Melbourne’s landmark intersection is a debacle, and authorities are doing nothing to fix it

I’ve posted about Rule 128 before.

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.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Every traffic light cycle is like this. The photos in this post are all from Thursday between 6:06pm and 6:23pm.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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:
Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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:

Tram delayed by cars blocks intersection

How do any of the authorities responsible for this mess think that it’s okay that this keeps happening?

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

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.

Dash it all! Why intersection markings are changing

You may have noticed that some intersection markings, including pedestrian crossings, are changing.

Solid white lines are becoming dashed white lines. Ditto turning lines at intersections.

Intersection near Southland Shopping Centre

This change brings Victorian practice into line with the Australian standard.

NSW (and probably other states) used to have solid lines too, but sometime in the last few decades have switched to dashed.

Until recently, Victoria was the only jurisdiction to still use solid lines, but started switching in November 2015.

I first noticed them in early 2016:

This Vicroads page (since removed, but still available via the Web archive) explains it all.

It says they won’t go around and convert them all, but new lines will be in the new style, so it’ll be a gradual transition.

And it says that when they restoring/repainting part of a solid line (or a set of two solid lines), it’s meant to stay solid. I’ve seen numerous locations where this isn’t the case; whoever has done it has left one solid, one dashed line, or lines that are part solid, part dashed.

Mixed intersection markings, Murrumbeena

I can see how it’d make sense to move to the national standard.

Other changes over time have been more significant. It used to be that right hand turning vehicles had priority over left turners.

This change will mean the crossing looks different from the stop line. It may prevent confused motorists turning and stopping at intersection exits where they see a red light and (currently) a solid line.

And one might fantasise that somehow possibly it might also improve motorist compliance at pedestrian crossings, to kerb the relentless and unchecked practice of vehicles blocking pedestrians.

Though somehow I doubt it.

Cyclists on the footpath

I described this on Twitter the other day, but I’ll expand on it here.

I was heading out in the car on Saturday afternoon.

Got in, beeped, looked behind me, slowly backed-out of my driveway.

BANG! A cyclist riding along the footpath with his dog (roughly at running pace) collided with my car.

I stopped, moved my car back into the driveway, and asked if he was okay. Thankfully he was. And his dog.

They carried on down the street, at the same speed.

Bicycles parked at Ormond station

Cyclists on footpaths

Cycling forms a vital part of the transport network, helping people travel longer distances than might be practical by walking, but without having to drive a vehicle.

Sometimes there are good reasons for cyclists to avoid riding on the road. Riding on some roads can be perilous due to driver behaviour.

Probably not my on street though. It’s fairly quiet. But what would you do if taking the dog out for a run?

In Victoria it’s completely legal to ride on the footpath for cyclists under 12, or accompanying those under 12. (Regulation 250)

(The bloke I encountered was an adult.)

The problem isn’t so much the bicycle itself, as the speed compared to other footpath users.

Just as cyclists come of worse in on-road collisions with motor vehicles, pedestrians come of worse in footpath collisions with cyclists.

For a bike going at anything much above walking speed, there’s a real danger of a collision with a vehicle or a person, especially given limited visibility to/from driveways and garden paths — in fact years ago one of my sons was hit by a cyclist while coming out of a front garden gate.

And yet some cyclists will persist in riding at speed along footpaths. Really not a good idea.

What could I have done?

My fence isn’t high, but the speed he was going, I’d have little chance of spotting him even if driving out forwards.

And he obviously didn’t spot me, and either didn’t hear the beep, or didn’t realise where it came from, or couldn’t stop in time.

There is one thing I could do: my driveway is short enough that I could have a quick look up and down the footpath before I get in the car. It might help.

Stay in your lane

Intersections on curves can be tricky. Even slight curves.

Every time I pass the Astor on Dandenong Road in a car, particularly eastbound, I watch what happens.

It’s not uncommon for vehicles to veer into the next lane over as they cross Chapel Street. Usually, thankfully there’s nobody in the way.

This morning it happened to me.

Google Maps satellite view, Dandenong Road and Chapel Street intersection

I was driving outbound, this morning at 10am. I was stopped at the lights, in the lane third from the right (including the turn lane), which becomes the second from the right on the other side of the intersection.

The lights turned green and the cars at the front, including mine, started off. Before I know it, a grey Mercedes to my right is coming into my lane.

Contact. Mild contact. Somewhere near the right front corner of my car. I can only feel the slightest of impacts. I can’t hear crunching, but just a quiet bump. A mere nudge.

I swore (mildly), beeped, and somehow managed not to instinctively veer into the next lane across from mine. Back years ago when I learnt to drive, my instructor told me: don’t avoid one crash by causing another.

Thankfully the other car veered back into its lane.

It kept going. They didn’t seem interested in stopping. I made a note of the licence plate number, and when I could, I pulled over for a look.

The car

No visible damage. I prodded and poked the point of impact a bit. It seems okay.

(Due to the warning of impending expensive repairs from the mechanic, I’m hoping to replace this car when my finances have recovered from the holiday and the investment, which by accident have fallen in the same year.)

Two things spring to mind:

Obviously, be careful to stay in your lane when you’re driving. If you’re at the front of the queue, perhaps do a visual check before you start to cross.

In the absence of line markings, some intersections have a grid of studs in the road surface that show where the lanes go.

I’m not sure why they’re not installed at this spot; given the number of mishaps, I’ve seen, it’d be a welcome upgrade.

Time for a car upgrade?

I’m thinking it might be time to upgrade my car at some stage soon.

Some people turn them over every few years. Not me — I’ve been driving a 2000 model Astra hatchback since 2008, almost nine years. The previous car was a 1993 Magna, which I had from 1998 to 2008.

Of course, I drive far less than the average person.

In fact it’s common for the car to not leave the driveway for almost a week at a time.

If we had car share in my area, I’d be seriously considering it. But we don’t, and with weekend PT (other than north-south on the trains) being lacklustre, it’s still needed.

With my sons now moving towards learning to drive, and the Astra nearing 17 years old, I think it’s time to consider an upgrade.

The other big reason? My mechanics told me at the last service a few weeks ago that the next one would be a biggie.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Steam engine, Warragul

So, if I’m upgrading to a “new” secondhand car, what should I buy?

Car size — probably similar. I want something reasonably economical, and easy to park. A 5 door hatch has been good. Though it needs to be not too squishy in the back seats.

Safety — the prospect of my offspring driving makes me think now is a good time to move to a five-star safety rating, so it would need to be a reasonably recent model.

Goes without saying — aircon, power windows, remote locking, cruise control, all those modern conveniences.

Some kind of modern music connectivity would be nice (though not essential) — who’d have thought a CD player in the car would ever seem old hat?

Auto or manual? Mostly I like driving a manual, but sometimes it’s a pain. The boys started out happy to learn on a manual, but early lessons have proved frustrating — the mysterious workings of the clutch are holding them back from learning everything else. So I’m leaning towards an Automatic, and later they can learn manual driving.

Gears of car

Price — I’m thinking up to about $15K.

Of course hopefully I can probably trade-in or sell the Astra. Private sale might actually be a bit of a chore, given the need to get a Roadworthy. Theoretically it’s worth about $3-4000, though it’s probably not in the best shape. Not that it’s been in any prangs, but it’s aging, and if the mechanic is warning me of costs to come, the best I might get is a couple of thousand from a dealer trade-in.

(I lost the handbook during a service last year, which was annoying. The mechanic swore blind they didn’t have it, but I always put it on the passenger seat when I take it in, and it didn’t show up anywhere at home… until, relief! Months later they rang back to say it had turned up again!)

Possible models

Toyota Corolla — apparently October 2012 onwards gets a 5-star safety rating. There seem to be quite a few around the $12-15,000 mark.

Hyundai i30 (2015 onwards gets 5-stars, which might price it too high for my budget).

Prius or Mazda 3 would suit but are probably out of my price range.

Any other suggestions?

The real challenge: can I get it done before the rego expires in August? (With a multitude of other things happening, perhaps not.)

  • Why does the default search on drive.com.au not filter by location? Do they really think it’s useful for the default results to include cars that might be thousands of kilometres away?
  • Carsales.com.au isn’t much better. Start entering criteria in the quick search option; realise you want to filter by age of car and need to go to the Advanced criteria, and it wipes everything you entered so far!