Thirty years on

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

This is especially so for school reunions. My eldest son is pondering whether to even go to his – the people he wants to stay in touch with, he does via Facebook.

Fair enough.

I however do go to my school reunions. Melbourne High School has an active Old Boys Association which is very well organised for them.

The 30th (gulp) reunion was on Friday night.

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The old school. 30 years on #gulp

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Those of us who got there by 5:30 got to have a tour of the school. Much of it looks about the same, but most (but not all) of the old portable buildings have been replaced. Overall the grand old school building is looking good, though a little shabby in places. There’s never enough funding for as much maintenance as they’d like.

And… gasp… we got to go to the top of the tower. I never got to go up there as a student.

The view was spectacular.

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking west across the city

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking northeast

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking east

The reunion proper was down in the pavilion as usual. Of the 300-odd-strong cohort, about 60 attended, perhaps not too bad after this long.

Some speeches, a flood of memories, some reflection on those who didn’t make it to thirty years, then some raucous singing.

The song “Forty Years On” might have been specifically designed for school reunions, and it’s damn devious of the school to implant it in our brains while when young so we can belt it out in our senior years.

Most valuable was some good chats with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.

One bloke I was with at primary school too. We had a strong bond in grade six (what’s that, 36 years ago?), but we lost touch in high school — and having thought about it over the weekend, I think that was my fault.

Melbourne High School at dusk

So it was good to catch up, have some laughs and reminisce over old times.

Great to see them all in person. Better than Facebook and Linked In.

And the view from the tower was better in person, too. Well worth going.

Old photos from August 2008

Here’s my monthly post of photos from ten years ago.

For a while I was waging war on ghost tram route numbers via this blog post and then this Age article.

Numbers like 7 and 9 were pointless because nobody outside a few gunzels knew them. This was tram route 7 to Malvern Depot.

In 2011, all the obscure route numbers got renumbered to something people can actually understand.

Route 7 followed route 6 as far as Malvern Depot, so today it would be called a 6d.
Tram route 7 in Swanston Street

Here’s route 9 to Thornbury. Today I guess this would now be an 11d.
Tram route 9 in Collins Street

Banksy’s “Little Diver” had appeared in 2003 just off Flinders Lane. The building’s owners put some perspex in an effort to protect it, but it was subsequently destroyed a few months after this photo was taken.
Banksy "Little Diver" picture, Melbourne

Massive Spirit Of Progress poster advertising the Art Deco exhibition at NGV.
Matthew Flinders

Bentleigh station: Some kind of work in preparation for Myki equipment installation. Note the mounting poles. The system eventually got switched-on in Melbourne at the very end of 2009.
Installing Myki equipment at Bentleigh station

Back on the trams, this holding siding had just been built on St Kilda Road. At first, some drivers seemed not to slow down sufficiently, so the trams would lurch in and out of the points. Hopefully they’ve improved since then.
New holding siding, St Kilda Road, August 2008

The same project included this triple track at the corner of Southbank Boulevard, allowing route 1 trams (turning right) to wait for their traffic light without delaying other trams. (Perhaps a cheaper option would have been to fix the traffic light so none of the trams got delayed?)
Then new superstops outside NGV, August 2008

In August 2008 I got my “new” (2000-model) car. First order of the day was to put a PTUA sticker on it, something I did last month with the brand new car that replaced it.
The new car, August 2008, with new sticker

Back in December 2007, we’d gone to Spamalot, the musical. From this photo, it seems I subsequently found a can of Spam commemorating the show, though according to Wikipedia it had closed back in April.
Spamalot spam can, August 2008

Mernda rail extension opens this Sunday

On Sunday I went out to see the Mernda rail extension.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority, who built it (well, it does involve new stations and grade separation of an existing disused rail corridor, so it kinda makes sense) ran a community open day, with free shuttle trains between South Morang and Mernda.

After catching a regular train to South Morang, I found a big crowd waiting for a shuttle train.

South Morang station

Mernda

Mernda was packed with people, so it’s just as well they built this new terminus to generous dimensions, with a good wide platform.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

I met up with Darren Peters, who headed up the community campaign that got the politicians to commit to the rail extensions (both to South Morang, then Mernda). Locals kept stopping to congratulate him – deservedly so!

Mernda station has a wraparound roof structure similar to the Dandenong line skyrail stations, but glass panels block the wind coming through. The design is less rounded futuristic, more boxy, and I’m told is meant to reflect the farm heritage of the area – still seen on a few farm buildings in the vicinity.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

A huge amount of space is available underneath the station platform. There’s a large car park and a bus interchange on the eastern side, where buses will converge from nearby suburbs, mostly with frequencies of 20 minutes in peak, 40 off-peak.

To the west is… an empty paddock. This will be the place for the Mernda town centre.

Mernda station open day 19/8/2018

North of the station is more parking (with a second station exit), and a stabling yard to store trains between the peaks and overnight.

Mernda station viewed from the north

Mernda stabling yard 19/8/2018

New traffic lights seemed to be giving an inordinate amount of green time to nonexistent traffic coming out of the station, without actually providing much green man for pedestrians. This was resulting in traffic jams along Bridge Inn Road. Perhaps trying to get locals used to the traffic lights being there?

It’s unlikely that the line will be further extended to Whittlesea any time soon. This is the northern edge of Melbourne, and the Urban Growth Boundary shows no signs of shifting.

While there aren’t many houses in the immediate station environs, there are a few in the street north of the station, some of which look like they’re already being re-developed to medium density. And a little further away are vast numbers of homes, so it’s no wonder Plenty Road, pretty much the only road to the south, gets packed with cars at rush hour.

Hawkstowe

Heading back south, I looked at Hawkstowe station, a similar island platform design to Mernda. Already there’s a playground underneath the tracks, which reminded me of Singapore, and may be an indicator of what’s coming underneath the Caulfield to Dandenong skyrail.

Hawkstowe station open day 19/8/2018

Hawkstowe station open day 19/8/2018

Middle Gorge

And then there’s the third station…

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There’s been some controversy over the name, but let’s look at the actual design.

Side platforms have been used, which is fine, and a nice wide subway connects them, reminiscent of Tarneit station.

But for some reason the building structures have very high-up roofs, which look impressive at first, but I expect will provide almost zero weather/rain protection.

Middle Gorge station open day 19/8/2018

There’s a plaza on the outbound side which is quite nice, but it also means the bus stops are a good couple of hundred metres away from the station, ensuring anybody who tries to interchange when it’s raining will get drenched. The bus stop has no shelter that I could see (maybe that will be installed before opening day this Sunday?)

Okay, so not as many buses will connect here compared to the other two new stations – it’s only route 383, which also goes to South Morang, but it’ll be about eight minutes faster to change to the train at Middle Gorge.

And the shared (bike) path coming from both directions is on the opposite side of the tracks to the bike cage, and particularly indirect from the north. Is this really the best they could do?

Middle Gorge station precinct

These concerns aside, it was great to see the community come out and see their new stations – despite the weather having been horrible earlier in the day.

Enough about the infrastructure – what about the services?

There’s little doubt the trains will be popular for those headed to destinations further down the line including into the City.

Some extra services have been added for peak hour, making for trains up to about every 6 minutes in peak.

There are no express services to speak of – the peak frequency is so intensive that there’s really no spare capacity for them. An express train would catch up quickly with the train in front. And remember, express trains save less time than you’d think – typically a minute per station skipped, while penalising people at those stations with fewer services, and leading to uneven train loads.

There are some counterpeak expresses – in the AM peak a train arriving at Flinders Street will go around the Loop, then back out in service. Some of these stop at only a handful of stations (including Reservoir for the 301 shuttle bus to Latrobe Uni), then up to Epping or South Morang to terminate and go back into stabling.

Outside peak hour, the current frequencies will remain: mostly every 20 minutes, but every 30 after 9pm, 40 on Sunday mornings (WHY?!) and hourly Night Train services overnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

In the long term, the Metro 2 tunnel will be needed to cope with continued growth on both this line and the Hurstbridge line.

Meanwhile, obviously authorities will need to watch patronage carefully and keep adding more services where they can, though there’s a limit to peak capacity between the city and Clifton Hill. The usual point applies: better off-peak services can help spread the load across the day.

But one thing’s for sure: the three new stations add richly to the transport options for people in the outer northern suburbs.

Don’t be a jerk

I was looking through some old photos, and found these from November 1996.

I’ve scanned them from the negatives.

As you can see, they provide some good advice…

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

(Click on either photo to view it larger in Flickr)

Things to note here:

  • “Don’t be a jerk” is a work by Barbara Kruger, originally from 1984
  • Some of the well-known CBD skyscrapers are visible in the background, but more were to come over the following 22 years!
  • This is snapped from Flinders Street Station looking east across Swanston Street. The old Gas And Fuel building is being demolished to make way for Federation Square
  • In the first photo you can also just see the entrance to the old Princes Bridge station (look for The Met logo), which was also mostly demolished – apart from platform 14. Back then it also had platforms 15 and 16, used by terminating trains from Clifton Hill.
  • Z-class tram in The Met colours – this was before privatisation. Note the “Do not enter” signage on the rear door; these trams ran with seated conductors near the front, and later as driver-only. This particular tram, number 150, came into service in 1980, and is still in service, making it 38 years old.
  • No tram superstop. Just a “Safety zone”
  • I’m not sure what time of day this was. It looks pretty dark and rainy for November, but that’s what the scribbled note on the photo says!

Traffic light programming, and the tale of the Magic Laptop

The Magic Laptop

One evening many years ago some PTUA bods and I were meeting with a Vicroads bloke about traffic light priority and other related issues.

He had a laptop with him, and it displayed a diagram of a major intersection; I think it was somewhere out on Burwood Highway.

While pondering topics such as tram priority, he talked us through how the traffic light sequences worked, and how the traffic flows, showing us on the laptop.

And he showed us what would happen if the sequence was tweaked; part of the sequence runs for longer, causing some vehicles to pass through more quickly, some to be delayed a few seconds. Really interesting.

Someone asked: “So that’s a simulation?”

The response: “No, that’s real. It’s happening right now.”

So he’d been fiddling with the traffic lights in realtime, and local motorists were probably wondering why they were zipping through or being slightly delayed.

That wasn’t just a laptop, that was a Magic Laptop.

Spencer Street and Collins Street intersection

Programming traffic lights

Anyway, via this and other discussions with people who seem to know what they’re talking about, I get the sense that Melbourne’s traffic lights are reasonably flexible in terms of their configuration, and can be controlled remotely.

But there’s a limit. They can’t handle all scenarios automatically, so for instance when trials of absolute tram priority were done in Nicholson Street, it needed someone to manually control the lights to give a green for the tram.

There are also apparently limited resources, so opportunities to re-program traffic lights don’t come up as often as they’d like.

Why is it so?

Everywhere in government (as well as in the corporate world), if you go digging, you’ll find there’s usually a reason for something.

Sometimes it’s a reason which doesn’t quite make sense, or is outdated in the face of changing circumstances, but a reason nonetheless.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the traffic lights at Spencer and Little Collins Streets had an extraordinarily short green man, only about 18 seconds. Then the red man would flash for about another 10 seconds, and then there’d be a solid red man for a full 40 seconds before the parallel traffic light turned yellow.

This is utterly ridiculous in the central city, next to a major railway station, where pedestrians should be the priority.

Setting it like this is just goading people to cross against the lights.

I made enquiries with City of Melbourne, and discovered it is a road managed by Vicroads. So I approached them about it, and eventually I got a response.

Why was it like this? Because Spencer Street is closed for sewer works south of Collins, and they wanted to allow vehicles to detour into Little Collins easily.

But — as shown by the video — there wasn’t much traffic coming down Spencer that actually needs to detour.

Once they realised this, they set it back. Just like that. Someone probably clicked some buttons on a Magic Laptop, and it was done.

A good outcome, with some delicious technical tidbits in the email trail which I won’t publish, other than to say yes, they really do use the reference numbers on traffic control boxes.

(The few cars, and the number of people crossing Spencer Street against the lights would appear to indicate more needs to be done at this intersection to accommodate pedestrians. Note also that this is just metres from where the old pedestrian subway under the road from the station used to emerge.)

The bigger picture

I’ve also had a discussion about that super-annoying crossing at Centre Road/Eskay Road in South Oakleigh. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently it’s been tweaked too.

But the bigger picture issue is that traffic lights (even in the CBD) are being programmed with poor outcomes for pedestrians. Sometimes as above there’s a reason — sometimes, apparently, it’s just an error.

Much the same issue occurred at Elizabeth/Little Collins a couple of years ago.

And more recently, City of Melbourne has put in brand new installations that failed to auto activate the green man, despite it being policy within the Hoddle Grid.

(And after they fixed that one, the timing was wrong, with — again — too little green man time.)

These things do make a difference. It’s not just about compliance and safety. The travel mode you want to thrive is the one you should encourage. Make it easier for people to walk, and more people will walk.

What I have learned is that Vicroads is now consulting on some of these issues with groups such as Victoria Walks. This is definitely progress.

Be polite, but firm

Individuals shouldn’t really have to get these things fixed. But in the real world, everybody (including Vicroads and City of Melbourne) is stretched for time, and clearly some things simply aren’t being spotted and fixed otherwise.

So…

Put in a report. Twitter may not be sufficient, so do it via their feedback web site. Include a photo if it’s at all useful.

Be polite. Scrupulously polite. You won’t get anywhere by shouting.

Explain your case. Present the evidence, the logic.

Keep a copy of your query text, and the reference number, because some web sites (such as Vicroads) don’t email you a copy back, and it may be useful at the next step.

If you get a pro forma reply which doesn’t make sense or doesn’t address the issue, query it. Be polite, but firm.

And with a bit of luck, and if your point is convincing, you might just get it fixed.

Of course, what I really want is a Magic Laptop.