Can we do more to keep cars out of pedestrian spaces?

Part of what makes Friday’s tragic events in Bourke Street so horrible is that it could have been any of us who got hit. One can only have the deepest sympathy for all those affected.

I work on Bourke Street, and often go walking along it at lunchtime.

On Friday I was on Spencer Street on a tram coming back from Docklands when it happened. Two police cars and an ambulance passed our tram, then as the tram turned into Bourke Street it was obvious there was something going on – a large crowd had formed and many emergency service vehicles and staff were on the scene.

As I got closer, it appeared the incident was still ongoing. I shot this footage of police running towards the scene – this clip and stills would later get used on TV news and online. (I’d prefer a credit, but in the circumstances it would be churlish to demand it.)

On the ground amongst bystanders it wasn’t at all clear what had happened — at least having approached the scene from the west.

A lot of journalists follow my Twitter feed. As I was tweeting, an ABC 774 producer rang me and asked me to go on-air live to describe what I was seeing. I went on, and described the large number of police, that they were expanding the cordon pushing the crowds back, and closing off streets, which included closing off the front entrances of numerous buildings. It later became apparent that some of the injured were still being treated along the footpath where the car had travelled.

Numerous bystanders helped the injured, and in some cases ran to get medical supplies to help. They forever deserve our gratitude. You often see random acts of kindness in our big city — when something horrific like this happens is when it really counts.

There’s plenty of speculation and discussion about what motivated this tragedy, the bail the suspect was granted a few days before, and the police response, as well as the mental health system. John Silvester has a good article on all these issues in The Age. All that is worth picking apart to see how an event like this could be prevented in future.

I want to consider another issue which seems to be getting no attention.

Pedestrian safety

Over the years I’ve written a lot of snark about CBD motorists pushing the boundaries, encroaching into pedestrian spaces. I never, ever imagined anything as horrific as this.

Normally it’s drivers being careless or thoughtless or clueless, but not malicious.

Being lunchtime, it’s not surprising large numbers of pedestrians were around. Being school holidays probably increased the number of children present in the city.

While nobody could expect this maniac to do what he did, I wonder if the infrastructure is appropriate, and if adequate protection has been provided for pedestrians to prevent motor vehicles accessing areas they shouldn’t go.

Eastern entrance to Bourke Street Mall

Swanston St and Bourke St Mall – car-free… in theory

Despite cars being banned, it is very easy to drive into Swanston Street — in part because service vehicles need to access some parts of the street. And it is common to see bewildered motorists doing this.

It is also very easy to access Bourke Street Mall, which has theoretically been car-free since 1983. It’s protected only by signage — in a similar way to painted bike lanes and laws that don’t physically prevent collisions, that some cycling advocates describe as “Administrative hazard controls” — a term also common in risk management and health & safety circles.

Despite a mass of signage on approach, it is common to see vehicles enter the Mall, and drive through or even park:

It’s not just a problem in the CBD, and Friday’s incident is not the only recent one involving an erratic driver in a pedestrian mall. In northern suburban Coburg in 2015, a driver fleeing police drove through a pedestrian mall, hitting a pram which was thankfully empty.

Clearly, signage alone doesn’t prevent vehicles from entering pedestrian malls when they shouldn’t.

Many cities employ tactics such as movable bollards that can drop into the road to let authorised vehicles through. Judging from this video, they seem to be quite effective.

This would only work on Swanston or Bourke Streets with some careful design. The frequency of trams would mean they’d be likely to cause delays unless they were somehow positioned and synchronised at tram stops with the traffic lights. Perhaps an arriving tram at the stop could trigger the bollards to open, with them closing after the tram had departed.

Even if only possible at the tram stops (in Bourke Street Mall these are at the western end) it would prevent unauthorised vehicles using it as a thoroughfare. (There’s certainly very little enforcement.)

Alternatively there might be options for fixed bollards which allow trams to easily enter, but discourage or at least slow down other vehicles. Currently we have narrowly-placed structures on the bicycle ramps onto the Swanston Street tram platforms; these are very effective at keeping cars off the stops.

Moorabbin shopping centre

Even in the somewhat neglected Moorabbin shopping centre there are bollards in place to prevent vehicles entering pedestrian spaces.

Of course any such methods need to allow through emergency and authorised service vehicles where required. (The current design at the northern end of Swanston Street doesn’t stop cars, but can delay ambulances when they get stuck behind trams.)

Bourke Street Mall tram stops

Tram stops

I don’t know precisely which path the car took, but perhaps we can be thankful that the busy tram stops at the western end of Bourke Street have barriers at each end of the platform.

Barriers also prevent a visible impediment to cars getting up the ramps onto other platform stops, though I don’t know if they’re crashproof.

As noted above, the bicycle lane onto the Swanston Street platform stops is too narrow to allow through most vehicles. (Some motorists who ignore the signs actually get stuck there.)

Swanston Street

Footpaths

What of the footpaths? It sounds like the car drove a full two blocks along Bourke Street on the northern side footpath, though it’s unclear when it left the road.

Intersections and pedestrian crossings need ramps to be wheelchair accessible. But is there something that could be employed to prevent a motor vehicle using them to mount the footpath?

Pavement edges are usually sharp, and might prevent a typical car mounting them at speed without doing some damage, but in some locations the edge is much more curved, more like a ramp.

An example I noticed years ago was the Tooronga Road bridge over the Monash Freeway, built in the 1990s — and this section newly completed as part of the Bentleigh level crossing removal also shows this design.

If we don’t want cars mounting the footpath, why is it like this? To prevent damage to vehicles that hit the kerb? Should that be the priority?

Bentleigh kerb

Ensuring car-free spaces are free of cars

Many public spaces have had skateboard prevention brackets fitted to walls, steps and other surfaces. In most cases they don’t prevent other uses such as sitting. These seem to have been a fairly recent development, yet are cheap and effective.

There may be similar emerging technologies that can be employed to keep cars out of pedestrian areas and off footpaths, while not inhibiting the movement of pedestrians including those with prams or mobility aids.

Of course care must be taken to cater for service and emergency vehicles that may need to access these spaces, or pass through them to bypass traffic.

And we don’t want to over-react. Even bearing in mind last year’s horrific incidents in Nice and Berlin, Friday’s incident doesn’t necessarily mean that malicious drivers are a huge problem or that we should destroy Melbourne’s streetscapes for what is a very rare set of circumstances — or indeed that we can protect against every scenario.

But there is no shortage of clueless and careless motorists entering spaces they shouldn’t. It is worth considering whether the infrastructure currently in place is appropriate to properly prevent this, and protect pedestrians.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. Congratulations for surviving 2016!

This blog post attempts to wrap up a few loose ends for the new year.

Here’s a short video of the Footscray New Years Eve 9:30pm (official!) fireworks.

2016 was a bit of a strange year. We all know about the seemingly large numbers of personalities (particularly an unusual number of Gen-X heroes, it appeared) passing away.

Locally there seemed to be change all around me. The heart of my neighbourhood changed fundamentally with my local railway station rebuilt. This changed the daily commute for myself and thousands of others.

At home, changing circumstances meant my (now adult) sons moved in fulltime in August. It’s amazing how simple things like the grocery bills and the amount of laundry jumped overnight. In contrast, they’re away at present on holiday, which has left the house feeling quite empty and lonely.

My resolution for the new year? Get my crap together and get more things done, especially at home. Unfortunately I’ve realised I wrote much the same in 2010.

Blog stats for 2016

From Google Analytics, here are the top-ranked posts from 2016. Note that in the top 20, only 7 are from this year. This seems to be the effect of some old posts being prominent in Google for specific popular searches.

  1. 25/5/2013ID card options if you donโ€™t want/have a driverโ€™s licence – 18,501 page views
  2. 23/11/2011How much does a train cost? – 9,229 page views
  3. 18/6/2014Electric kettles use power. LOTS of power. – 8,649 page views
  4. 11/2/2016Skyrail! – all about the Caulfield to Dandenong skyrail project – 8,545 page views
  5. 10/6/2016Things I learnt about the Singapore MRT (and a comparison with Melbourne) – 7,458 page views
  6. 24/9/2014Level crossings: Which are funded to be removed, which are promised? – I do intend to do an update of this one – 5,704 page views
  7. 31/8/2010Who should go to a funeral? – I assume this ranks high on some Google searches – 5,292 page views
  8. 1/7/2015Next gen trains are coming โ€“ what can we expect? – 4,241 page views
  9. 21/7/2011How to get ABC iView on your Samsung television – 4,217 page views
  10. 7/7/2015Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond grade separations: Lots of detail – 3,975 page views
  11. 9/7/2016Down in the trench station at midnight – 3,820 page views
  12. 14/4/2016Bourke/Spencer tram stop not fit for purpose – 3,679 page views
  13. 19/4/2013Want roadside assistance but donโ€™t want to fund RACVโ€™s lobbying? Plenty of alternatives โ€“ cheaper too – 3,637 page views
  14. 29/8/2016A quick look around the new Bentleigh and Ormond stations, opened today – 3,578 page views
  15. 12/10/2014PTV rail map โ€“ latest draft – 3,573 page views
  16. 25/2/2016Subway into SoCross: could it be re-opened? – 3,524 page views
  17. 1/3/2011How Ernst Wanke Road got its name (and how to pronounce it) – 3,304 page views
  18. 14/3/2016Station codes: yes, FKN is the code for Frankston – 2,868 page views
  19. 11/5/2016How to replace a 2000 Astra car key battery – 2,811 page views
  20. 27/3/2012Myki myths 2: Everybody always has to touch-off, every single time, or theyโ€™ll be penalised โ€“ Nope. – 2,713 page views

The fifth ranked post: Things I learnt about the Singapore MRT – got almost 5000 page views on the day it was published, making for a total of almost 7000 across the site that day, the busiest day of the year.

Back in December 2007 I ran a few SQL queries over my WordPress database to get some stats. Here are some of the same stats again:

Posts for 2016: 141 (279 in 2007 — my pace has definitely slowed down. I’m busier nowadays.)

Approved comments in 2016: 1456 (2014 in 2007)

Top five posts by number of comments:

  1. Skyrail! 122 – this is actually my all-time article with the most comments
  2. Why is this road rule never enforced? 28
  3. How many tracks? 25
  4. Public transport fares rise in January (The things I couldnโ€™t fit into The Age article) 24
  5. “Value capture” development above Ormond station? Good idea… in theory

A couple of selfies to finish off…

I got some great Christmas presents this year, including a lovely pair of RM Williams boots, some Boston T salt and pepper shakers, and this great book:
Christmas present! "Art of Atari"

As 2017 opens, no doubt it will bring both joy and sadness, but one thing I’m definitely looking forward to is the opening of Southland station:
Southland station coming in 2017!

Happy new year!

And a special thank you to those who comment here regularly. You add enormously to the discussion, to my knowledge, and the usefulness of this blog, on many of these topics.

Hope at Christmas

My native garden attracts native birds.

These are our latest residents, visiting for Christmas: rainbow lorikeets. Very colourful; they seem to be enjoying the food available at the moment.

Rainbow lorikeet by Daniel Bowen on 500px.com

Rainbow lorikeet by Daniel Bowen on 500px.com

Christmas is almost over at our house. Due to travel commitments, the various arms of the family had their gatherings over the last two Sundays.

As we wrap up the year, a couple of articles caught my eye. They’re a reminder that while the world is often replete with bad news, there is hope.

99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year — lists numerous (mostly low-profile) achievements in areas such as conservation, public health, political and economic progress.

…and this was really interesting:

A history of global living conditions in 5 charts — goes into detail about world progress on key indicators: poverty, literacy, health, freedom, fertility and education.

(Click through for full details, including interactive graphs.)

There is hope. It’s not all doom and gloom.

This is not to say we don’t have to fight for progress. Nor does it mean everyone is benefitting from the advances — one of the lessons from 2016 is that a lot of people feel they are being left behind.

But it’s reassuring that as a species, overall, we are moving forward.

Happy Christmas.

What can council elections teach us about aspect ratio?

One of the things you start noticing a lot more when you have two tertiary-level film and television students in the house is aspect ratio.

Local council elections are in October, and posters have started going up for candidates.

In some wards you see full-sized billboards, but in ours — so far — the most prominent posters are small, displayed in shop windows.

Glen Eira council election posters 2016

Not that it’s important, but I can’t help noticing that Oscar Lobo’s picture is the wrong aspect ratio.

I’ve met the guy; he’s often in Centre Road talking to constituents. His head isn’t that spherical, and his torso isn’t that bulky. (Some of his posters have his picture in the correct aspect ratio.)

Some others have been seen out and about.

So, who to vote for?

In many cases, council candidates are relatively uncontroversial. And in our area (Tucker Ward), most candidates are not strongly (publicly) aligned with the major political parties. There are three vacancies, and 14 candidates.

As far as who to vote for, all I can say is:

I’m overall pretty happy with my local council. Most services seem to be run efficiently, facilities are good, and rates are lower than in a lot of other areas. They’ve also tried to do some education on keeping footpaths clear of vehicles and trees, though this could be stepped up with more, and enforcement.

As the Dandenong line skyrail project now seems inevitable, it would be nice to see the council proactively working on how the freed up land beneath the tracks will be used.

I would single out Jamie Hyams (loosely Liberal-aligned). I met him years ago, when he was originally standing for council. He asked what City of Glen Eira could do to help the cause of public transport. One thing I suggested was to join the Metropolitan Transport Forum — at the time, Glen Eira was one of the few councils that were not a member. He said he’d look into it if elected. He was elected, and subsequently they joined. More recently he was mayor when the council unanimously passed a motion accurately pointing out that East West Link will bring little benefit to our area. I’ll vote for him again.

I’m not sure about my other preferences; I’ll consider them closer to voting time as candidates make their views on issues known.

A few days ago, the local newspaper reported stormy council meeting in Glen Eira, Kingston and Frankston. Locals should have a read and judge for themselves how their councillors fared: Glen Eira, Kingston and Frankston council meetings end in chaos

Voting in October

I haven’t checked other areas, but in Glen Eira electoral rolls have already closed, as have nominations. Ballot packs are sent through the mail in early October, and are due back in the mail by the 21st — I assume most council areas are the same.

Census – vital, but confidence has been eroded

It’s Census night.

Normally it’s relatively uncontroversial, but this time it’s different — a number of concerns have been raised by people, especially those interested in privacy and data security.

Some of the issues raised include:

Names and addresses to be kept for four years. This obviously creates a risk of privacy breaches if the data is compromised. It can happen, many organisations have suffered breaches, but you can only hope the ABS is taking every possible step so that it doesn’t.

Some argue that’s a red herring anyway – the linking to other data is what can really compromise your privacy, because the “Statistical Linkage Key” is likely to be able to be tracked back to individuals.

The definition of ‘census’ is “an official count”. I actually want to stand up and be counted. But only counted; not named or profiled or data-matched or data-linked, or anything else. The privacy risks of doing anything else are just too great.

Anna Johnston, a former deputy privacy commissioner of NSW.

It’s online by default. I think this was a logical move; like the ATO, they’re looking for ways to speed up processing, improve accuracy and cut costs. (From memory I did it online last time.)

The logon came through the snail mail. Obviously not as secure as it being handed to you by a Census worker.

If you stop halfway through, apparently it sends you a password so you can later resume, as plain text via email. That’s a pretty silly security slip-up. (It seems the workaround is to make sure you do it in one go.)

The web site is enabled for old insecure protocols such as SHA-1. This can make possible “man in the middle” attacks that could intercept your data, but presumably only old browsers that don’t support SHA-2 would be vulnerable.

They probably should have just used SHA-2 exclusively, given we’re talking about very old (15+ year) browsers and operating systems (older than Windows XP), which probably have lots of other vulnerabilities as well, because they’re no longer supported.

(As far as I can see, using a recent web browser gets you onto a site that uses SHA-2, so it should be okay? Besides, Stilgherrian says it’s only the Census help web site that is vulnerable.)

Not so much a privacy concern, but apparently you can’t enter accented names. That’s just silly stuff. Perhaps that’s linked to them wanting to generate the Statistical Linkage Key partly from your name, but it seems odd given we’re a multicultural society.

How serious are the privacy issues? As a friend, who is an expert in cyber security, noted:

…Realistically, the ABS are the least of our worries. MyGov is way way way worse, and there’s no pitchforks in the streets about MyGov.

Hmmmm!

Confidence

Even if you dismiss the issues as minor or not worth worrying about, what’s more annoying and disappointing is they seem to have shaken the confidence of enough people that the results may be in doubt.

Several senators are refusing to fill in their names. Former privacy commissioners and a former Australian Statistician (eg ABS head) are objecting. Apparently some people have booked overseas flights to be out of the country tonight so they can legally avoid filling it in.

You’ll always have some paranoid people who won’t fill it in, or who mess it up. But this time it seems different.

Accurate census information is important.

The Howard government made most (all?) Census information free (previously much of it attracted a fee to access), and lots of organisations rely on it, for planning and for lobbying.

For instance PTUA and similar groups have often used census data to show the reality of transport in our cities, data to counter the road lobby’s rhetoric that we need more tarmac.

Census data showed that at most, 6% of journeys to work in Melbourne are along the alignment of the proposed East West Link tollway, compared to 45% of people working close to home, and 20% working in the CBD, showing EWL was never going to be a cure for traffic congestion in the area.

And it’s the same in all sorts of fields.

So anyway, I’ll fill in tonight’s census, but I’m not very happy about how it’s being run this time.

I just hope the data coming out of it isn’t fatally flawed, that the ABS’s promises on privacy are fulfilled, and that they think very carefully about how they run the next one.

PS:

Update Friday 12/8/2016: Problems with the web site distracted from privacy concerns. Many people had issues filling it in online. First capacity (and allegedly a Denial Of Service attack) stopped people using it on Tuesday, Census night. It wasn’t until Thursday that the site was running again, and stupidly they blocked non-Australian DNS servers from seeing it, so people like me who use Google’s DNS couldn’t get to it.

By Friday when I got back to try and do it, my iPad (not using Google’s DNS, and meeting the minimum requirements of Safari on iOS 7) couldn’t make it work either. Eventually I completed it using a laptop. It really shouldn’t have to be this hard.

I still don’t know whether a temporary train replacement bus counts as a train or a bus. Physically it’s a bus, but statistically, isn’t it part of the train service?