How long did it take to get into central Melbourne from your suburb… circa 1925

This is very cool. Similar to tools Jarrett Walker often talks about that show how far you can get in X minutes on public transport, here’s a map prepared around 1925 or so (I’m guessing) by the Melbourne Town Planning Commission showing how long it takes to get into central Melbourne from various suburbs by tram and train (and walking).

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925: Legend

Here’s the area around St Kilda and Caulfield:

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925: Caulfield area

As you can see, the areas around railway stations have the quickest access into the city. Trams don’t reach as far in the same number of minutes.

As you get farther away from tram lines/railway stations, the city becomes less accessible.

Here’s the thing: in many ways the timings on this map haven’t changed much, because in terms of fixed-rail infrastructure, there’s not that much extra in 2014.

On the trains, the Glen Waverley line (a late addition, sketched onto this map) and the City Loop are the obvious new lines, the latter providing better access to more parts of the CBD, but not making much difference in terms of travel time, which remain roughly the same as they were. Bentleigh to the City still takes about half-an-hour.

That travel time hasn’t deteriorated is important: as the city’s road traffic has increased markedly over those 90ish years, the train system has isolated those who use it (and the city at large) from growing traffic congestion.

Meanwhile some areas such as Kew have lost their trains, though areas further out such as Pakenham and Cranbourne, which once had only infrequent country trains, are now part of the metropolitan network.

Trams aren’t shown very clearly on this map, but extensions since the 1920s include the 75 out to Vermont South. But some areas such as Footscray have lost some of their trams, as has Elwood/Brighton, and Black Rock/Beaumaris. Travel times for the trams that remain also seem similar to today, though in peak hours they’re likely to be longer on routes sharing space with cars.

If you have a look at the whole map, many of the obvious gaps in the network are still there… only these days they’re filled with houses, not empty as they were when this map was prepared. As I’ve noted before, if a suburb got its public transport back in the 1930s when PT was still being expanded, it probably still has it now.

Some areas have Smartbuses, which help fill those gaps and get to the station with frequent (at least on weekdays) fast (well, faster than walking) services. But many suburbs miss out on frequent PT.

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925.

Not that accessibility to the CBD is necessarily what everyone needs nowadays — work places, education and other opportunities are now more widely dispersed throughout the metropolitan area.

But allowing people to get to those places, particularly without a car (eg being able to move independent of traffic congestion, and whether or not they are able to drive) is an ongoing challenge.

See the map nice and big, on Flickr (opens in a new window)

Source: State Library of Victoria — map 4. Other maps there include variations on this theme. I haven’t looked at everything yet — no doubt there are some other gems. Map 2 is similar to map 4, but is in black and white, but shows tram lines more clearly.

Spot the difference – transport advertising in the lead-up to elections

I was thinking the government ads about transport upgrades back in 2009-10 (Labor) are pretty similar to 2014 (Coalition).

How would it be if I got them both and dubbed the audio of one over the video of another?

The 2010 version is mostly about trains; the 2014 one has been chopped a tad to remove around 15 seconds that was about East West Link. But it’s surprising how well they fit. (The full unedited versions are shown below.)

This time around, Channel 7 reports ads like this have cost at least $3.2 million so far.

Comparing 2010 to 2014

Let’s play a little game of Spot The Difference.

2009-2010 – Labor 2013-2014 – Coalition
Advert for new Smartbus route 903
Advert for a measly 6 extra services on bus route 630
moving-victoria-ad-20140301
Nice placement: Advertising, Cheltenham station
Victorian Transport Plan advertising, December 2009
Myki billboard advertising, February 2014
Bayside Rail Imorovements poster, Bentleigh, February 2014 (cropped)

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the ad campaign should now be considered “electioneering” and withdrawn immediately. He vowed to cut advertising spending in the transport portfolio if the Coalition won government in November. “If I’m the transport minister, the money I have available to me will be going into nuts and bolts business, not self-promotion,” he said.

The Age, 1/9/2010

Rather than invest in public transport Napthine Govt invests in advertising 2 tell us how good it is. But you can’t spin lived experience!
Jill Hennessy, Labor Public Transport Spokesperson, 28/2/2014, Twitter

Denis Napthine will fight for his survival with the last dollar of your money #springst
Martin Pakula, Labor Spokesperson for Scrutiny of Government, and Transport Minister 2010, 1/3/2014, Twitter

Is advertising ever justified?

Yes, sure it is. Public transport is a product which competes against other modes of travel, particularly cars.

But it the ads should be informative, or at the very least should tell you why (even at a high level) you should be using the product.

Some of the ads have been informative at some level. From the sample above (and it is only a sample), Labor’s newspaper ads and the Coalition’s billboard/noticeboard ads have some level of useful information in them.

Amazingly, none of the Coalition’s ads spell out a huge improvement they’ve delivered in the last couple of years, but almost totally failed to promote: frequent weekend trains on much of the network.

And the TV ads in particular, placed by both sides of politics over the years, tell you very little — they seem purely design to try and convince you that your Government is doing Good Things with your money.

The Dandenong line upgrade: What’s included, what’s missing?

To the surprise of many, the state government yesterday announced a major $2 billion upgrade of the Dandenong/Pakenham/Cranbourne lines — they’re saying it’ll be enough to boost capacity by about 30%.

The government’s press release is here, or you can watch a video:

What’s included?

25 new high-capacity “next-generation” trains. They’ve been talking about this for years. The newest trains on the Melbourne are basically a 10 year-old design with some tweaks. If the talk has been correct, this new batch will have more doors (to cut dwell times at stations), fewer seats, walk-through passenger areas, no middle cabs (pointless as almost all services now run as full 6-car sets) and lots of handholds. Probably a tad longer (perhaps even a 7th carriage) — overall carrying about 20% more passengers per train.

In other words, they’ll be similar to the sorts of high-capacity trains you see in other big cities around the world. Of course squeezing more people in needs to be balanced out with enough seats so that people travelling long distances don’t have to stand all the way. (See also: How many seats do we want on our trains?)

Grade separation of four crossings. They’ll hit the worst of the remaining ones: Clayton Road (where the level crossing often causes long delays to buses and ambulances), Centre Road (so close to Clayton Road you’d pretty much have to do it at the same time), Murrumbeena Road (infamous for long delays to road users) and Koornang Road. In the process there’ll be new stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton.

Early works on more. Planning and early works funding for the grade separation of Grange Road (Carnegie), Poath Road (Hughesdale), Corrigan Road, Heatherton Road and Chandler Road (Noble Park). When these are eventually done, and given the Springvale grade separation is currently underway, the entire stretch from Caulfield to Dandenong will have no level crossings, making it possible to run a lot more trains, without causing a ruckus by blocking up road traffic — as in fact happened yesterday when following a disruption, some motorists waited up to an hour.

Springvale grade separation under construction

High-capacity signalling. As I explained a few weeks ago, “moving block” signalling makes it possible to run a lot more trains along a line. Presumably this will include at least the busiest section, from the City Loop to Dandenong, but it may also include the full lines, out to Pakenham and Cranbourne. It will also need all trains running on the line to be fitted with in-cab equipment, including V/Line trains.

Maintenance depot at East Pakenham. At a guess, this is where the new trains will be serviced, and I’d hope some extra track for this facility will also allow Pakenham suburban trains to shunt out of the way of V/Line trains.

Power upgrades to make sure there’s enough juice for all these new trains.

It appears the package is fully funded, not an election promise. It’s not clear where the money came from, but according to the government it is actually funded: The $2.5 billion for the Cranbourne-Pakenham project will be included in the Budget and is “all new money”, Dr Napthine said.

The project is scheduled to start in 2015, with completion in 2019.

Dandenong line, 6pm

What’s not included

Duplication of the Cranbourne line. I’m very surprised not to see this listed, though the rumour is that works will address at least some of it. I hope so, because the cost of it would be tiny in comparison to the rest of the package, and having a single section of track will hamper efforts to get the most capacity out of the project.

Third or fourth track to Dandenong. With little CBD stabling capacity, you wouldn’t go to the expense of a third track unless you are also building a fourth. This package doesn’t appear to include this, though it’s said to be in the longer term plan for the line, particularly if the Port of Hastings is eventually developed. Hopefully the grade separations and new stations are being built with this in mind.

Metro rail tunnel. This is commonly seen as a solution to rail capacity at the CBD end, but actually it doesn’t matter that much yet. Two tracks from Dandenong into the City Loop means that, provided no other trains share that loop tunnel, capacity shouldn’t be an issue. This could, of course, mean bye-bye to Frankston loop services.

Enough new trains for the whole line. If you have peak services every, say, 3-4 minutes, and a round trip of about 140 minutes, you’d need about 40 trains, plus a small number of spares. Obviously there’s scope to expand the order later, but for consistent loads and running times to maximise line capacity, ideally you’d want every train to be the higher capacity model.

In practice they might decide they’ll target them at the “peak of the peak” hour, or on the busiest of the two lines, until they eventually have enough bigger trains.

Connecting buses. No doubt they’ll benefit from the removal of level crossings, but there’s no word on service upgrades. Getting the trunk route to the south-east working well is great, but its potential is so much greater if there is a network of frequent connecting services for the benefit of people travelling to or from locations beyond walking distance of stations — at present many connecting buses are hopelessly infrequent. Smartbus routes are a good model here, and can be provided on more routes and services boosted, particularly on weekends.

It’s also unclear if quirks in the train timetables will be fixed: late Sunday starts, infrequent services early on weekends, 30 minute waits after 7pm on weekends (and after 10pm on weekdays). Hopefully these will be included in the service upgrades to accompany the infrastructure and fleet improvements.

Train passing signal

The verdict

Overall it’s a great upgrade. It will bring the Dandenong line into the 21st century, with modern trains and signalling, providing a big boost to capacity… it will bring the operation of the line much closer to world’s best practice.

There’s one glaring exception: the remaining single track on the Cranbourne line. Surely if you’re throwing a couple of billion dollars into the line, you’d have to fix this. Hopefully that is the case.

V/Line passengers may be unhappy that they’ll still sit behind suburban trains for the metropolitan portion of their trip. That’s an annoyance, but they alone aren’t reason enough for extra tracks… V/Line’s figures indicate for the entire morning peak, the 5 trains arriving in Melbourne between 6:59am and 9:28am carry 856 passengers — about one suburban train load. Certainly something needs to be done to improve travel times for regional passengers (and attract more of them off the road), but the immediate concern is suburban capacity. And the new signalling and measures to reduce suburban train dwell time delays will help.

It does make sense to target one line with a package of upgrades to ensure its performance will be humming as demand continues to grow. But it begs the question of when other lines and other public transport users around Melbourne will benefit from this kind of modernisation.

See also:

See something newsworthy? Get the footage!

OK, so you’ve seen a big problem, and since you carry a very capable camera in your phone everywhere you go, you’ve decided you want to get footage of it so the world can find out about it.

Great! This really helps activists, and can get problems fixed.

When you’re filming or snapping photos, here are some tips to consider, some based on a chat with a Channel 7 journo following a previous foray into this. Obviously these thoughts are in the context of my particular campaigning interests, but hopefully they’re useful more broadly.

Mind you, many of these pointers are also relevant to simply getting photos and video of any newsworthy event, not necessarily just one that highlights a problem to be fixed.

Show the problem. Show the scale of the issue; some context. A crowded train doorway on its own isn’t a problem. The entire carriage being packed, and people giving up and waiting on the platform is a problem.

Make notes about what it is you’re showing, and post those (even if brief) with the material. Are we looking at a tram that’s packed because the three before it were cancelled (so the problem is service reliability) or it’s packed despite everything running smoothly (so the problem is service frequency and the number of trams)? Why is this significant? Is it part of a wider problem?

Don’t mislead. If you’re aiming to get a problem fixed, your photos and video are only part of the evidence — it may be what sparks further investigation, but fundamentally you’ll be wasting your time (and quite possibly set your cause back) if it turns out you implied something which didn’t really happen.

Don’t be creepy or irritate people — when I’m trying to film packed PT, I’m not trying to film individuals, I’m filming crowds. Occasionally I’ll get stares, and I’d be happy to explain what I was doing if ever asked, but do I think there’s a way to film in a crowd while not lingering on specific people, and not giving the impression of creepiness.

If possible, be prepared. Sometimes things happen spontaneously, and it might be a struggle to whip out your phone camera in time and snap a pic or shoot some video. Other things are regular events. For the summer timetable crowding, I knew it was happening every day, so took along a proper camera and positioned myself at the end of the carriage to be able to get good shots.

Be safe and considerate. Don’t do anything silly to get a good shot, and don’t get in the way.

For videos

Hold that shot. You’re aiming for footage in a news report, not a music video, so don’t wave the camera around too much. Hold it still and steady, and get shots of at least 5 seconds each, preferably a bit longer.

Vary the angles. For television footage, they’ll need to chop up your video so it works well for viewers. Be sure to provide a few different angles. For January’s crowded train footage I included a shot through the end-of-carriage door into the next carriage. It was a bit arty, but worked well — they used it — and helped show context as well — it wasn’t just my carriage that was sardine-like.

Video is, of course, better for TV, but photos also sometimes get a run on TV, and online and in newspapers. A mix may be good, if you can manage it!

Don’t talk over it. If you’re trying to be a reporter, rather than a witness (if you know what I mean) then don’t talk over the vision. The noise from the event itself may be more important than a commentary, which can be added later. That said, spontaneous commentary can work okay.

Finally… but critically…

Shoot video in landscape. It seems to be way too easy to forget that whether it’s on the TV news or Youtube, most video is better viewed landscape, not portrait. Turn your phone 90 degrees before you start shooting – it makes much better use of the camera’s resolution.

The very worst crime in this category I ever saw was someone had filmed something off a widescreen television in portrait mode. For heaven’s sake, isn’t it blindingly obvious you’d turn your phone to match the TV screen?

Turns out there’s an iPhone application to force filming in landscape, but of course the people who most need this type of app will never install it.

More on this topic in this amusing video:

Where to take the footage?

Okay, this is easy for me because I’ve built up contacts in the PT world.

But all media outlets these days look for contributions, because good photos and video are invaluable. Contact the newsroom at your preferred outlet, explain what you filmed and why you think it’s important.

For a story to get a good run, it may be better to initially give it to only one outlet unless it’s utterly explosive (perhaps literally).

And be prepared to be interviewed/quoted, though depending what it is, they may be prepared to take it anonymously, or at least not identify who had the camera.

Does this work? Do things get fixed?

A picture tells a thousand words, but it’s also a thousand times more convincing to sceptical authorities who are likely to deny there’s a problem.

I suspect it’s rare to see a direct correlation from this kind of publicity to a real fix (as in New Year’s Eve), but often strong media coverage can be the thing that gets the ball rolling.

The 2006 weekend train overcrowding footage highlighted that 3-car trains were no longer adequate on weekends. Apparently this was news to Connex. Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but a subsequent upgrade led to almost all weekend trains running as full 6-car sets.

Why is the government on the back foot over White Night public transport? Partly because the media picked up a PTUA press release based on photos posted on Twitter on Saturday night, some of which were posted in response to a request for people to snap them.

Happy hunting!

Anybody got extra tips? Leave a comment!

Investment in motorways vs rail capacity – where are we at?

There’s been some speculation about who is running the SpringStSource Twitter account and web site. The web domain name is registered through WhoIsGuard, a Panama-based service specifically for hiding details of people who want to remain anonymous.

It’s not hard to see whoever is behind it is well and truly on the side of the Coalition state government. As Crikey noted:

Spring St abuzz with Twitter mole. Who’s the Spring Street source? That’s the buzz in the halls of Parliament House in Melbourne, where a certain twit is dishing dirt, spitting at the Labor Party and attracting legal threats and plenty of attention. The anonymous @SpringStSource popped up around the time Denis Napthine took the premiership. It seems mostly designed to smear Labor, but has dropped some interesting tid-bits and there’s talk lawyers have looked over it on behalf of some victims.

Crikey 20/1/2014

So anyway…

Sunday’s announcement of $100 odd million of PT upgrades as part of the East West Link project made me think it was worthy of a graph comparing the investment.

This didn’t sit well with Defender Of The Crown SpringStSource.

I think he/she has missed my point.

It’s not about where the money comes from; it’s about how much there is.

As I wrote last year: if we want more people to drive, building more roads is the way to do it. If we want more people to use public transport, provide more of that instead.

Where the money comes from is also important, mind you. $1.8 billion will come from the State; another $1.5 billion will come from the Feds. The rest is likely to come from private enterprise, but will still don’t know how much taxpayers and road users will end up paying over the life of the contract…

But for all that, I’m really interested in the amount invested in the infrastructure, not what people might end up paying in tolls as the private operator tries to make its money back.

Following a bit more argy-bargy on Twitter, Mr/Ms Spring St Source responded on their blog, with a post that catalogues all the public transport spending they could find from the last few years: Bowen get real

I especially like the way this person who posts anonymously, and covers their tracks to stop their identity being revealed, and consistently takes a pro-Coalition line, concludes by talking about trust.

My response: comparing investment on transport network expansion

Much of the spending listed by SpringStSource is well outside Melbourne, or has no real effect on key issues such as network capacity. And s/he doesn’t count the numerous basic road widenings and renewals done constantly by VicRoads and councils, but does include equivalent things such as station upgrades.

Comparing apples and oranges is difficult, of course. For example a freeway is almost all capital expenditure; you can’t treat a railway like that — nobody will use it unless a fleet is provided and services are run.

What I’m trying to measure is how much the government is increasing large-scale capacity in the transport system, and whether they are prioritising roads or PT. So to keep it simple, I’ve cut my comparison down to just this:

Freeway/motorway projects (eg those that markedly increase road capacity, enabling mass movement by motor vehicle)

vs

rail projects (eg those that enable or increase mass movement of people by public transport).

In other words, for the purposes of this exercise, ignore stuff like minor roads, re-surfacing of existing roads, and major renewal works which don’t increase capacity (such as the $32m for maintenance on the Westgate bridge in the last budget). Also ignore new bus routes, trams, and railway line renewal/maintenance.

Do include the big stuff: motorway widening and extensions, new motorways, new railways and stations, rail duplications and signal upgrades which may increase capacity, station upgrades that increase the number of platforms, as well as packages which include elements that increase capacity — for instance the $100m Bayside Rail Improvements package — even though so far the only visible signs from this are repainting of stations from one shade of grey to another.

Repainting Bentleigh station

Some other points/caveats:

  • I’ve decided to try and catalogue projects funded from 2005 onwards (so some projects funded earlier but completed later are excluded). 2005-2010 is Labor; 2011-2013 is Coalition. To directly compare them, halve the Labor totals.
  • In a couple of cases, Regional Rail Link and the M80 ring road widening, some funding came through in the Labor years, some under the Coalition. In cases like that, both (state) sides get credit for getting the money through, for facilitating it, even if it came from the Federal government.
  • They’ve been left out, but trams and buses can under some circumstances come close to heavy rail (or indeed freeway)-like capacity. Same with high-capacity “bus rapid transit” of the type seen in cities like Curitaba, and closer to home, Brisbane, or indeed the Monash University 601.
  • You could include grade-separation, as it may enable extra trains… but this only really happens when all the level crossings in a section have been removed. And the biggest capacity benefit is to road users (including pedestrians, cyclists, bus and tram passengers mind you). I’ve left them out.
  • Station upgrades (without extra platforms) may increase capacity a little. The North Melbourne upgrade was designed to improve interchange between trains, thus assisting in running Werribee trains direct to Flinders Street, increasing overall network capacity. But often (especially when done as part of grade separation) the effect on passenger or train throughput is minimal, so I’ve left them out unless they specifically provided extra platforms.
  • One could argue that painting a station or deploying PSOs makes a difference to patronage. But there’s little specific evidence of this, so I’ll leave those out too.
  • I am including the full cost of EW Link (stage 1) here, because it’s basically been announced, even though the contracts aren’t in place yet, so the money hasn’t yet started flowing. But the intent to push it through this year clearly been stated though.
  • Public transport service provision makes a huge difference to network capacity, but is far too hard to track by dollars. Tracking by service kilometres is far easier.
  • I’ve included rail studies where specifically budgeted, though I wonder if anything will ever come from them.
  • Obviously the Coalition may announce other project funding in this year’s budget in May.
  • Since I don’t have a team of party minions to help compile figures, and I’ve had a very busy week, I may have missed something. Leave a comment below.

The figures

So, motorway capacity/coverage vs heavy rail capacity/coverage funded 2005-2013 (all figures in millions of dollars):

Labor funding 2005-2010
PT Funded Millions  /  Road Funded Millions
Clifton Hill-Westgarth duplication 2005 $53   Deer Park Bypass 2005 $331
Train control 2005 $229   Tulla/Calder 2005 $150
Coolaroo Station 2007 $36   Pakenham bypass 2005 $242
Laverton Turnback 2008 $93   M1 upgrade 2006 $1,390
Westall upgrade 2008 $153   M80 ring road widening 2009 $1,725
Craigieburn stabling 2008 $30   Dingley Arterial 2009 $75
Williams Landing, Cardinia Road, Lynbrook (Caroline Springs) 2009 $189   Calder Fwy/Kings Road 2009 $25
Rail capacity measures 2009 $132   PeninsulaLink 2009 $759
Sunbury electrification 2009 $205        
South Morang extension (incl Hurstbridge) 2009 $562        
38 new trains 2009 $651        
Regional Rail Link 2010 $4,300        
             
Labor 2005-2010 Rail $6,632     Roads $4,697
             
Coalition funding 2011-2013
PT Funded Millions  /  Road Funded Millions
Regional Rail Link   $500   Dingley Bypass 2011-12 $156
Extra 7 trains, stabling etc 2011 $222   M80 ring road widening 2013 $525
Doncaster, Rowville, Airport rail studies 2011 $15   Westgate managed motorway   $25
Metro rail tunnel planning 2011 $50   EastWest Link stage 1   $8,000
Extra 8 trains, stabling, etc 2013 $177        
High capacity trial 2013 $5        
Southland station 2013 Unknown        
Bayside Rail Improvements 2013 $100        
             
Coalition 2011-2013 Rail $1,068     Roads $8,706

Totals: 2005-2013:

  • Heavy rail: $7,700 million
  • Motorways: $13,403 million

My conclusion from looking at the figures: From 2005 when they finally caught on that PT was important, Labor was relatively balanced in new spending on major capacity boosts to public transport and roads. The Coalition did the same in its first couple of years, both sides helped in no small part by the Regional Rail Link project, which is the biggest thing in Melbourne PT for many decades.

This balance has been blown out of the water by the East West Link. The Coalition government now seems obsessed with this one project, and it alone skews the money balance heavily in favour of road capacity.

Did I miss something?

Disagree with my methodology? Leave a comment.

If I’ve missed anything, or mis-attributed it? It’s possible. Leave a comment.

Corrections/updates:

How many “bus lane” signs can you ignore? Better enforcement needed?

If you frequent the area, you might have noticed that the Ballarat Road has a lot more buses than usual. Not for the first time, the Regional Rail Link project has closed part of the Sunbury line, with buses ferrying passengers between Albion and Flemington Racecourse, resulting in convoys of buses doing train impersonations:

Sunbury line bustitution

Sensibly, the Regional Rail Link Authority organised to have bus lanes on the 6-lane section of Ballarat Road, to help the many people using the buses get through the traffic.

And they didn’t skimp on the signage, either — there are “BL” paint markings on the road, variable message signs, and conventional bus lane signs, all placed on a regular basis along the road.

Sunbury line bustitution: bus lanes

Sunbury line bustitution: bus lanes

Sunbury line bustitution: bus lanes

What amazed me while heading down there on Friday was that some motorists managed to ignore this prolific signage and drive for long distances in the bus lane.

Obviously some people are creatures of habit, but if you can ignore three separate types of signs (one flashing at you), repeated every couple of hundred metres, along a distance of several kilometres, then I’d suggest you’re either wilfully ignoring them, or just not paying attention.

Either way, it appears better enforcement is needed. Hopefully they are cracking down at least when it matters, during peak hours.

Domain tunnel closed. Gridlock? What gridlock?

GRIDLOCK will begin to choke Melbourne’s roads from Friday night, but the full impact of bridge and tunnel closures for maintenance won’t bite until the New Year.

Motorists are being advised to steer clear of the city, or they could experience delays of up to an hour.

– Herald Sun: Traffic chaos expected as West Gate Bridge and CityLink tunnels close, 26/12/2013

Oh noes! The Domain tunnel (that’s westbound) closed for days! Disaster!

Except… gridlock? What gridlock?

Here’s how it looked at 8am this morning on the Vicroads live traffic web page:

Vicroads traffic map: 8:05am, 30/12/2013

A few little spots of delays marked in red, but nothing major at all. (Click on the pictures to see them bigger.)

On Saturday, the only major delays were miles away from the tunnel, due to incidents on the Princes Highway westbound.

Vicroads traffic map: 11:30am, 28/12/2013

This photo this morning from a Channel Ten reporter also noted a distinct lack of chaos.

There are probably a number of reasons for this. Firstly the timing of these works was wisely scheduled when fewer people are travelling around town.

But I also wonder if the widespread publicity of the closures has led to people purposefully avoiding it. After all, if you know in advance there’s a major road closure, why would you deliberately drive into a snarl if you could avoid it?

Turns out major road closures often result in no gridlock

Turns out this is not unprecedented. In 2007 a major shutdown in Seattle resulted in… no gridlock.

I mean, who’d have guessed you could shut down a third of our most congested freeway and not paralyze the region in epic traffic jams? Oliver Downs, that’s who.

The case of the vanishing cars is no mystery to him. In fact he predicted it.

He forecast no extreme clogs anywhere — not on I-5, nor on alternate routes such as Highway 99 or 599. So far he’s been right about that.

– Seattle Times: Math whiz had I-5′s number, 22/8/2007

And a recent major shutdown in Birmingham, that also resulted in little disruption, has many wondering if these big inner-city motorways are needed at all.

When it emerged Birmingham’s Queensway tunnels would be closed for six weeks over the summer, it is no surprise there were predictions of “chaos”.

The main through route for the A38, the tunnels are used by thousands of drivers each day and have been an integral part of the city’s transport network since they were built in the 1970s.

There was some surprise, therefore, when the anticipated gridlock did not materialise.

The reality was so different that a report into Birmingham’s transport network for the next 20 years has called for a debate about how much they are needed, pointing out they create a “noisy unattractive barrier to intra-centre movement”.

– BBC: End of the road? Are major routes through cities outdated? 26/12/2013

This has even happened in Los Angeles:

The traffic many thought would be a nightmare was much lighter than normal as Los Angeles entered the second day in the shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 – one of the country’s busiest highways.

Associated Press: Los Angeles bridge project cruising toward finish, 17/7/2011

This phenomenon has been studied, and it’s actually quite common.

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

– Seattle Times: Math whiz had I-5′s number, 22/8/2007

Is this the opposite of induced traffic?

Induced traffic happens when large numbers of people decide it’s easier to drive, and do so, more often and further. It’s commonly seen when new major roads open, as often congestion initially falls, before building back up.

As I mentioned above, demand is definitely lower at this time of year, with many city workers on holiday. But VicRoads says this typically results in only a 30% drop in traffic levels… so normally 70% of the traffic volumes would still be on the roads.

It might be that in the case of the current Domain tunnel closure, with plenty of advance publicity, large numbers of people may have decided not to make some trips, at least not by car.

The real test might be next week when the Burnley tunnel is closed, and a lot more people are back at work.

But as with the questions being asked in Birmingham, what we’ve seen so far again calls into question the wisdom of building more major inner-city roads such as the East West Link. Ultimately, do we need more of them, especially with a price tag of billions of dollars? Shouldn’t we be smarter about how we provide mobility for large numbers of people (and goods) in a more efficient manner?

Update 31/12/2013

I’ve been looking through the TV news from the last couple of nights. Here are some choice quotes.

In a story introduced with the phrase “Carmageddon”: “I think people are well informed, and I think they understand that when we do have virtually a single major link – Citylink and Westgate – that does occasionally have to be shut down. And that’s why the people of Victoria say get on and build the East West Link.” – Dennis Napthine, Channel 7 news, 27/12/2013

“Melbourne has escaped traffic chaos on the first day of the city’s biggest road network closure. Drivers didn’t face the hour-long delays that were forecast…

With an average 9000 cars using that stretch of Citylink every hour, Victorians were warned there’d be chaos and long delays. But it seems that was enough to keep most drivers off the roads.
…Monday tipped to be an especially busy day as many Victorians return to work.”

- Channel 7 news, 28/12/2013.

Update 6/1/2014

Warnings continued over the weekend for the closure of the Burnley (eastbound) tunnel, and minor queues from Westgate onto Kingsway were noted on Saturday, but still major delays have proved elusive.

This morning, arguably the first day there are lots of people returning to work, the Vicroads traffic web site does show a queue about 2km long in that same spot. It’s still not widespread gridlock, though it’ll be interesting to see if it spreads through the day, and particularly in evening peak.

Vicroads: traffic 6/1/2014 7:30am

By 8am the queues stretched back to about the service stations, but there was little other congestion noted in the inner area.

The ABC reported it thus: Closure of Burnley Tunnel for resurfacing work causes only minor traffic delays

Perhaps the delays are only this minor because the authorities talk up the chaos. But as noted above, it should leave us questioning the Premier’s claims that it is critical to build another cross-city tunnel.

Invasion of the dinosaurs #AusVotes

The other day, local Federal Liberal candidate (and Finance spokesman) Andrew Robb’s minions had left signs at the station, but apparently didn’t have the nerve to actually face people and try and sell their policies… which of course include refusing to fund urban public transport.

Signs are out, but no campaigners to ask why Andrew Robb's party refuses to fund urban public transport #AusVotes

Mind you, Robb’s campaigners were out at the station a few weeks ago. And while I’ve also seen the Greens and Rise Up Australia (as well as the PTUA!), I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Labor candidate, Daniel Guttman — given it’s a strong Liberal seat, he probably has no chance.

Yesterday it became clear that not only will the Coalition not fund public transport if they get into power, they will actually take away already funded money.

Their funding of public transport won’t be zero, it’ll be negative.

They’ll scrap these:

Coalition Infrastructure plan - no rail

…as well as a heap of money in foreign aid and other things, and instead they’ll fund these:

Coalition Infrastructure plan - roads

Why is Tony Abbott’s Coalition so against public transport?

His book Battlelines indicates he genuinely doesn’t believe it can work in Australian cities.

Tony Abbott doesn't believe public transport is viable in our cities. Oh really, Tony? #AusVotes
(Source)

Along with the messed-up internet filter policy, the hobbled NBN, the scrapping of the carbon price, embracing fossil fuels and ignoring renewables, the forthcoming Abbottalypse is looking like giving us the most regressive government in quite some time.

What’s staggering to me is that Labor haven’t managed to articulate this to the electorate. They ramble on about trust (which after their own problems of the last few years, they are not well-endowed with) instead of making the most of the policy divide, which if explained, would show many of Labor’s as largely progressive compared to the Coalition’s mostly backward-looking ideas.

Where are the progressive conservatives?

There are actually sound rational conservative arguments in favour of public transport, particularly around economic development, as well as encouraging competition between modes rather than dominance of roads and their dependence on foreign oil.

What a shame in Australia we don’t have progressive, rational, thinking conservatives like in Europe… well, at least, not in power at the federal level.