Photos from ten years ago

Old photos from February 2008

Ten years ago I was surviving (somehow) with no hot water, after the water heater packed-up. The solar system I had installed to replace it is, thankfully, still going nicely.

Anyway, it’s the last day of Feb – just time for some old photos from ten years ago – another in my series of rehashed content looking through the archives.

Firstly though, a sound recording – an automated announcement absolutely delighted to be telling you about Craigieburn.

As blogged at the time, a hairdresser on the train one evening spontaneously gave a girl a haircut.
Haircut on the train, February 2008

February back then meant we’d do a PTUA stall at the Sustainable Living Festival. At the back of the tent you can spot a youthful looking Tony Morton, now PTUA President.
PTUA stall at Federation Square, February 2008

The Southbank skyline hasn’t changed that much, but most of the trams have had a new paintjob since then. At the time the “Obey The Yellow” campaign to keep tram lanes clear of cars was in full swing.
Tram at Federation Square, February 2008

A Saturday afternoon brings out lots of people onto the trains. Even by 2008, it was apparent that Melbourne was transitioning to a big city.
Flinders Street platform 5 on a Saturday afternoon, February 2008

Flinders Street platform 4. It’s unusual to see V/Line departures here; normally they’re over the other side of the station. I’m sure there was a good reason.
Flinders Street platform 4, train to Sale, February 2008

Finally, from my backyard. I found this big scary-looking spider one night getting busy with web construction.
Spider in the backyard, February 2008


How many motorways does a big city need? And what sort of city do we want?

On Friday, The Age reported that Infrastructure Australia has put out a report that asks what sort of city we’d like to have in 2046:

  • The Expanded Low Density scenario – similar to Los Angeles – sprawling, dispersed suburbs, even more car-dominated than today
  • The Centralised High Density scenario – similar to New York City – concentrating jobs and housing in the inner 15km ring
  • The Rebalanced Medium Density scenario – similar to London – medium-density over a wider area, and jobs closer to where people live

IA’s question is a good one, and put in terms many people can understand.

If the populations of Melbourne and Sydney continue to grow, we will end up being more like the population of LA, NY or London.

What outcome do we want? Because that’s the one we should plan for.

Sunday afternoon traffic on M1 exit to Kingsway

As it happens, also on Friday, the Financial Review reported that the International Monetary Fund says Australia has been spending too much on roads, and the pendulum needs to swing to railways, ports and airports.

All this raises many questions, but here’s one I’d already been looking into:

Do more populous cities have more motorways?

How many motorways are there in LA, NY and London, and other big cities, compared to Melbourne?

I looked at the total kilometre length of motorways in the three cities – plus a few others where I could easily find data.

Motorway kms by city

Some caveats:

  • I went looking for numbers, and in some cases got lists of motorways (freeways and tollways) from Wikipedia and added their lengths together, or found an official source (LA, NY)… a more exhaustive study would probably have better sources than this.
  • You could argue that motorway lane kilometres are more important than just length, as the number of lanes can radically alter carrying capacity.
  • You can also argue that other types of roads, such as major arterials, can play a big part in overall road space and capacity in a city, but let’s keep it simple and focus on motorways.

…taking that into account, you will note that Melbourne already has more motorways by length than London and Sydney.

In fact we’ve already got more kilometres of freeways than any other city in Australia, but the WestGate Tunnel and North East Link, which the current government wants to build, will see go even further beyond the others.

Houston is the clear king, at least in this small sample. That’s the city where they keep massively expanding their freeways, but their traffic doesn’t get any better.

Westgate Freeway, Sunday morning

What do the big cities do?

Motorway length is obviously dependent on city size.

Some people argue that as our cities grow in population, they need more motorways.

What happens when we divide by population (for the same area) to find the motorway kilometres per million people?

Motorway kms by city and population

Obviously a more exhaustive study, with more cities, using this type of methodology would be interesting.

Nonetheless… by this measure, what’s striking is that we in Melbourne have more motorways per person than London or New York City. If we keep building them, we’ll creep closer to Los Angeles.

Back to the IA question: what do we want for our city? LA, NY, or LDN?

I don’t think we want to be like LA. Sprawling, dispersed suburbs dominated by cars? LA’s bad traffic is notorious. No thanks.

New York or London? I’d personally prefer London. Gentler medium density, and spreading employment centres over a wider area.

The key thing to remember is which transport modes move people efficiently as cities get bigger. As I said recently: Roads get less efficient the more people use them … Public transport gets more efficient.

And we will get the city that we plan for and build for.

On the measure of motorways at least, if we want to be like London or New York, there’s a lot to do to achieve that… but building more motorways isn’t one of them. Time to look for more efficient ways to move people around.

Update 26/2/2018 9:45pm. Found an error in the Brisbane data. Corrected.
Update 27/2/2018 7:00pm. Sydney data also corrected. Thanks for the feedback.

PS. Tony Morton said it well:


Crosstown traffic / Bacchus Marsh stopover

All of us have data being captured about us all the time.

For many of us that includes Myki travel data (though even that is tiny compared to the myriad of information captured by our smartphones).

Mostly for me it’s the drudgery of everyday work commuting, but every so often there’s something of interest.

Crosstown traffic

26/01/2018 13:49:14 Touch off  Train 1/2 Bentleigh Station - - -
26/01/2018 13:09:15 Touch on   Train 1   Footscray Station - - -

This is not a typo. On Australia Day (public holiday timetable) we managed to do Footscray to Bentleigh in 40 minutes.

There was a little bit of trickery involved. The train from Footscray ran into the Loop clockwise (being a weekend), and as we came into Melbourne Central the app told me a train from there clockwise to Richmond was imminent, so we swapped onto it, then just managed to get a connection at Richmond onto the Frankston line to Bentleigh.

Jumping through that hoop saved us about 10 minutes — a timetabled journey with just one change should take about 48 minutes.

Still, it shows that good frequencies along direct routes mean a fast trip, even when it involves connections.

You’d struggle to get across town that fast in a car. Google Maps reckons 30-50 minutes on the weekend if driving — there’s frequently congestion in King Street if you drive through the CBD, and taking the Bolte or Westgate then Kingsway is no better, as the exit onto Kingsway is often clogged.

Melbourne, like any big city, has transport demand from many places to many places. Public transport needs to cope better with this.

The more routes (be they train, tram or bus) go to frequent (10 minutes or better) services, the better connections will be, and the more trips will be competitive with driving, and the more people will choose public transport instead.

Ballarat station

Copycat from Ballarat

08/02/2018 23:02:22 Touch off  Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 21:34:15 Touch on   Train -   -                      - -     -
08/02/2018 21:28:04 Touch on   Train 8   Ballarat Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 19:39:43 Touch off* Train 8   Ballarat Station	- $6.72	$26.98
08/02/2018 19:04:15 Touch on   Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 18:29:49 Touch off  Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 17:23:46 Touch on   Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -

I thought I was being so clever.

I wanted to get to Ballarat, but I had missed the 17:10. The next train all the way was at 17:50.

But the timetable also showed a 17:35 to Bacchus Marsh, arriving there at 18:18, just ahead of the next Ballarat train. So perhaps I could have a quick stop-off at the Marsh?

That went fine until by Sunshine the train was running late. No need to panic though, it’s just one track each way; they can’t overtake, right?

Wrong. The train was held at Melton for a few minutes to let the Ballarat train fly past. D’oh. That’s a lesson for next time.

So I had an unscheduled half-hour in Bacchus Marsh. Which was charming.

The kicker is this made me late for a PTUA Ballarat branch meeting. Oh well, they welcomed me when I eventually got there, and we had an interesting discussion.

After some dinner I headed back. The 21:34 touch-on was the conductor checking the fare. (When conductors check fares, they also set the default fare to the end of the service, making it important that you touch-off after using V/Line.)

Also notable: breaking the trip at Bacchus Marsh meant my Myki Pass covered part of the trip, and I got charged just $6.72 the rest of the way to Ballarat, rather than the usual $21.60 (minus $4.30 for Zone 1/2 on my Pass). This is the anomaly facing V/Line users thanks to changes to metropolitan fares — some trips are dirt cheap, some are expensive.

That $6.72 also seems to have covered my fare home afterwards: Marsh touch-on at 19:04 to commencing the trip back at 21:28 is more than 2 hours, but because it’s a trip across six zones, the “fare product” is 3 hours, not 2.

Cheap with the stop-off? Yes. But I’d have preferred to be there on time.


What’s the population of a city?

Definitions can be important when looking at things such as statistics.

A simple comparison of city populations can result in quite different figures. For example, what is the population of Seattle?

The Wikipedia article opens:

Seattle is a seaport city on the west coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. With an estimated 713,700 residents as of 2017, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America.

Okay, so 713 thousand people. About half the size of Adelaide.

Well no, at least not in the terms Australians generally use. The info box on the right hand side of the article says there are 3 million people in the Urban area, 3.7 million in the Metro (metropolitan) area, or 4.5 million in the Combined Statistical Area.

In other words, depending on how you measure it, Seattle is double the size of Adelaide, and possibly on a par with Melbourne, which Wikipedia says has a population of 4.7 million, citing ABS figures that use the Greater Capital City Statistical Area.

We have to be careful what we’re talking about: just an arbitrary area, such as everything within a government boundary, or the entire metropolis, or something even bigger?

Definitions vary, but (at least on Wikipedia):

  • the City often refers to just the central local government area;
  • the Urban area generally seems to includes contiguous development;
  • the Metro area may have gaps and may include additional areas within commuting distance
  • the Combined Statistical area, or Greater Capital City Statistical Area (an ABS term), could be useful — but like a government boundary, potentially could be arbitrary if the local statistics agency doesn’t keep up

Another example: London

The City of London is a small subset of the Central Business District, a government area with a population just 9401 people.

Greater London the government area controlling London and its suburbs, with a population of 8.8 million.

The Urban area of London has a population of 9.8 million.

The London “Metro” area, defined as all of the above plus the surrounding commuter zone which includes parts of numerous nearby counties, has 14 million. If we applied a similar methodology for Melbourne, I suppose that would include out to Geelong, Melton, and so on.

So if we’re trying to compare, perhaps the best figure to use against Melbourne’s 4.7 million is London’s urban area of 9.8 million, or Seattle’s 3 million.

At least, that’s what I think I’ll use unless convinced otherwise.

Bourke Street, Melbourne

Going to the City

In Australian English, even use of the word “City” can be confusing.

When a Melbourne local says “I’m going to the City”, they are generally referring to Melbourne’s Central Business District.

In some contexts, it might mean the City of Melbourne council area, which includes the CBD, parts of North Melbourne and Royal Park, Carlton, Southbank, Docklands.

And if you’re wondering, the resident population of the City of Melbourne is about 136,000, but with total daytime population (mostly made up of visitors) of about 900,000 people.

Oh, and if you think population is complicated, you should see density.

I’ll leave it there. I’ve got to catch a train to Melbourne. I mean, to the City.


Noble Park station and the first section of skyrail is open

For two weeks the Cranbourne/Pakenham line was shut between Westall and Dandenong, allowing construction crews to complete the ramps and connect the first section of skyrail to the line.

It re-opened on Thursday. I and other stakeholders got a preview on Wednesday, but we weren’t allowed to take photos inside (because construction work around the station was still proceeding apace, so they didn’t want anybody distracted by their phone or camera).

So I went back on Thursday afternoon to see it in action. After all, what is a station without trains and passengers?

If you’re travelling outbound, the line starts to rise after Sandown Park station, to go over Corrigan Road, and then over Heatherton Road. The two tracks diverge as they approach Noble Park station with its island platform, but this has also been done to maximise light and rain below, to help future vegetation growth.

View towards Sandown Park at new Noble Park station

The view from the train is certainly better than that in a below-ground level trench/cutting.

View from train on skyrail

There are barriers along the tracks that prevent you seeing anything of ground-level at close range, though it appears not all of these are in place yet. This is the view over Heatherton Road.

View over Heatherton Road, Noble Park

Noble Park station has an island platform, designed to cope with the new 7-car High Capacity Metro Trains when they come into service next year. There seems to be provision for extending the platforms for future 10-car trains, but this will come later.

Platform at new Noble Park station

The wraparound structure is quite impressive, providing good weather cover along part of the platform at the southeast end — though there’s plenty of ventilation in it, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it deals with Melbourne’s diagonal (sometimes near-horizontal) rain.

Citybound train arrives at new Noble Park station

Some of the structure is wood, which gives it a warm appearance. The top of it includes transparent plastic-like sections which let the light in, and move about slightly in the breeze, a bit like sections of the Southern Cross station roof. Apparently they wanted to avoid glass for safety reasons — perhaps weight too.

Outbound train at new Noble Park station

Train departs new Noble Park station

Beyond the end of the wraparound roof, there is less cover — more is being installed, but at the moment much of the platform is out in the open.

New Noble Park station

Apparently this is some kind of architectural flourish. It’s unclear if it’s actually useful for anything.

New Noble Park station

At the northwest end of the platform is this structure, which is contains an emergency exit down to street level.

Emergency exit at new Noble Park station

The escalators are in place, but not yet operational. Lifts and stairs are being used between the platform level and the concourse.

Escalators not working yet at new Noble Park station

Escalators not working yet at new Noble Park station

The concourse is still a work in progress, but is functional. Fare gates (the newer fast Vix design) are installed.

Concourse at new Noble Park station

Concourse at new Noble Park station

The view of the station from Mons Parade. Pedestrian access is currently limited to this side. As this diagram from PTV shows, it will open up to the other side (Douglas Street) later this month as work progresses. In the mean time, access is via the old pedestrian underpass.

New Noble Park station diagram (from PTV brochure)

New Noble Park station

From below, you can certainly hear the trains, though it’s not particularly noisy — certainly no worse than when they were at ground level. Hopefully there will be a proper study comparing the volume of ground/above/below.

After leaving Noble Park, the line goes down to nearly street level, goes over the Mile Creek, then starts to rise again as it approaches Chandler Road.

Note the track structure, which is designed to absorb vibration and noise.

View towards Yarraman at new Noble Park station

View from Mons Parade near new Noble Park station

The bridge over Chandler Road almost looks like it could have been standalone, but obviously it made sense to do it with the other two crossing removals in one project. From this angle it looks steep, but presumably meets the 2% gradient standard — it doesn’t feel step when you’re actually in the train.

Skyrail bridge over Chandler Road

Either side of the skyrail are Sandown Park and Yarraman stations — destined to remain their drab selves, alas.

Yarraman Station

But Noble Park? I think it looks good.

It’s not complete yet. Works will continue, including bus replacements right through from Caulfield to Dandenong after 8pm each night from Sunday to Thursday next week.

The Noble Park section of skyrail is the least controversial, thanks to most of it being a reasonable distance from residential properties — an exception being at least one gentleman who was eligible to have his property acquired, but chose not to take the option, and continues to complain about the project.

This first section of completed skyrail will be the litmus test. The government has shown they can deliver on crossing removals, a new station that looks and works pretty well, and fewer (but not zero) rail disruptions to do it.

But can they also deliver on the promise of more open space, structures that don’t get constantly tagged, and privacy for residents?

And can they convince people that overall it’s been a good project, before the November election? Time will tell.

  • PTV information and brochure on the opening of the new Noble Park station
  • The Coalition’s plan from 2014 proposed removing 4 out of the 9 crossings. It wouldn’t have removed any of the crossings around Noble Park, but it would have included planning and early works.
  • The Labor Government continues to push the line of “more trains more often” being possible once all nine crossings are removed. They’ll need to be held to this, especially given the horrendous peak hour crowding on the line. It’s unclear if this could include the Dandenong to Cranbourne section, given it’s still got single track.

Short local history lessons, in 280 characters (or less)

A year ago today, I travelled to Pinewood shopping centre in Mount Waverley for the second time that month.

The first visit (where I blogged my trip home) was for a medical consultation for a lump in my arm.

The second visit was to have it removed. I travelled to the appointment, and as I passed one station I don’t usually visit, I tweeted a little Blackadder gag.

Age reporter Craig Butt got the reference (well, who wouldn’t?*) and replied.

…which got a response from Metro:


Metro, getting serious for a moment:

Since then they’ve been semi-regularly tweeting out potted histories of stations and their names under the #MelbStations tag.

The lump was harmless, by the way. But hey, it seems to have inspired an ongoing local history lesson.

Check out #MelbStations on Twitter.

  • *If you’ve never seen Blackadder 4, what have you been doing with your life?!

What is Metro 2?

If you live in Melbourne, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel project (MMRT for short, but to avoid confusion here, I’ll call it Metro 1).

You may or may not have also heard of the Metro 2 project. So what is it?

It used to be the second stage of Metro 1, but around 2012 that tunnel was changed to be built as one big project.

Metro 2 is a second metro rail tunnel.

It was glimpsed in PTV’s rail plan of 2013, and at the time was seen as a tunnel from the South Morang/Mernda line, just north of Clifton Hill station, diving under Fitzroy (possibly with a station there), Parkville (with interchange to Metro 1), then Flagstaff, Southern Cross, and finally out to new development at Fishermans Bend.

The latest thinking has it extending further, under the river to Newport, to connect with the Werribee line.

This modified plan hasn’t officially been published by PTV, so here’s one I’ve cobbled together that shows it (on top of everything else in Stage 4, much of which seems to be under review):

PTV map (NDP stage 4) modified to show Metro 2

So basically the South Morang/Mernda line would be separated from the Hurstbridge line, boosting capacity on both (and allowing the Doncaster line to be built — though some argue that this can be done sooner, with high-capacity signalling). And the Werribee line would be separated out from the Williamstown and Altona Loop (Laverton) lines.

This has a lot of merit. Although the Werribee line has been freed of the contraints of the Geelong line trains thanks to the Regional Rail Link project, it serves a massive growth area to Melbourne’s south-west, and eventually the line will fill up again. South Morang/Mernda is also seeing a lot of growth, and enabling high frequencies on the line might also make possible a branch to Epping North.

Alongside other rail projects it would improve connections, allowing far more trains to run.

Metro 2 diagram (from Infrastructure Victoria)
(Source: Infrastructure Victoria/KPMG Preliminary Demand Modelling/Economic Appraisal)

Passengers on both lines would have a faster, more direct trip into the CBD, which if accompanied by quality local feeder services (buses) and infrastructure (bus and bike lanes, and pedestrian facilities) would better compete with car travel.

From Werribee the new direct route would make the train a better match for the Westgate Freeway. And not just for western suburbs to CBD commutes; it would also cater much better for trips to the Fishermans Bend area — currently completely noncompetitive by public transport.

If the line ran 15 trains per hour (up from about 7 in the busiest hour now), that’s at least 8800 additional people, assuming 7-car HCMTs, well above what the proposed 3-lane West Gate Tunnel could handle.

But that wouldn’t be stretching the rail infrastructure. More can be squeezed out the current lines right now, and a new tunnel should be able to run at least 24 trains, but up to 30 or more using high capacity signalling, and if built for it, 10-car trains.

Singapore MRT under construction

Some think the ideal time to start building such a project isn’t after the metro tunnel is finished in 2026 — rather, it’s in the next few years — starting with detailed planning, surveying, soil testing, property acquisition, all the stuff that the first metro tunnel went through ten years ago in preparation for major works.

And preferably major works (including excavation) start on Metro 2 as they finish on Metro 1 — which isn’t the end of the first project, but some time early next decade. This would allow expertise and equipment to roll off one onto the next.

There’s a cost to all this of course — well above $10 billion, according to Infrastructure Victoria.

But again, the choice between a project like this and Yet Another Massive Road Project means the difference in future between getting thousands more people onto public transport, or thousands more people onto the roads.

Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Transport is supply-led

One of the fundamental problems with transport planning in Australia is that politicians see it as demand-led, when basically transport systems are supply-led.

Demand-led thinking has them looking at congested roads and thinking “we need to build another one”.

Another one gets built, and it fills up. Rinse and repeat. (More people in cars = Bad outcome)

Or a train line is crowded and they put on more trains, and more people use them as well. Rinse and repeat. (More people in trains = Good outcome)

Supply-led is why they fill up. Provide options and people will use them. In general they’ll use the easiest/quickest option available. Built it and they will come.

This is how transport systems work: through induced demand.

Sunday afternoon traffic on M1 exit to Kingsway

It’s easy to see why demand-led thinking motivates action and funding. It’s very visible. Road congestion is obvious when you see it. Public transport crowding is obvious when you see it.

And it’s also easy to see why politicians feel they have to try and fix those issues. The problem comes in how they try and fix them: providing more of the same is not always the best answer.

A letter in The Age yesterday claims that if the West Gate Tunnel is built, “a great many west and north-west Victorian citizens travelling to the south and east of Melbourne will have significantly reduced travel times.”

Experience around the world shows this isn’t true. Travel times from road expansion don’t last — see Citylink Melbourne.

“But we have to drive!” they say. Yes, you have to drive because 80 years of investment in roads, with peanuts for alternatives has given you little choice. Every new investment in major roads makes this worse, and misses an opportunity to provide alternatives to give you choice.

The State Government could be funding Metro 2 (the rail tunnel linking Newport and Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend and the City) and related projects such as fast frequent feeder buses, to massively boost public transport services from the west (alongside the logical, relatively small truck route they took to the 2014 State Election), but instead they now want the Transurban-led West Gate Tunnel.

Westgate Freeway, Sunday morning

Major roads are, by their very nature, inefficient. Vicroads data shows that lane occupancy is just 770 people per hour in AM peak, around 840 in PM peak — though this doesn’t show separate figures for motorways. For the sake of argument, let’s assume motorways are about double that, with 1800 — closer to a theoretical perfect driving scenario of a vehicle every 2 seconds.

Even 1800 is not very many people. If you try to solve congestion with another road, or more lanes, it doesn’t take many vehicles to clog it up again, and you’re back to square one.

Rail can’t move everything, but it’s far far more efficient for moving people, which is what accounts for most vehicles on the roads. Adding 1800 people is just two additional trains — about a 10th of the capacity of a rail line with old conventional signalling.

This means rail expansion is long-lasting. If managed well, extra tracks or a new line can handle huge numbers of people.

Roads get less efficient the more people use them: more space encourages more people, and congestion slows everybody down. If the response from government is more roads, we have a vicious cycle.

Public transport gets more efficient the more people use it: more passengers justifies more frequent services, which cuts waiting times and makes connections easier, and encourages more users. A virtuous cycle.

So the next time a politician talks about transport, consider whether they’re just bleating rhetoric, or they’re showing an understanding of how transport systems work.

We have to build more roads because people are driving! No, people are driving because we build more roads.

We have to build more roads because of population growth! No, we only have to build more roads if we want more people to drive. If you want them to walk/cycle/PT, then provide that instead.

This motorway will be city-shaping! Yes, but unfortunately the shape it will be is more car-dependent.

This motorway will be a congestion-buster! No, it will just generate more traffic. They always do.


Peace and quiet on the bus

A mate of mine told me this funny story, which I posted to Twitter yesterday. Here’s a version with fewer emoji, and a bit more detail.

He was on a bus heading out to Doncaster.

Two young men got on, full of attitude.

They sat in the back, and started playing music through a Bluetooth speaker.

Music playing loudly in a confined public space is bad enough, but this music was of a genre perhaps best described as misogynistic profanity.

After a long day, this is not what you want on your evening bus ride.

So my mate decided to try something with his phone: he paired it to the young punks’ Bluetooth speaker, which seemed to have no passcode set.

And then he played some children’s music off his phone through it.🎵🎶

Bye bye terrible music, hello clappy joyous singing.

Cue confusion on the back seat, and amusement through the rest of the bus.

What if the speaker owners saw who was connected? My mate’s phone’s name was set to something generic – “Samsung”. All the same, he decided to lay low, put his earphones in and move his head around as if grooving to completely different music.

The two blokes got off the bus shortly afterwards, still puzzled, and my mate disconnected from their speaker.

And the bus rolled on in peace.🚌🤫👍