Yesterday designs for the redevelopment of Flinders Street Station were released. You can look at them in detail and even vote on them at voteflindersst.com.au — though the vote won’t actually determine the design used, only “influence” it.
Having had a look through all of the designs last night, I think my problem with
all most of them is that the only heritage features they’ve left intact are the main building (some also leave the platform canopies)… and even the building they’ve completely overwhelmed with new structures.
The criteria includes the question “Does it respect the history of this iconic building?” In my view, they don’t, except from the northern side. The view from the south, and from within the station itself, is obliterated.
It’s like they’ve decided to preserve the facade for the benefit only of passing tourists. The people who actually use the station, us lowly passengers, will get the same kind of lifeless colourless experience that we get currently on the main concourse, but throughout the rest of the station as well, while from the river the old building will be barely visible.
I am not convinced that the problems of the current station (particularly the pinch points such as in the subways, and limited accessibility) can’t be solved with a design that better preserves the heritage values of the whole station, not just a small part of it.
And I wonder if the expense and disruption of a full revamp is really justified at present. It’s not like Spencer Street/Southern Cross, where the place was a dump with no architectural merit, and could be legitimately entirely rebuilt into something more impressive and functional (though debate continues on this).
Here’s what I think I’d do with Flinders Street Station:
Finish the original plan: particularly, build the all-over station roof that was originally planned. This would provide a real benefit to passengers in terms of weather coverage, but preserve the overall heritage feel of the station, and keep the main building visible from the river. — Update: People have rightly pointed out that it would be extremely difficult to match the heritage style of the original buildings, though I don’t think it’s completely impossible with some careful planning and design.
Open up the southern end of the Degraves Street subway, providing an additional exit to the river, helping relieve the most congested part of the Elizabeth Street subway (perhaps this exercise could also re-open platform 11, providing more peak capacity for trains to the busy Werribee line — at least when they’re not through-routed from the east).
In the long term another north-south crossing through the station is probably needed, but in the short term, one idea worth consideration is to remove the dividing fence in the Elizabeth Street subway, making the entire subway a paid area — at present a third of the space is wasted, and often the Paid area is much more crowded than the non-paid.
If it were all paid area, those passing through could use a Myki to get in and out — the 15 minute “change of mind” rule built into Myki would mean they won’t get charged a fare if not catching a train, and as we know, the vast majority of people in the CBD use public transport to get there, and would have a Myki.
This would also allow them to re-open the western-most steps (or was it a ramp?) from the subway to platform 10, and build extra entrances and extensions to other platforms to allow longer trains. Anybody without a Myki can walk to Swanston or Queen Streets.
Renovate the main concourse into something less colourless. The passenger flows aren’t actually too bad now that most of the stuff in it has been cleared out and the fare gates have been moved around.
Re-align tracks and support structures to enable widening of platforms adjacent to where old centre goods lines have been removed (for instance, platform 5, which is a pressure point for the western suburbs lines).
Completely restore the main building. It could be used for railways/PTV admin, or perhaps they could go with the plan for using it for community groups. (One thing’s for sure: I’m sick of reading moaning articles about the state of the ballroom. It was impressive in its heyday, and by all means fix it up, but is of no consequence whatsoever to passengers wanting a functional station and a reliable train service.)
Likewise, a new plaza or buildings could be constructed on the western side of the station and connect into that side of it — but shouldn’t so grossly overshadow the old building as the proposals do. This is not really a station/public transport issue, it’s a broader picture land-use and planning issue.
Outside the station, obviously the Federation Square tram stop needs expanding, and moving it to the western side of Swanston Street (as in one proposal) would have real benefits.
Making the southern end of Elizabeth Street a pedestrian plaza would improve things too, and might enable a Degraves Street-style entrance (with ramps to make it accessible from that side) straight into the Elizabeth Street subway, so people can bypass the traffic lights.
A pedestrian scramble crossing outside St Paul’s is warranted, as well as re-alignment of Flinders Street (the street) heading west from the station to provide a wider footpath on the northern side, at the expense of a traffic lane on the southern side.
See, plenty of smaller upgrades that are actually affordable in the short term and that would make a big difference to users… without waiting for a hugely expensive redevelopment which might never happen due to lack of funds.
And I tell you what — they’d better not propose renaming the station.