Here’s an idea: Pedestrian Clearways

For the proposals in City of Melbourne’s discussion papers to be described as “radical” and “ridiculous” just shows how far we haven’t come in transport planning in this state.

Perhaps it’s no surprise given that in the forthcoming election, if choosing a major party, we vote for either the mob who wants to build two massive motorways, or the mob who wants to build three massive motorways — the latter announced on a day of heavy smog, and despite Melbourne already having more motorways than most cities of its size.

Nowhere in the City of Melbourne discussion papers did they suggest outright banning cars in the CBD. And I think that would be a bridge too far; the Hoddle Grid is a far bigger area than any car-free central city areas around the world, and it would cause headaches for vehicles that have to be there, such as for deliveries.

But it’s blindingly obvious that in a central business district where the majority of people arrive and travel around without a car, that it’s time to stop allocating the majority of road space to a diminishing number of motorists.

Another CBD spot in need of a footpath upgrade. Wonder if @DoyleMelbourne is looking at these?

Central cities are, by their nature, space constrained. Inner Melbourne is getting busier, with daily population expected to climb from almost a million now, to 1.5 million in the coming years.

So reducing space for motor vehicles, and discouraging motorists from coming into the CBD isn’t radical or ridiculous – it’s just commonsense.

Although the discussion paper is a long way from being City of Melbourne policy, it’s refreshing to see recognition of the issues.

Making CBD main streets a single lane each way for traffic. By my count, of the 14 streets in the Hoddle Grid, only 6 aren’t one lane each way, so this isn’t actually a big change. (Perhaps 6.5 if you count Flinders Street, a few sections of which have two lanes of traffic.)

Re-allocating a traffic lane and/or parking spaces to pedestrians and cyclists would be a big improvement. More separated cycling lanes and wider footpaths would be a win for the most efficient modes.

Queen Street and Lonsdale Streets should probably have 24/7 bus lanes implemented, given these are major bus corridors.

Optimising traffic lights is an obvious one. King Street’s dominance of light cycles in particular, is absurd, delaying east-west flow for pedestrians heading to/from Southern Cross Station, and trams. But it’s also a problem at other intersections, including William/Bourke. In fact the lights along Bourke Street are all over the place, playing havoc with the trams.

Motorcyclist riding along busy footpath

Motorcycle parking has long been a bugbear of mine. Given almost every person coming into the CBD is a pedestrian at some point during their visit (even those who drive), but journey to work mode share for motorcycles is just 0.7%, it’s ridiculous that these motor vehicles take up so much space on footpaths, with only unenforceable guidelines to stop them completely taking over.

Assuming we don’t align ourselves to every other state in Australia and ban footpath motorcycle parking outright, they should at least be restricted to designated areas where they won’t impact pedestrian flows and can be manoeuvred on and off the road without conflict.

In fact the whole question of street furniture needs looking at – footpaths are littered with obstacles, as shown in this short video:

Pedestrian Clearways

Walking is probably the most neglected transport mode. Even worse than buses.

It’s the most space-efficient, but increasingly squeezed for capacity as pedestrian numbers grow.

Let me put forward a modest, simple proposal: The busiest parts of the city centre should have Pedestrian Clearways.

Concentrate initially on the spaces around the railway stations, which see the largest pedestrian flows:

  • No motorcycle parking
  • No outdoor dining at peak times
  • Advertising bikes prohibited
  • Fixed rubbish bins, letter boxes, bike hoops, information and sales kiosks, parking signs and other street furniture either removed completely, or minimised — and designed to be as much out of the way as possible
  • Garbage collection from buildings moved to adjoining laneways or side streets, or scheduled so that bins are clear of footpaths during peak hours
  • Careful placement of trees to maximise available space
  • Removal of parking to allow wider footpaths
  • Traffic light programming to prioritise pedestrian flows
  • Rigid enforcement of Rule 128, requiring motorists to keep clear of intersections and crossings

There’s a great opportunity to ease crowding on our CBD streets.

In a constrained space like the city centre, encouraging more people to walk and use public transport can only be a good thing.

But you can’t just wish for improvements. It’s high time authorities acted to prioritise pedestrians.

Walking at night? Be one of the good guys

Lots of people usually alight at my station, even late at night. But as we all exit and walk off in different directions, the streets, especially at night, can get pretty quiet very fast.

The awful murder of Eurydice Dixon has got us as a society once again talking about personal safety issues.

While it’s true the risks are actually greater at home among people we know, there are obviously some dangers out in the world.

One article that caught my eye was this piece in The Age, about walking home in the dark.

I get off the train in the darkness, and see a woman. She is smaller than me. Most are. She strides with purpose – upright, head on a swivel – seemingly alone, with only her “situational awareness” for company.

She would have seen me, too. I’m the big stranger behind her, leaning into the wind, dressed all in black – boots, hat, coat, with a beard.

She moves quickly, but in the same direction I’m headed. In the hurry to get home and see my wife and little boy, I could breeze by her, quickly closing the gap between us until my long strides overtake her short ones. I could fall into lockstep with her brisk pace, following from a short distance away. I could bolt past, if I wanted.

But I don’t. I haven’t done any of those things in a long time. These days I stand and wait a few moments, to create a comfortable buffer. Or I choose an alternate path home. Or I call someone on the phone, hoping my voice engaged in light conversation might dispel any sense of troublesome disquiet that my silence might otherwise stir.

Of course, most people are willing to help if something bad is happening. (The article has specific advice on this; please read it if you feel the need to comment on this specific point.)

But this is an important reminder that also there are things us blokes can do to ensure our presence is not intimidating to others.

I recall many years ago, when I was about twenty, reading a letter in a newspaper on this topic. The female author was thanking an unknown man — she had been waiting at a dark lonely railway station late at night, and he arrived to catch the same train. She noted that where and how he entered the platform to wait nearby, and his body language, appeared to be deliberately non-threatening.

This rubbed-off on me.

When walking at night or in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, your own personal safety means it’s often better to convey a sense of purpose, and that you know where you are going.

But beyond that, there are things you can do to avoid being unnecessarily intimidating to others around you.

Not just women — anybody who might consider themselves vulnerable to others. Kids on their way to school. Anybody walking alone when you’re in a group. Anybody smaller than you.

Everybody’s got a right to be out there on the street. It’s not Might Equals Right.

Jasper Road at night

So what can you do?

Don’t walk directly behind someone. Back off, or overtake quickly — perhaps at a spot where the footpath is wider so you don’t get too close; or cross the street.

Don’t walk in silence. If I’m with others, I talk to them. (Around the streets of Bentleigh in the evenings, you’ll often find my sons and I walking, talking about their favourite topic: movies and TV!)

It seems to me that even little gestures of body language might help put the other person at ease. If walking in the opposite direction, by all means acknowledge, but don’t stare. Even bow your head slightly to stare instead at the pavement is likely to give off the signal that you’re not a threat.

I’ve never even thought to ask anybody if this makes sense to others, but apparently it’s seen as a positive:

Some of the reactions to the Age article have been interesting. One (female) letter-writer suggested men should call out offering help, even if everything seems fine. I’m inclined to think that’s just going to be perceived as creepy.

Some responses have just been grumpy, and selfish: What should men do? Are you kidding me? Nothing is the answer. Why? You are in charge of your own safety, not men.

Why? Because we live together in a society, that’s why.

It’s not Every Man For Himself. We can work together to help each other; to make our spaces safer and more enjoyable.

One of the joys of living in a city is random helpful interactions with strangers.

Open a door for someone; give a lost person directions; pick up and pass back something someone has dropped or left behind; volunteer some water for someone who needs it; even just standing on the left of the escalator.

I just watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette“, just released on Netflix. It’s excellent, compelling viewing. I won’t give away the ending, but there’s a marked change of tone towards the end, and one thing she discusses is people’s humanity.

Having consideration for others, helping (and being helped by) strangers — it’s not just the right thing to do. If you don’t have these random happy moments in your life, you’re missing out.

Be one of the good guys.

Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened

The new Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened on Monday morning.

These used to be my local stations. I lived close to Murrumbeena in my teens, and again from 2003 to 2005, and occasionally used Carnegie as well, and still sometimes pass through on the bus to Chadstone.

As this photo from Saturday shows, immediately after the train leaves Caulfield it starts climbing to go up and over Grange Road. It then stays elevated through Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale (yet to be opened) before descending back down to street level.

Skyrail driver training - a 3-car Siemens train leaves Caulfield towards Oakleigh, Sat 16/6/2018

The trains running on the elevated track seem a fair bit quieter than they were at ground level.

This is the view from Dandenong Road, where the impact of the elevated rail is far less than the other side where there is housing.

View of Caulfield to Carnegie skyrail, from Dandenong Road 16/6/2018

The old railway has been mostly cleared away.

View towards Caulfield, from Carnegie 16/6/2018

Both Carnegie and Murrumbeena are basically the same design, and similar to Clayton and Noble Park.

This photo from Saturday shows the wraparound shelter – note the jagged edges – it’s not completed yet.

623 bus passes underneath Carnegie station, 16/6/2018

Metro and V/Line trains were running between Caulfield and Oakleigh on the weekend ahead of opening, for driver training purposes. This is continuing during normal running days, with already-trained “On The Job Trainers” accompanying drivers through the new section. This is a train leaving Carnegie towards Caulfield on Saturday.

Train leaves Carnegie towards Caulfield on a skyrail training run, 16/6/2018

Monday was opening day. At Carnegie the old subway has already been filled-in with concrete.

Carnegie skyrail station - operational but still under construction. Old subway filled in

Temporary stairs up to the platform, while they get the lifts and escalators working — unlike Noble Park and Clayton, these stations are in exactly the same spot as the old stations, so this will take a while to get done. In the meantime, there are shuttle buses between Caulfield and Oakleigh for those who can’t use stairs.

Carnegie skyrail station - temporary stairs

At Carnegie there were lots of staff, ABC 774’s Jon Faine was doing a live broadcast, and a number of politicians and senior government and operator types were milling around, as well as some police.

Carnegie skyrail station opening - live broadcast by Jon Faine of ABC Radio Melbourne

The wraparound roof structure is similar to the other skyrail stations. Unfortunately it doesn’t run the length of the platform, but other shelters provide some coverage further along. This is Carnegie…

Carnegie skyrail station - open but not completed

…and this is Murrumbeena, basically the same design.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

At Murrumbeena I had a chat to some locals, including Twitter’s “CrossingWatchin”.

Given it refers to the crossing, this sign seems to have been recycled…

Spot the recycled sign, at Murrumbeena skyrail station

This view from the temporary stairs at Murrumbeena shows the space where the escalators and lifts will go.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Here’s the view from Murrumbeena looking towards Carnegie and the City. Note the Eureka building on the right.

Looking towards the City from Murrumbeena skyrail station

View from Murrumbeena towards Hughesdale — same design, but flipped around 180 degrees, as the new station is on the western side of the road, not the eastern side.

Murrumbeena skyrail station, looking towards Hughesdale

The train back to Carnegie was delayed… eventually it arrived, and it was packed. A reminder than reliability, frequency and capacity on this line needs to improve, given it’s the main route for a huge area of Melbourne.

Citybound train at Murrumbeena skyrail station

Grievances

Back at Carnegie a local resident spoke to me – he is one of those affected by the line being just above his backyard. He made it clear he’s not very happy, and he berated me somewhat for a somewhat jokey tweet from Singapore back in 2016. Hopefully he’s read the rather more detailed, nuanced, post about it.

His main beef was with the government – he said the local MP had refused to meet, and he cited a Level Crossing Removal Authority survey which claimed 82% of people support elevated rail — but it actually excluded people living within 400 metres of it!

Anyway, he was invited to express his grievance on-camera by Channel 9, and did so.

This should be obvious, but just in case not: PTUA did call for impacts on residents to be minimised, but this is not the first priority of public transport advocates — the focus is on services for passengers, amenity and disruptions.

Track expansion

One other point raised by detractors is that the project hasn’t added two more tracks. (Adding just a third track is not very useful.)

As noted previously, removing the crossings and other upgrades mean a huge increase in the passenger carrying capacity of the line, even if it doesn’t allow expresses or fast V/Line services.

But what about additional tracks? The government says this would only have been possible with large-scale property acquisition through Carnegie and Murrumbeena, where the existing rail alignment is quite narrow. The skyrail design as built allows light and rain to get in between the tracks, giving flora a chance to develop — but a four track viaduct wouldn’t allow this, and in any case would need more space through the alignment.

Will they need to do something about this in the future? What will the plan be? It’s clear there’s provision for future tracks on the south side of the line between Dandenong and Huntingdale, but what about closer in?

Some propose an entirely new alignment along Dandenong Road, though this may not be possible if Caulfield to Rowville light rail is built along there.

But ultimately, more tracks between Dandenong and Caulfield are of limited use without more tracks between Caulfield and South Yarra, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Premium!

So, apart from improved safety, better train reliability, the ability to run more trains (which starts with extra evening services later this year), better access into the stations and across the tracks (especially Hughesdale where there was no alternative to waiting at the gates), DDA compliance, and cuts to delays to buses, what has grade-separation ever done for us?

Well…

Unlike at Clayton and Noble Park, the original plans for Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale stations actually excluded escalators, and had no changes to staffing levels: morning peak only at Carnegie and Murrumbeena, and PSOs after 6pm at all three.

PTUA lobbied for both. Escalators just seemed obvious given the distance from ground level up to the platforms, and if you’re spending all this money on stations in fast-developing areas, why wouldn’t you spend a little more and give them extra facilities and a full-time staff presence?

Fairly early on we had a win on escalators.

Just recently it was confirmed that the new stations will also have full-time staff. The State Government and the LXRA are to be congratulated on this – it means better amenity for passengers, and all the security and assistance benefits that a proper staff presence brings.

So, everybody will welcome the removal of the crossings, and the rail line having re-opened. But there are also some definite wins for passengers with these new stations. Now, bring on the development of the space under the tracks.

We need better public transport, not free public transport

From time to time the topic of free public transport comes up, most recently because of changes in Estonia.

I think it’s a distraction from far more important issues.

I just wanted to address a few points about it. Apologies for the rambling.

Would it be a good idea in Melbourne and/or Victoria?

I don’t think so.

The first point is the cost: the PTV Annual Report indicates around $800 million is collected in fare revenue every year.

Even allowing for the running costs of the ticket system and fare enforcement, hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be found to cover that.

That’s money that wouldn’t be available for upgrades, which are a far higher priority, because the main reason people don’t use public transport isn’t the fares, it’s the service quality.

If the system goes free, assuming that at least some of the shortfall is via higher taxes, you’d have a lot of people paying more for a service they can’t practicably use, which brings me to the next point.

Free Tram Zone

Would free PT get more people on board?

Melbourne’s existing free public transport is an indicator of what would happen if the whole system was free.

The usable, frequent services would be swamped with people. They’d need upgrades to keep up with growth — upgrades which would be far more difficult if revenue isn’t growing with patronage growth. Example: the Free Tram Zone; free New Years Eve trains.

You’d also lose any peak/off-peak pricing mechanism that can moderate peak demand and help encourage off-peak travel. This is used heavily on V/Line (30% discount outside peak, and for all trips that don’t go through Zone 1), and also on Metro (100% discount before 7:15am on weekdays), though arguably this could be used more extensively.

The infrequent, less usable services — such as suburban buses — still wouldn’t get a lot of use. Example: Seniors and Myki Pass-holders on weekends. Some use the buses, but plenty would rather drive, even if they can use public transport for free (or for no extra cost with their weekday ticket).

And that’s a problem if one of the prime aims is to increase public transport usage. Those middle and outer suburban areas where most people travel day to day is where public transport is failing to win market share, thus driving dominates. It would continue to be the case.

If a suburban bus is once an hour (and plenty are), then it’s not suddenly a compelling service if it becomes free. They need more services, not free services.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

It costs more to collect fares than the revenue

No, completely wrong.

Myki was an expensive system to build; around $1.5 billion including ten years running costs = $150 million per year.

It’s still expensive. The recently signed operations contract is $700 million for seven years = $100 million per year.

(Sydney’s Opal card system is also expensive, at $1.2 billion for 15 years. That’s a bit cheaper, but these systems can be very expensive when they involve coverage of a large network, requiring lots of hardware — whether or not it’s established technology or being built afresh.)

So yes, ticket systems cost a lot of money. But even if you supposed that on top of the $100-$150 million per year for the ticket system, ticket inspections were costing another $50 million per year (and assuming those staff aren’t needed anyway for other purposes such as safety), that’s still around $600 million per year lost if fares aren’t collected.

Or to put it another way: if Myki hadn’t been built, instead the system could have been fare-free… but only for about two years.

There would be some benefit from going fare-free: better passenger flows in and around stations, as fencing and gates are removed, and on and off trams and buses. But at a huge cost, and these issues can be ameliorated in other ways.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

But Estonia has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. If you look beyond the headlines, you’ll discover that recent changes have made regional buses in Estonia free.

Free journeys will be available for all Estonians using county buses, but won’t be available on trains (although enhanced subsidies will make tickets on the state-owned rail network cheaper). And in Estonian cities outside of Tallinn, all passengers will still have to pay to use all modes of public transit, including buses. — Huffington Post

It’s apparently not even all county regional buses:

To date, not all Estonia’s 15 counties have taken up the offer, though the free-fare zone is set to cover large areas of the country. — European Sting

So it excludes rail services, and city (suburban) buses — which would account for the majority of passengers.

Tallin, the capital of Estonia (population 610,000) does have free buses, trolley-buses, trams, ferries and trains within the city limits, but only for residents.

People still use a smartcard, but the cards issued to local residents give them free rides. Which means the system still incurs the cost of running the ticketing system. In fact Wikipedia notes that services are stopped during ticket checks — so it’s really not a fare free system at all.

Problems aside, was Tallinn’s free public transport a success? That depends on how you define success:

…a 2016 analysis of the Tallinn scheme found it didn’t really encourage many people to stop driving.

In 2014, a year into the experiment, the use of public transport had increased by 14%. However, car use only declined by 5%.

In fact, it was walkers who hopped on buses, as the number of trips made on foot dropped by a staggering 40%.

And while the share of car use marginally decreased, the average distance travelled by car actually went up. — European Sting

Cardiff Bay: Pierhead building and Millennium Centre

Wales has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. Wales has free bus services on weekends only… but only for 9 bus regional routes run by one operator, the Welsh government-owned Travel Cymru. It appears to be a measure designed to stimulate tourism.

The scheme excludes rail services, and all other bus services — including bus services within cities.

Hasselt, Belgium has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. They had free buses (not other modes) from 1997 until 2013 when they scrapped the scheme because of cost — in part the costs of running services to cater for higher patronage. The buses are still free for those under 19.

Hasselt isn’t a big city, in any case – it has a population of only about 71,000 people. That means it’s not a good example to point to when arguing for a large city to go fare free.

Paris…

The (socialist) Mayor of Paris has proposed it, but the idea has been opposed by others.

As far as I can make out, as of 2018, there is no major city in the world (of say more than a million people) where all public transport is free.

But the roads are free

Toll roads are an obvious exception, but even “free” roads aren’t actually free. They are heavily subsidised, but motorists still have to pay fuel tax at the pump, and registration and licencing fees.

Public transport is subsidised too of course. This is no reason to cut out fare collection and make the subsidy even bigger.

Crowded train, Richmond

Priorities

Chris Hale recently wrote in The Age that: “a public dollar frittered on fare discounting is invariably a waste, whereas that same dollar invested in better off-peak service gets great results.”

Fares certainly need to be affordable. Part of that is addressed ensuring there are concessions to those who need them.

But in any big city, even those hailed as having great public transport, service and infrastructure improvements are needed.

In fact the best public transport cities tend to get into a growth spiral of patronage – they need ongoing investment. It costs, but it’s good for their city.

All of which means that in any city, with even a moderately successful public transport network, given the huge amount of money raised from fares, it’s very difficult to envisage a time when making the service free would be a priority, or even desirable.

Frequency is (temporary) freedom

If you used the Glen Waverley or Sandringham lines over the weekend, you might have got a pleasant surprise.

Both were running every 10 minutes for most of Saturday and Sunday — twice the usual frequency.

Why?

Because the Frankston and Dandenong (Cranbourne/Pakenham) lines were closed between the City and Moorabbin/Westall between Friday 8pm and Saturday 4pm.

The Dandenong line is also closed between Westall and Caulfield for the next two weeks as part of the big push to remove the final four level crossings as part of the skyrail project.

View from Murrumbeena towards Hughesdale during skyrail construction

Both the Dandenong and Frankston lines usually run every 10 minutes between 10am and 7pm. As part of their replacement with buses during the works, some passengers were shuttled to the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines by bus.

(Not that you’d have known any of this was happening if you relied on the online timetables or journey planners. PTV messed up their data feeds. Their own web site and apps were only updated with the closures on Friday afternoon, and downstream users of the same data never got the update. So if you relied on the Google Maps trip planner, you’d have been completely oblivious to the bustitution.)

Bustitution 1st-2nd June 2018

Running more trains on the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines was a great idea – to minimise delays for people coming off other lines, and to help the trains cope with the extra loads.

Apart from the official rail replacement buses, those using regular buses (or trams) to change lines also have benefited. One of my sons on Saturday decided to use the 703 from Bentleigh across to Brighton (12 minutes), then the Sandringham line (20 minutes), rather than catch a Frankston line replacement bus stopping all stations to the City (estimated 56 minutes). With half-hourly buses, and usually trains every 20 minutes, this would be potluck as to whether it worked. Trains every 10 minutes made the connection easy.

(Most stations have orbital cross-line tram or bus connections. Trams run at good frequencies every day; unfortunately buses don’t. Most are only hourly on weekends and evenings.)

People who usually use the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines also got the benefit, though it’s doubtful that there was any patronage boost, since nobody knew about it. The only advertised change was that all trains ran direct to/from Flinders Street, not via the City Loop.

It looks like the doubling of services will happen again next long weekend, with both the Frankston and Dandenong lines shut down again from Moorabbin/Westall from Saturday to the end of Monday, for both grade separation (Dandenong line skyrail) and upgrades to accommodate the new High Capacity Metro Trains.

Frequent services make the whole network more usable, and if made permanent, would get more people on board. If only those lines (and the others) ran every ten minutes every day.