Brian Negus said the crash amplified the need for an east-west tunnel connecting the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road.

“You see it all the time if we have a major collision on the West Gate Freeway, the Bolte Bridge, the Tullamarine or the Monash and the whole city grinds to a halt. This crash has really amplified the need for the East West Link and a complete network of freeways. We need an alternative route,” he said.

Herald Sun: Truck crash on CityLink confirms the need for East West Link, say experts

One look at the map shows why this isn’t the case.

Melbourne East-West proposed route map
Proposed East-West link map, highlighting shared section with Citylink, where Friday’s accident happened. (Source)

Apart from the fact that “alternative routes” have their own traffic to deal with, in this case the East-West link would have been no help whatsoever. Why? Because the planned East-West route includes the section of Citylink where the crash was.

The presence of the eastern connection in particular would have made it worse, because it would have brought their own traffic into the picture. Traffic coming in from the eastern suburbs and wanting to head south on Citylink (to head towards the Westgate bridge or anywhere else south of Flemington) would have been joining the traffic caught up in the snarl.

Their only alternative motorway route they could have taken would be to head north via the Tullamarine, then the Calder then the Ring Road, then finally onto the Westgate. For a trip from say Flemington to Spotswood, this would blow out from 9km to 34km — hardly a realistic alternative, particularly in the face of that route’s usual traffic plus other displaced vehicles.

As one commenter on the 3AW web site said yesterday: “Thank God we don’t have the East-West Link, otherwise traffic would be backed up on the Eastern as well!!!!!!!”

Even on the best of days, this section of Citylink is congested already at peak times, simply because it is a completely inefficient way of moving people. Add extra traffic — even in the absence of a major disruption — and it would become daily gridlock.

Don’t be surprised if the EW link ever gets built that the road lobby immediately start asking for the next alternative route to link them up — yet another new freeway connection through inner-city Melbourne.

Of course, one should note Negus’s comment was not necessarily about this particular event, but more about wanting a complete network of freeways. Because apparently the best solution to something that doesn’t work is to build more of them.

Want roadside assistance but don’t want to fund RACV’s lobbying? Plenty of alternatives – cheaper too

This has come up again since RACV are resisting the removal of a lane of traffic on Princes Bridge to give cyclists more than the part of a busy footpath and the mere sliver of roadspace they have now:

What alternatives are there to RACV road service? Because if you disagree with the RACV’s stance on transport issues, why help fund their lobbying?

Cyclists on Princes Bridge

With thanks to Brad McCluskey, combined with a previous list of mine, here are some contenders (quoting their basic plans, which I suspect is what many would want as a basic safety-net), and the annual fee:

For comparison, RACV roadside care costs from $92.

Also some companies offer breakdown assistance on a per-job basis, with no joining fee. It could be cheaper if you very rarely need to call, but it could be expensive if you use them regularly:

Are there any others?

I’ve been signed up to 24/7 Road Services now for some years, but have never had to actually call them.

RACV being the biggest, probably have the most assistance vans, but also might be busier and slower at peak times to respond. I have seen a lot of Allianz vans around recently. Perhaps they just have a more eye-catching design than most. Have people tried some of these alternatives?

Always check the fine print of course. Some companies won’t sign you up to an annual plan if your car is too old. Some plans limit the number of callouts you can make and/or have different tiers of service plan. And some have limited or no coverage outside metropolitan Melbourne.

Westgate bridge: induced traffic coming soon

Westgate bridge fifth lane openingThere you go; the RACV said again yesterday (as they have done in the past) that the $1.4 billion M1/Westgate Bridge upgrade (including the new lanes opened yesterday) will be swamped within a decade.

Brian Negus, of the RACV, welcomed the opening of the fifth lane. It was the final link in the freeway corridor so it would relieve the frustrating congestion, he said.

Within eight to 10 years, the West Gate would once again be struggling to handle the number of cars using it daily, Mr Negus said.

The Age

So, it’s another example of induced traffic: when you expand a road, traffic grows to fill it.

(And ironically this 25% expansion in bridge capacity came a couple of months after Williamstown and Altona Loop trains reduced peak hour frequencies from every 20 minutes to every 22 minutes, in an attempt to boost punctuality. Meanwhile buses in the fast-growing Werribee area remain at mostly every 40 minutes, with station car parks packed, so accessing public transport is difficult for many residents.)

Transport Minister Terry Mulder recently said “we can’t build our way out of congestion”. Department of Transport Secretary Jim Betts said the same thing yesterday.

Apparently RACV still believes you can… even though it’s never actually worked.

The RACV continues to argue for the north-east freeway (through Banyule Flats, or further east) and the east-west tunnel (under Carlton). If you are an RACV member and you disagree with more motorway expansion, you should let them know. And if you’re only a member for the roadside assistance, you should know there are other organisations offering that service which don’t lobby (at least overtly) for more motorways. (And it’s often cheaper than RACV.)

(Pic: from the ABC’s Ryan Sheales on Twitter)


Spotted around the RACV centre in Bourke Street…

I’m not sure what these things are called. They’re from the days before traffic lights — before my time. The only problem with these ones is that two directions are getting a green signal at once, which would result in a crash.
Traffic, RACV centre

This street sign looks a little different. Ah, you see the footnote on it? “Private lane”. Presumably this is because it leads only to the RACV’s carpark, and is on RACV property. But it may have legal implications as well — at a conventional street corner, traffic coming into the side street needs to give way to pedestrians crossing it, but coming out doesn’t. I reckon if it’s a private lane, then like at a car park entrance, traffic needs to give way in both directions.
Private lane, RACV centre

The bike share scheme

Melbourne’s bike share scheme is meant to start today, and the bike stations have been going in. I found this one at Federation Square, evidently almost ready to go, the only thing missing is the bikes:

Melbourne Bike Share station, Fed Square

Melbourne Bike Share

Curiously, just across the road outside St Paul’s Cathedral is another one.

Melbourne Bike Share station, St Paul's

I wonder what the bogans who often hang around there will think of it. I hope the bikes are tough.

The other initial locations are mostly around Swanston Street, with a couple up near Melbourne Uni, and one at Southbank. Apparently it will eventually spread to some fifty locations.

I’m maintaining my previous cynical view of it. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I just don’t see who would use it.

If you’re a tourist, you won’t have a helmet. You can use one of the existing tourist-oriented bike hire vendors. (This scheme seems to be designed not to put them out of business.)

If you’re a Melbourne local who arrived in the city by PT, your trip around the CBD by tram or bus or train is included in the price of your ticket, and is probably more convenient by PT than bike. Why would you pay more, and carry a helmet to do it by bike?

If you arrived in the city by car, I really doubt you’ll be carrying a helmet and hiring a bike.

If you work close to the city in a spot not well-covered by PT (perhaps somewhere like Fishermen’s Bend), even if you did carry a helmet, unless your destination also has a bike share station, you’d pay a fortune to have the bike at work all day. You’re more likely to bring your own bike on the train.

There is one possible group I can see: CBD residents, but only if they are of the mind to ride a hired bike (not one they own themselves; perhaps if they have limited space in their flat), bring their own helmet, and if they are making a trip that was genuinely easier by bike than other means. And it would have to be a trip to the vicinity of another bike share station — all highly unlikely with the initial stations, given they’re almost all parallel to Swanston Street, which has a tram every minute or so.

The helmet thingthe government claims to have a solution: ”very cheap” helmets would be available to people who joined the bike scheme. He did not specify how much the helmets would cost. Helmets would also be available at city shops near the bike stations. But it’s not yet clear what this means: how much is “very cheap” and if that means shared helmets or buying a cheap one if you’ve forgotten to bring your own.

I may be proven wrong, but get the feeling the bike share scheme may turn out to be a big waste of (taxpayers’) money.

It’s part of the plan.

M1 blocked, sky falls in

M1 blockage, picture from HeraldSun.com.auWhile I realise the shutdown of the M1 eastbound on Tuesday was probably misery for those caught up in it, the lengthy article on it in yesterday’s Age I think vastly overstates the impact. The article basically has the road lobby saying that the whole thing doesn’t work (and the $1.4 billion of improvements won’t last long) and so therefore we should build another one.

Because apparently the solution to something that doesn’t work is to have two of them.

”I have consistently said we can’t into the medium and longer term continue our reliance on the M1. It is an unsustainable reliance,” he [Roads Minister Tim Pallas] said yesterday.

I think it would be more accurate to say that we can’t continue to have thousands upon thousands of individuals each driving alone in a car for long distances around Melbourne. It’s in no way an efficient method of doing things. And they’ll continue to do so until they’re given a time-competitive alternative.

While the government quietly starts building the new road tunnel (claimed to be for freight to the port, but their own artwork gives away that it’s really for city access) and tentatively starts early work on the rail tunnel, they’re neglecting basic public transport service frequency improvements (such as linking two rail lines through the CBD to provide a cross-city route, and boosting frequencies across Melbourne) that would get cars off the road more quickly and cheaper.

Up to 160,000 vehicles a day use the road

“…when that corridor is closed it doesn’t just impact people travelling on that road, it shuts down Melbourne.” [Peter Daly, RACV]

Both of these can’t be true at the same time.

160,000 vehicles is a tiny proportion of the vehicles in Melbourne.

And how many were actually affected by this incident? Well, if the road is 3-4 lanes in that section, and freeway capacity is 2000 vehicles per hour, and freeway AM peak vehicle occupancy is 1.13, and it was three hours, that’s a maximum of 21,000 vehicles, or 23,730 people. (Someone will point out of my maths is flawed, I hope.)

Which is a lot, but it’s also less then a medium-sized football crowd, and it is plainly not true that it impacts the whole city.

While I’m sure the talkback lines at 3AW were overheating, myself and many others were completely oblivious to it. Central Melbourne was unaffected. It didn’t affect the trains (which bring the majority of people into the city centre). It didn’t affect road traffic on most other routes around Melbourne.

The State Government is spending $1.4 billion upgrading the vital transport link with extra lanes and ramps, but even Pallas admits there is only so much ”sweating the asset” can achieve.

Ah yes, the M1 upgrade which was going to cost a mere billion, and then blew-out by 40%. So now they’re saying that even that huge expense to taxpayers will provide limited benefits.

Even the RACV admitted this last year:

… the RACV dismissed the upgrade as a quick-fix.

“Its life of providing relief is probably only going to last five to 10 years,” public policy general manager Brian Negus said.

“Traffic on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge slows under heavy load”, Herald Sun, 18/2/2008

In the context they said that, they were asking for yet another freeway to be built, but it appears to be admission that it’s pointless to add road capacity — it attracts more vehicles and fills up again. It’s not like building that capacity on a separate road will magically prevent it filling.

Unless of course they build it, but keep it closed until there’s a blockage elsewhere.

Thankfully in yesterday’s article, Graham Currie of Monash University was there to counter the rev heads:

Ironically, according to Currie, the Government’s massive upgrade of the M1 will not help travel times in the long run because the improved road will be an incentive for more vehicles.

Spot on. Just like, in fact, the previous improvement (known as Citylink) was meant to speed things up, but didn’t.

Trip 1: Oakleigh to the City
Route Travel time
Current [1999] 38 minutes
Future 13 minutes
Save 25 minutes

Trip 2: Gladstone Park to MCG
Route Travel time
Current 46 minutes
Future 26 minutes
Save 20 minutes

Trip 3: Dandenong to Melbourne Airport
Route Travel time
Current 87 minutes
Future 39 minutes
Save 48 minutes

– RACV morning peak predictions for Citylink, then under construction, published in The Age 27/5/1999

Ask a regular motorist if they can drive from Dandenong to the Airport in 39 minutes in peak hour today and they’ll laugh their heads off.

As I post this, about 8am, the VicRoads web site is estimating around 58 minutes for the trip. (Monash inbound 40 + Citylink Western Link outbound 9 + Tullamarine outbound 9). Admittedly there are roadworks going on, but still! And it’s not even the very peak of the peak yet.

It might have been 39 minutes on day one of opening, or perhaps if only those motorists using the road pre-upgrade had been allowed to use it afterwards. But that’s not how things work. New trips are attracted, and it clogs up again.

And I come back to my point: the best way to get the M1 running smoothly is to give as many car drivers as possible a fast, frequent public transport alternative.

(Pic: Herald Sun)