Acland Street Sunday morning

Is the importance of car parks inflated?

One of the tropes of urban planning is that traders think car parking (and car access generally) for their customers is far more important than it might actually be.

Here are some live examples in Melbourne right now.

Save Inkerman!

In Caulfield, traders reckon their businesses will suffer if separated bike lanes, part of the Principal Bike Network, replace car parking. Some residents, who seem to believe they have the unalienable right to park on a public road in front of their house, are also not happy.

Read more about the Inkerman Road proposal here

Save Inkerman sign on fence, Caulfield

Save Elizabeth Street!

Even in the CBD, belief in the importance of car parking is a thing. Some traders in Elizabeth Street are up in arms at proposals to give more place to pedestrians:

Andrey Eierweis (from Ekselman watchmakers and jewellers): “We’re losing business because there’s no access to the shops and people can’t find a parking spot close enough.”

And he makes this amazing claim: “The city’s dying. No one’s coming here.”

No sir. The city’s not dying. It’s busier than ever. That’s precisely why the council is proposing these types of changes, to make space for more people.

Perhaps what you mean is no one’s coming into your shop. Which is a different problem.

It should be noted that Ekselman possibly is a business that genuinely does benefit from parking nearby, because, the article says: in the past they had sold and repaired a lot of large clocks but that had dried up because of a lack of parking.

The parking in front of their shop disappeared when the tram superstop was installed some years ago.

I suspect that if their business relies on people being able to bring in large clocks by car, they should move their premises to a different street. Most CBD streets have easier parking than Elizabeth Street.

Read more about the Elizabeth Street plan here

Meanwhile in Sydney Road

Meanwhile in Sydney Road, some traders object to the council proposing a trial of fewer car spots, in favour of separated bike lanes.

Jessica Tolsma (Jessicakes – great name!): “The proof in Melbourne is that when you remove parking from strip shops like Acland St and Bridge Rd, it doesn’t work and decimates businesses.”

Read more about the Sydney Road trial here

So how bad is Acland Street?

Is Acland Street doing as badly as the Sydney Road traders claim?

Recently removed the parking was removed and the footpaths were widened, and a new two-platform accessible tram terminus was constructed. So how bad is it?

I stopped past on Sunday morning for a quick look. At 10:30am, the street wasn’t especially busy, but there were certainly some people walking around browsing the shops, and some of the cafes were packed.

Acland Street, Sunday morning

On neighbouring Barkly Street, which is still a through-route and does have lots of parking, there were plenty of cars, but no people browsing the shops, though one bloke in the barber was having a haircut.

Barkly Street, Sunday morning

According to this report from Victoria Walks, despite what the traders in Sydney Road might think, the Acland Street traders decided to study it rather than shout it down.

The traders quickly discovered that more than half of all their customers walked to Acland St to shop – and only around a quarter drove. More than that, though: more than half the shoppers in the area lived locally, and locals made an average of 184 visits to the shopping precinct every year. In fact, almost a quarter of the people surveyed said that they shopped in Acland St every day.

It’s also worth noting that Acland Street has substantial numbers of car parks within walking distance, so the removal of spaces on the street presumably didn’t have a huge impact even on motorists.

I don’t know Sydney Road and Inkerman Road well enough to cast judgement, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Acland Street was far from unique.

No shortage of studies have shown that providing better access for cyclists and pedestrians is actually an economic positive.

In part this is because car spaces are just so space-inefficient, and limit the number of shoppers.

A study of Lygon Street, Carlton, found that while the average cyclist’s retail spending is only $16.20/hr compared to a car driver’s $27.00/hr, six bicycles can park in the space required for one car. Therefore, while one car space equates to $27.00/hr retail spending, six bicycle spaces equate to $97.20/hr.

I would also imagine that passing cyclists and pedestrians are far more likely to stop on a whim than passing motorists, because they can more easily see into shop windows, and don’t have problems parking – which in busy centres is an issue even where kerbside parking is provided.

Perhaps it’s the same phenomenon as with park and ridethe most visible, space-hogging access mode is assumed to be the most important. Another factor might be that traders themselves might tend to drive, because they often have stock or equipment to carry to/from their shops, so they see access to their shops from the perspective of a motorist.

In any case, actually getting some actual evidence about their customers (and potential customers) wouldn’t go astray — rather than just assuming they all need to drive.

Southern Cross Station

SoCross: the interchange

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already seen this.

A man rushed past on the stairs at Southern Cross. He ran down and around the corner, then doubled-back to the V/Line fare gates. My guess is he’d come from the Metro platforms.

Here’s a short video of what happened next.

(It’s only 18 seconds to play in full. You don’t need to hear the sound.)

You can sense his frustration.

On V/Locity trains, the conductor checks the platform, then advises the driver it’s clear to depart, and all the doors close. The conductor probably can’t see if someone’s trying to board after that. I would assume the driver can see via the mirror, but might not be authorised to stop the train.

The Bendigo line shares parts of its route with the Metro Sunbury line (between Sunshine and Sunbury), so there’s also a risk that a delay might cause the train to miss its path – though with the Metro trains only running every 20 minutes (40 beyond Watergardens) this seems unlikely. There are also issues with the single track beyond Kyneton.

Note the lady in the background. I think she had planned to meet him on the train. After it departed, she approached and they spoke and ended up sitting on a bench together.

Of course we don’t know all of the context here – had his Metro connection been delayed or diverted? Or had he just not allowed enough time?

It’s an hour between trains to Bendigo. That’s a long wait. Depending on how you measure it, Bendigo is Victoria’s 3rd or 4th largest city.

Southern Cross Station: Crowding to get onto platforms 7 and 8

Southern Cross (formerly Spencer Street) Station got a huge upgrade about 15 years ago. The former passenger subway was closed, and is now used mostly for maintenance vehicles, and as a conduit for numerous cables and pipes running under the station.

The subway used to be the only way to get to and from the platforms. It wouldn’t cope with passenger numbers nowadays, but would provide extra capacity and be a quick way to change between platforms. It’s unclear if it is viable to bring it back into service.

The station upgrade provided far quicker exit to some locations, such as Collins Street west, and to the northwest including Telstra Etihad Marvel Stadium.

But capacity has been a problem in recent years, and interchange between some of the platforms isn’t great, especially at the Collins Street end. It’s a bit better via Bourke Street, and doesn’t involve exiting the paid zone to swap between Metro and V/Line.

You can only feel for the bloke in the video, and all the others over the years who have missed their connection thanks, in part at least, to the distance between the platforms.

Arnotts Shapes

Public transport Shapes

This went super viral, at least by my standards. It started off as a reply to a Tweet from Tosh Greenslade (from Mad As Hell) – he pointed out a similar slogan, then I realised the BBQ Shapes box design is near identical to the livery on the trams.

Someone suggested a look at the other modes… and it grew from there.

On Twitter it got plenty of Likes and Retweets, but the Facebook post in particular has gone gangbusters: in the first 24 hours, over 2000 likes, 2600 comments (many are people tagging others as a way of forwarding), and 4300 shares.

At some stage, V/Line shared it, asking: “Pizza shapes are everyone’s favourite, right? 🍕 🚆 “

Then the Premier’s Office asked if they could post it too, so it ended up on Facebook again, and Instagram.

That triggered articles from the Herald Sun, Pedestrian.tv and Broadsheet, and a spoof from the Watsonia Bugle. The PT Ombudsman had a go, and even the public transport professionals on Linked In seemed to like it.

Eventually Arnott’s responded… though I’m not sure they quite hit the mark.

I’m quite amused and astounded at how fast and far this spread. As of Sunday morning, five days after posting, Facebook reckons my post alone has been seen by 851,020 people.

I wish I understood the formula for viral posts. I guess some stuff just is, and some isn’t.

Who had it first?

With at least some of the patterns being a close match, it’s pretty amusing that the colours also match up so well.

The Barbecue and Pizza flavours in particular really are similar to the PTV patterns for trams and V/Line. The others a little less so – the biscuit shapes shown on the boxes are less geometric.

How long has Arnott’s used this design? It looks like it’s less than five years old – the archived version of their web site from 2013 shows (as far as I can see from the low resolution images) that back then the boxes were plainer, without the patterns.

The PTV design originated with Metro in 2009, and was subsequently adopted for the other modes in 2012. I don’t know for sure, but it seems not unreasonable to assume that the geometric shapes were influenced by the design of Federation Square.

The colours had been first used by Metlink around 2004, but appear to have been inspired by colours used since early in the 20th century.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Multimodal branding

The Shapes viral image raised some chuckles, but has also got a few people thinking about the branding of public transport – and the importance of presenting a united network across separate modes.

One weakness of PTV’s branding is that the logo isn’t a great one, so the geometric pattern in different colours is what binds the modes together, which in turn makes it difficult to then use colours to distinguish major lines, for instance to match the train map.

Contrast this to say London where the TfL/Underground logo is incredibly strong, allowing the Tube lines to easily take different colours – shown not just on the map but also on the trains, platforms, interchange wayfinding signage, all over the place.

Of course good branding doesn’t mean good service – a lot more work needs to be done to bring poor services up to scratch.

On Thursday night I had a PTUA Committee meeting. So I went prepared.

Bus zone

The circle is broken. But…

You might recall I had put in a request to Vicroads to resolve a 13 year old problem with a local bus zone.

The bus zone hours hadn’t been updated since last decade. In 2006 the operating hours of bus route 701 were extended so it runs until after 9pm in the evening, and Sunday service was introduced for the first time.

Vicroads replied and said they had passed the query to PTV.

Then PTV replied and said they had passed the query to City of Glen Eira.

I was waiting for the inevitable next step: for Glen Eira to refer it to Vicroads. But no!

Sometime in the past couple of weeks, they’ve fixed it. Behold, the new signage.

Bus stop for route 701, Jasper Road

And yet, this raises some concerns.

Someone actually bothered to look up the timetable. The last bus of the night is scheduled for 10:03pm on weeknights, heading to Bentleigh. So they made the bus zone end at 10:15pm.

But they messed up. Bus services actually start just before 6am. The first service of the day is scheduled at 5:59am on weekdays, heading to Oakleigh.

And their research missed that this stop is regularly used for train replacement buses during planned works. When those run, the last service is at about 1am on weeknights, and there are all night services on weekends.

This last occurred in July.

Bus stop, Jasper Road, Bentleigh (Patterson)

Why not just make the bus zones 24/7? A few hundred metres south, I found this brand new bus zone for recently added bus route 627, a route with similar operating hours, which is 24/7. And this stop isn’t used for train replacement buses.

Bus zone, route 627, Jasper Road

24/7 bus zones, particularly where people are unlikely to park anyway:

  • help remove ambiguity for motorists
  • make the signs more readable
  • are future-proofed against future bus timetable changes
  • cope with train replacements and other circumstances that might see buses needing to stop there at unexpected times.

And why separate AM and PM? I think this just makes the signs harder to scan/read.

In fact, on one of the revised signs, the new Bus Zone hours format is inconsistent with the existing adjacent stopping rules. Ingenious!

Bus zone, route 701, Jasper Road

Have you looked at the bus zones in your neighbourhood? What do they say? Do they actually cover the bus operating hours?

Do local motorists observe the bus stops? Some bus stops are unsigned, meaning 24/7 parking restrictions apply.

Given these bus zones as now signed don’t actually cover bus operating hours – not even the regular route – I’ll try and send feedback to the City of Glen Eira and see what they do next. (Tried this morning – their web site spat out an error.)

It’s a little depressing that collectively, three authorities had to play Pass The Parcel with this, and when it’s finally got done, it’s been messed up.

If they can’t get the little things right, what hope is there for the big stuff?

A year in the new car

Sorry PT fans, this is a blog about driving.

I’ve had the new car, a 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer bought brand new, a year now, and have got to just on 10,000 kilometres so far.

The average in Australia is about 15,000 km per year, but some drive a lot further. My past average is about 7-8K, but circumstances (principally one son who just got his licence) has us driving more than in the past.

I’m liking the car. The only thing I don’t like is the rear spoiler. I think it looks a tad silly, I doubt it has great aerodynamic benefits, and it partially blocks the view from the rear vision mirror and when doing a left shoulder check.

Rear view mirror with spoiler getting in the way

Taking off the spoiler is theoretically easy. You just unbolt it. But filling the bolt holes is the tricky bit, especially in such a way that it’s not noticeable and doesn’t let leaks in. The car dealer even suggested checking spare parts places/wreckers for a replacement boot lid might be easier.

I suspect the base model Lancer only had the spoiler to try and put off people like me who are grown ups and don’t really want a spoiler and should probably spend more on a car… but my fiscal sensibilities defeated them. And judging from the people I see driving the same model of car, I’m not the only one.

Aside from the unwanted spoiler, no issues with the car, other than being new I feel like I have an obligation to keep it clean, which is tricky, especially with a gravel driveway that has lost most of its gravel. Might be time for a top-up.

There has been a minor mishap (a low speed bump with a parking sign) necessitating a surprisingly expensive repair. But hey, I wasn’t driving it. Protip: if you have a large insurance excess, get a quote first; it may not be worth claiming.

Given the car often sits in the driveway for many days at a time, I’m also pondering if I should sign up for Car Next Door, but we now have another driver in the house.

Learning to drive

I taught my younger son to drive. The elder isn’t interested just yet.

This was an interesting experience. He had a number of paid lessons as well, and our practice drives complemented them nicely.

What we agreed was really valuable was that we tried lots of different types of road. Freeways for instance don’t get a lot of love for learner drivers in Bentleigh/Moorabbin, because there aren’t any nearby. The art of entering a freeway (matching the existing traffic speed) is important, and seems to be lost on some motorists.

One one drive we cruised around Elwood, taking in narrow streets, cobble-stoned laneways, and the fords of Foam Street and Wave Street.

Dirt road near Seymour

On another drive we hit the CBD late on a Sunday afternoon and got in a hook turn, the roundabout of death, driving safely around trams, and that tricky road on the northern side of Melbourne University – where I once saw a motorist stop dead in the middle of an intersection out of sheer confusion.

And, surprisingly close to home, we found a dirt road (not the one pictured above), to sample the reduced grip of an unsealed surface – plentiful in rural areas.

Come test day, he passed first time – and of course with each drive, he gets better.

Nobody’s perfect of course, but he tells me that now he’s driving himself, he’s surprised at how many bad drivers there are on the roads. Yeah, ain’t that the truth.

Car console display

Car fuel consumption

I switched the information display on the console to display how many litres per 100 kilometres we’re using.

It looks like typically about 6-8 litres if driving with the air-conditioning off; about 8-10 with it on. Short drives are evidently less efficient; long freeway drives bring the fuel consumption down – as long as it’s not congested.

Choice has an interesting article on driving for fuel efficiency.

Of course the best way to cut fuel use is not to drive and the long term habit in our family is to consider carefully which transport mode we use, rather than jump in the car every time. We’re lucky to have viable choices for many of our trips.

Cost per kilometre

Given I now have an actual (not forecast) number of the kilometres per year, 10,000, I can re-calculate my estimated costs per kilometre:

  • Depreciation 11.1 cents
  • Insurance 7.1 cents
  • Registration 8.2 cents
  • Servicing 2.3 cents (thanks to fixed price in the first 3 years)
  • Petrol 10.8 cents

That’s a total of 39.5 cents per kilometre.

Based on 8000 kilometres per year, it was 43.9 cents per kilometre, so as you can see, the more you use it, the cheaper it gets, as the fixed costs such as insurance and rego don’t change.