If east-west traffic is so critical, why does the M1 only provide 2 through lanes each way?

The government argues that cross-city traffic is so critical that the they want to (without a mandate) spend $8 billion building just the first phase of the East-West tunnel.

If that’s the case, then why does the newly remodelled (2008-2010) M1 corridor only provide two lanes in each direction for those cross-city trips?

Eastbound (coming off the Westgate bridge, towards the Burnley tunnel):
M1 Eastbound signage - only 2 lanes through to east

Westbound (coming out of the Domain tunnel, towards the Westgate Bridge):
M1 Westbound signage - only two lanes through to west

…and another westbound view from a bit further on, where the lanes merge down to two:
M1 Westbound - only two lanes through to west

These pictures are all from Google Streetview, and actually show the freeway towards the end of the modifications… I’ve checked, and this is how it is today.

Road designers aren’t idiots. When they do massive remodelling like this to re-organise the lanes, they look at traffic flows. The Westgate bridge is now 5 lanes in each direction, and the Citylink tunnels are 3 each, but there are only 2 through lanes each way.

That leaves the conclusion that the traffic going from the east to the west and vice-versa is only a small proportion of the total traffic, particularly compared to numbers going over the Westgate.

Update Tuesday: I’ve had some feedback on this post (not via comments) to the effect that some thing this is twisting the truth, because various lanes leave and join the motorway along its length, so the total number of lanes at any one point is always more than 2. That’s true, but my point is that (particularly in congested conditions), the capacity of the M1 for east to west cross-city traffic is heavily influenced by the number of lanes that go all the way through… and this is only two lanes each way.

One person also pointed out an additional lane is available westbound via the Todd Road exit and the service station… but I would think it’s unlikely many drivers going from the east to the west would use this — plus I think it involves a merge with traffic from Kingsway and another from the Bolte Bridge southbound.

What do people want prioritised? PT or roads? Every survey says PT. #SpringSt

The state government continues to push the East-West motorway (a plan they barely mentioned in the 2010 election campaign) over major public transport projects.

But what do the people want? As it happens there’s a pretty clear message from surveys going back at least five years. (Skip to the end for the latest one.)

October 2008

And 94% believe the Government should be spending more on public transport. Extra spending on roads was supported by 55% of those surveyed.

The survey, taken last month by Sweeney Research, involved 601 respondents in Melbourne and 2000 nationally.

– The Age 20/10/2008: Melburnians want better system

Crowded 903 bus, Sunday

April 2011

A survey of attitudes to transport found that 94 per cent of respondents believed more money should be spent on public transport, while just 68 per cent said the government did not spend enough on roads.

This trend was reflected nationally, with an average of 88 per cent of those surveyed calling for more public transport funding, and 73 per cent wanting more spending on road infrastructure.

– The Age 10/4/2011: Fix trains, then roads: commuters

September 2012

ALMOST two-thirds of Australians believe investment in public transport is more important than investment in roads, a survey has found.

In Victoria 63 per cent of people surveyed said investing in public transport was the highest priority, compared with 20 per cent who believed it was most important to invest in roads.

– The Age 26/9/2012: Make room: transport survey, quoting the University of Sydney

March 2013

Over half (53%) of Australians said that the highest priority issue for transport in Australia is public transport improvements, followed by road improvements (26%).

– University of Sydney, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS): Transport Opinion Survey (TOPS), Quarter 1, March 2013 (an update of the survey quoted for September 2012)

Highest priority transport issue, by state - March 2013

May 2013

Would you prefer the Napthine Government to spend more on public transport or road infrastructure projects, like the East West Link tunnel?

Public transport 58.8%
Road infrastructure projects 32.3%
Undecided 8.9%

ReachTel poll for Channel 7

Update 23/7/2013: It’s emerged via a Melbourne Times Weekly article that more RACV members believe enhanced public transport is a better fix for traffic congestion than more roads. In responding to the article, the RACV has revealed that only 38% of their members support the East-West tollway tunnel.

Update 28/11/2013: A poll published by The Age today shows 23% support the East West tunnel, compared to 74% supporting improved public transport.

Update 2/3/2014: Another Age poll: Despite countless hours and millions of dollars spent marketing the $8 billion road project, the latest Age/Nielsen poll has found that only one in four Victorians believe the tunnel should be the highest infrastructure priority to ease congestion and improve liveability. Instead, most people want the government to build the Metro Rail Capacity Project – a nine-kilometre underground train line through the city that would allow another 20,000 passengers to use the network during peak hour.

Update 3/3/2014: Herald Sun/Galaxy Poll reveals airport rail link our top priority: VICTORIANS want a rail line to the airport ahead of a new rail tunnel through inner ­Melbourne or the East West Link, a Herald Sun/Galaxy Poll has found.

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.

Abbott reckons the Commonwealth doesn’t fund railways… Of course they do. Here are some examples.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Frankston on Thursday.

“Now the Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

The Age

Perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

Commonwealth Railways locomotive

Several urban rail projects are currently being built with Commonwealth funding:

Moreton Bay rail link (Qld) — $742m from the Commonwealth, $300m plus land from the Queensland government, and $105m from the local council.

Regional Rail Link (Vic) — which despite its name, is entirely within Melbourne, and will serve two new suburban stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. $3.225 billion from the Commonwealth government, and about a billion from the state.

Perth City Link — is a sinking of one rail line in inner-city Perth, with $236 million of Commonwealth funding for rail infrastructure.

Adelaide rail electrification is a $400 million project, which includes Commonwealth funding.

Not heavy rail, but certainly urban: the Gold Coast light rail project includes Commonwealth funding.

In recent times, other projects have gained Commonwealth funding. In Victoria alone there’s been $95 million from the Feds for inner-Melbourne rail freight upgrades, $30 million for level crossing upgrades (some in regional areas, some metropolitan), and $40 million for planning work for the Metro rail tunnel… with rumours today that the tunnel will get more funding, presumably if Federal Labor is re-elected.

Going back a few years, Melbourne’s Cranbourne line was upgraded and electrified in the 90s with money from the Commonwealth’s Building Better Cities scheme.

Commonwealth funding was also used for the “4D” double-deck development train.

These are just the projects I found during a quick search around on Google last night. No doubt there are others.

Despite what Abbott thinks, the real distinction (which is more relevant to PT than to roads) is that the Commonwealth gives once-off funding. What they don’t generally do is recurrent funding — required to actually run public transport, but also required to maintain roads — in fact people often forget that the rough cost of roads maintenance is about 1% of the construction cost per year.

The Commonwealth can fund what they like

It might be convention for conservatives not to fund urban rail, but there’s no reason they can’t. It’s entirely up to them.

I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient.

Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person.

It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.

In the 21st century, with car use waning and urban public transport booming, this is a regressive stance, and should make people think twice about voting for the Coalition in September.

Vicroads and their decades-long plans for road widening

Say what you like about VicRoads, they know how to do forward planning.

For example, there’s a stretch of Ballarat Road in Footscray, just west of where the dual carriageway ends, where this is a common sight:

Vicroads land, Ballarat Road, Footscray

Lovely, isn’t it. Derelict wasteland, left to rot.

A look at Google’s aerial view reveals quite a few empty properies along the street.

Ballarat Road, Footscray

In a classic case of salami tactics, VicRoads has been slowly buying up the properties, perhaps over decades, with a view to eventual widening and duplication of the road.

Looking at some Planning Property Reports for one of the properties, there is indeed a Public Acquisition Overlay for the sections of those properties that face the road.

Public acquisition overlay (yellow) / heritage overlay (pink), Ballarat Road, Footscray

So, when and if road widening ever happens, then between Gordon and Droop Streets, the old Kinnears rope factory won’t be touched, but a bunch of houses and shops will lose part of their land (and thus face demolition or modification). Further towards Victoria University, it won’t touch the newish apartment block on the southern side, but will take part of the bowling club on the northern side.

West of Gordon Street, it’d be the northern side of the road that gets wiped-out — though it appears that (for now) a heritage overlay protects the rather glorious avenue of trees between Summerhill Road and the next section of dual carriageway.

All this is not to say VicRoads has any immediate plans to widen the road. It could still be decades off. But they have the overlay, and they have some of the land in their possession already. It’s a similar situation in various spots around Melbourne — one well-known one is Punt Road in South Yarra/Prahran, where overlays have been in place for more than half a century. (It’s a reminder to always check for overlays when thinking about buying a property.)

VicRoads owns about 2500 homes across the state. They have been bought over the past five decades for the sole purpose of future road use.

Herald Sun 2/2/2008

Such road expension projects have taken place before; the widening of the Nepean Highway in Brighton took out scores of houses. St Kilda Road between the junction and Carlisle Street was once High Street, and the old shopfronts still seen on the eastern side once were on the western side as well — that widening removed the historic Junction Hotel. And close to where the above example, Geelong Road was widened in the 1960s, all but obliterating an Avenue of Honour that had been there.

Meanwhile, on RRL

The VicRoads way is symptomatic of the forward planning that goes on — the so-called “bottom drawer” they can whip road plans out of whenever funding is available for something. And while this road expansion never seems to solve traffic congestion (thanks to induced traffic), they seem very efficient at getting it built.

It’s arguable that having a clear plan via an overlay, and slowly buying up the properties — even if empty land is a waste and looks horrible — is better than turning up out of the blue and announcing to people that their homes are going to be bought and demolished.

That’s what’s happened with the Regional Rail Link project.

In contrast to quiet buying up of land for road widening in the distant future, down the other end of Footscray, the RRL project had to acquire and demolish a number of houses and industrial property — and managed to botch the notification to affected people.

And in Sunshine, RRL is shaving away a section of the HV Mackay gardens. The of course there’s the new Footscray station bridge demolition.

Apparently nobody envisaged that the main western railway corridor would ever need to be widened, so the land wasn’t reserved. One can only hope that over time, future planning will improve.

Fast cars

I was trying to get some photos and/or video for a blog post I’m writing. I’m having trouble finding a source for part of the post, so in the meantime here’s a snippet of video from the pedestrian overpass above the Nepean Highway at Moorabbin.

I might be wrong, but it does appear to me that there’s more than one rev head in amongst this lot. But I’d be reluctant to estimate how fast they were going. Any guesses?

I wonder if they realised they were passing Moorabbin Police station?

Why do some stopped buses use indicators, and some use hazard lights?

It’s long been a bugbear of mine that a vehicle that has correctly stopped in a legal parking/stopping position should not use its hazard lights.

Some buses do this, despite being stopped in proper bus zones. Melbourne Bus Link appears to be one company whose buses mostly do this. Most buses from other operators seem to just use their left indicator.

I reckon use of hazard lights at bus stops is not only pointless, it actually causes problems when the bus driver wants to pull out.

Motorists are obliged by law to give way as a bus pulls out from the kerb, but the change from “hazard lights on” to “indicating right” is pretty much indistinguishable, because the motorist would have to be checking the bus’s left indicator and notice it stop flashing.

It also can cause problems if the bus driver forgets to turn off the hazard lights, and the bus continues down the road with them flashing.

Yes, the bus in the video above isn’t entirely within its lane — it looks like the lane simply isn’t wide enough. But the use of hazards happens everywhere with some bus companies. I don’t think it makes much sense in most cases.

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.