Rule 128 says:
Entering blocked intersections
A driver must not enter an intersection if the driver cannot drive through the intersection because the intersection, or a road beyond the intersection, is blocked.
Penalty: 3 penalty units.
The Age recently got hold of figures revealing there were just 18 fines per month for this offence in 2016-17. Yet it’s a constant problem in the CBD, especially during peak hours.
People had told me it was particularly bad at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets in evening peak. I don’t normally go that way on weekdays, so I took a look on Thursday night. They were not wrong.
Every traffic light cycle is like this. The photos in this post are all from Thursday between 6:06pm and 6:23pm.
I asked a passing police officer about it. The reply: “There’s nothing we can do.”
And he told me pedestrians sometimes cross against the lights, delaying traffic. He said it twice. It’s mentioned in The Age article too.
Well yes, sometimes that happens. And yet, it’s irrelevant. The only thing that was delaying cars at this intersection was other cars.
Are “there’s nothing we can do” and “pedestrians also do silly things” a standard talking point coming down from management?
You can bet if a few pedestrians started blocking traffic, the police would move in fast. Remember the case of Jafri Katagar, the “Stop Racism Now” protestor?
Watching this happen every single cycle was almost excruciating.
It took ages for this bloke in the wheelchair, and his carer, to find a gap between the cars on the crossing, that was big enough for them to squeeze through. Ditto the bloke with the pram, just visible on the right, trying to get back to the ramp to the footpath after going around the cars:
Mostly, north-south trams were not being delayed, though every so often there would be a close call with a westbound motorist. Eastbound traffic (from Flinders Street or St Kilda Road) wasn’t being delayed.
This westbound tram came through. It had the green, but a vehicle partly blocking its tracks on the far side made it stop before it could get through. By the time it could move again, pedestrians were crossing, delaying it further:
How do any of the authorities responsible for this mess think that it’s okay that this keeps happening?
What can they do?
There are at least six things the authorities can do:
Get police to direct traffic. Put officers on duty and direct the traffic through, taking special care not to let vehicles enter the intersection unless it’s clear.
Start fining people. Put a few police officers there and fine each one that blocked the intersection. Publicise it, and I bet you’d soon see a behaviour change.
They do enough blitzes on pedestrians. It’s time they ensured motorists obey the rules and stop compromisin pedestrian safety.
Signage and line markings. Crosshatching on the intersection; “Keep intersection clear” signs on approach. Of course the rules already apply, and similar markings even on level crossings aren’t infalible, but it can’t hurt to remind drivers of their obligations.
Educate people on the law. This problem is not isolated to this location. Right across the CBD, but also in suburban areas, motorists regularly ignore Rule 128. It makes things difficult and unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, and delays other traffic. Some people clearly need remimding.
Close that option to traffic. If the busiest intersection next to the busiest entrance to the busiest railway station in Melbourne is continually breached by irresponsible motorists every single traffic light cycle, and authorities won’t lift a finger to fix it, it’s time to look at directing that traffic somewhere else. Remove one lane of the approach side to the intersection, and make all vehicles turn left there to St Kilda Road.
This is consistent with the method used in other cities to discourage traffic through the busiest part of city centres — for instance Toronto’s King Street — impose compulsory turns that prevent cars driving more than one city block.
There is likely to be a review of traffic flows in this area as part of the metro tunnel project, but this is a problem now — it can’t wait until 2026.
Upgrade the traffic lights. Make them only show a green to westbound traffic if there is space on the far side of the intersection. If it fills up, switch back to red. We’re always hearing about intelligent traffic systems. Technology could fix this.
Time to fix this
Some of these are immediate options. Some would take longer to implement.
But it’s an important location, and a landmark intersection.
Huge numbers of tourists take happy snaps in front of Flinders Street Station. What must they think of these incompetents who can’t prevent a few cars each traffic cycle causing havoc for hundreds of pedestrians?
And I must emphasise: this problem is a common occurance right across the CBD, particularly in the evening peak.
Victoria Police, Vicroads, City of Melbourne and Minister Luke Donnellan must take responsibility for this, and get it fixed. This is simply not good enough.