Would you want a spaghetti junction in your neighbourhood?

In a plan that takes the popular level crossing removal program but flips it on its head, the State Coalition have announced they will grade-separate 55 road intersections around Melbourne if elected in 2018. (Reports: ABC / Age / Herald Sun)

Here’s an animation created by the Coalition:

And here’s the list of intersections announced so far:

  • 1 Torquay Road and Settlement Road, Belmont
  • 2 Barwon Heads Road and Settlement Road, Belmont
  • 3 Point Cook Road and Princes Hwy, Point Cook
  • 4 Geelong Road and Somerville Road, West Footscray
  • 5 Ballarat Road and McIntyre Road, Sunshine
  • 6 Ballarat Road and Geelong Road, Footscray
  • 7 Gap Road and Horne Street, Sunbury
  • 8 Mickleham Road and Broadmeadows Road, Gladstone Park
  • 9 Sydney Road and Cooper Street, Somerton
  • 10 Sydney Road and Mahoneys Road, Campbellfield
  • 11 Plenty Road and McDonalds Road, South Morang
  • 12 St Georges Road and Bell Street, Preston
  • 13 Albert Street and Bell St, Preston
  • 14 Banksia Street and Lower Heidelberg Road, Heidelberg
  • 15 Fitzsimons Lane and Main Road, Eltham
  • 16 Fitzsimons Lane and Porter Street, Templestowe
  • 17 Williamsons Road and Foote Street, Templestowe
  • 18 Whitehorse Road and Springvale Road, Nunawading
  • 19 Springvale Road and Burwood Hwy, Vermont South
  • 20 Springvale Road and Ferntree Gully Road, Glen Waverley
  • 21 Princes Hwy, Springvale Road and Police Road, Mulgrave
  • 22 Stud Road and Wellington Road, Rowville
  • 23 Princes Hwy and North Road, Clayton
  • 24 Dandenong Road and Warrigal Road, Oakleigh
  • 25 Nepean Hwy and Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick
  • 26 Nepean Hwy and North Road, Brighton East
  • 27 Nepean Hwy and South Road, Bentleigh
  • 28 Warrigal Road and South Road, Moorabbin
  • 29 Nepean Hwy, Warrigal Road, Lower Dandenong Road, Mentone
  • 30 Boundary Road and Governor Road, Mordialloc
  • 31 Heatherton Road and Hallam Road, Endeavour Hills
  • 32 Racecourse Road and Bald Hill Road, Pakenham
  • 33 Thompsons Road and Western Port Hwy, Lyndhurst
  • 34 Hall Road and Western Port Hwy, Cranbourne West
  • 35 Moorooduc Hwy and Cranbourne Road, Frankston

My initial thinking: grade separating suburban intersections is a terrible idea.

It has the potential to be extremely hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as businesses and other properties immediately adjacent the roads affected.

Melbourne has rightly moved away from grade-separated intersections, eg King St/Flinders St, where the City of Melbourne noted:

One of the principal benefits of the redevelopment of the former Fishmarket site and removal of the Flinders Overpass is that it reconnects the city to the river. The Flinders Street Overpass has provided a physical and symbolic further barrier ensuring that the city ends at Flinders Street. The provision of a variety of activity on the former Fishmarket Site will activate that corner of the city significantly compared to its current role as a public carpark and impound facility.

King Street overpass (October 2003)

The Coalition’s new proposal goes backwards. And it includes signalised right hand turns, as well as signalised pedestrian movements across the road above, negating much of the traffic moving benefit.

It’s unclear how many of the projects would require land acquisition to provide space for the ramps. That’s the problem with grade-separated road intersections – unlike rail/road grade separations (which benefit everybody, not just motorists), they are very space-inefficient.

And all this to achieve continuously flowing traffic that would ultimately have no long-lasting effects thanks to induced traffic.

There might be a short term benefit to people driving through your neighbourhood. But given there are no proposals to remove all the traffic lights along any one particular road, motorists might miss one set of lights, only to get stuck at the next.

For everybody else — those who walk, cycle, or even drive locally — a spaghetti junction in your suburb would be an overwhelming negative.

If you want a taste of grade-separated intersections, check St Kilda Junction. It’s huge, it’s horrible to ride a bike or walk, traffic movements are restricted/convoluted (eg Queensway southbound onto St Kilda Road), and to achieve it they bulldozed numerous buildings including the Junction Hotel.

Designs may have improved, but they can’t solve the basic problems of geometry. Moving lots of cars requires lots and lots of space.

The State Coalition seems to have transport policies varying from the excellent (trains every ten minutes, every day — a policy that was announced in March but is still worryingly absent from their web site) to the dire (roads, roads and more roads, including building so many motorways at once that even the RACV said it was over-the-top).

It’ll be interesting to see if this particular proposal gains traction.

PS. With thanks to Arfman for the inspiration, though I’m sure someone else can do a better job:

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.

Southland station, about to open – at last!

Southland station is almost here — it’s scheduled to open on November 26th. At last!

The centre has been getting ready

Importantly, a more direct pedestrian path, including zebra crossings, has been provided from the centre entrance to the railway station. Bravo!

Pedestrian path from Southland shopping centre to new station

Wayfinding signage inside the centre already points the way to the station.

Southland shopping centre, sign pointing to station

Paid parking (if you stay beyond 3 hours) was introduced a couple of weeks ago to prevent park and ride users filling the customer car park.

There’s still some understandable grumpiness about the impact on staff, being charged $5 per day. Some appear to have taken to parking in nearby streets outside the centre, such as along Nepean Highway and in the William Fry reserve car park.

Parking on the Nepean Highway near Southland

A short summary of the long history of Southland station

1880s – the Frankston line was opened in 1881-1882. A station was proposed at Bay Road quite early on, but not pursued

1968 – Southland Shopping Centre opened, though the original centre was on the eastern side of the Nepean Highway, and not particularly near to the railway line

1999 – New shops adjacent the railway line, and a bridge across the highway opened. Owners Westfield had proposed a station, but were knocked back by the Public Transport Corporation

2004 – State government runs a “pre-feasibility study” – that was the kind of level of commitment back then. Not even a proper feasibility study.

2010 – However somewhere in the background, things must have progressed a bit, because both Labor and the Coalition promise to build the station going into the November state election.

Labor’s version included moving the bus interchange, and was to cost $45 million. The Coalition’s $13 million pledge excluded work on the bus interchange. Ideal? Perhaps not, but almost every bus route connects with the railway line at other locations, so not really a biggie.

The Coalition won the 2010 election, but there was little visible action for some years. By late-2012, it was obvious the project wouldn’t be completed in the 2010-2014 term, which in retrospect looks to have been a huge tactical error. If you’re trying to retain marginal seats, it obviously helps if you can show you’ve funded and completed beneficial projects.

2013 – Coalition funds the station, with construction to commence in 2015, opening in 2016. Around this time, forecasts emerged of around 4400 passengers per day — which if reached would make it one of the busiest stations on the line.

(Around this time, an FOI on the station revealed planning was underway for all-night trains on weekends. This eventually got pledged by Labor in the 2014 election, and delivered in 2016 as Night Network.)

2014 – Cost revealed as $21 million, still aiming at 2016 completion

2015 – Following Labor’s win in the 2014 election, they reviewed the project, and included public consultation on issues such as toilets and whether the station should have an entrance from neighbouring Tulip Grove — locals decided not. Cleverly, PTV snapped-up a property on the street when it became available for sale, and used it for construction, and it will be future provision for an entrance. This delayed the opening to 2017.

2016 – Construction got underway in a serious way. By November the pedestrian subway had been built.

2017 – Construction has pushed ahead, and from August 2017 a timetable revision included allowance for serving the station.

In the past few weeks, Southland has started appearing on Passenger Information Displays and being announced – as the only station that trains aren’t stopping at!

How do people get to Southland now?

Mostly by car, which on busy days can involve a lot of hunting around for a car space. Apparently this has improved a bit on weekdays since paid parking, but from what I saw on Saturday, is still an issue on weekends.

Or you could get the bus. Buses are so infrequent on weekends (the busiest days) that from nearby suburbs it can be quicker to walk.

They are also so infrequent on weekends that it’s not uncommon to see the bus interchange completely devoid of buses.

Southland bus interchange, Saturday morning

Or you could walk from Cheltenham station. You’ve likely already walked to catch a train at the other end of the trip, and then it’s about a 15 minute walk to Southland, most of which is not under cover.

Walking from Cheltenham station to Southland shopping centre

(Note the size of the road sign for Nepean Highway compared to the pedestrian. Has anybody ever studied the impact of these signs on the walking environment?)

If you want the main section (on the eastern side of the highway) you’ll face pedestrian-hostile traffic lights to cross up to eight lanes of traffic (plus service roads). Some people don’t even use the traffic lights, instead crossing mid-block — not something I’d recommend.

Outside Southland shopping centre

Or you could ride your bike. Nepean Highway has service lanes which are better for nervous cyclists than the main traffic lanes. But few of the east-west roads have bike lanes. And it appears the cyclist parking is inadequate — when I went past, it was all filled up.

Insufficient bicycle parking at Southland

These conditions are precisely why a station makes so much sense.

When precisely does the station open?

The official PTV notice says:

You’ll be able to start using the station from the first service on Sunday 26 November 2017.

So, what’s the first service on a Sunday, given the all-night trains on weekends?

In the world of public transport, the end of the day is 3am. The timetables tick over; so does Myki (the 2-hour fares lasting all night after 6pm ends at 3am).

A look at the Frankston line timetables also indicates that the first trains serve the station after 3am on Sunday morning: 3:41am Frankston-bound, and 4:12am citybound (the train one hour earlier starts its journey at 2:44am, so is considered to be on Saturday night).

A more civilised time to go and look than 3:41am might be after 9:30am.

Join us on Sunday 26 November 2017 to celebrate the opening of Southland Station.

Be amongst the first to experience the new station and enjoy a free coffee and BBQ breakfast in the station forecourt, between 9.30am and 11.30am.

I’ve waited a long time for this. It’ll be great to see it open.

PS. If you’re wondering about the station code

“Step-free” doesn’t mean DDA-compliant

All of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations have step-free access to the platforms.

Except one: Heyington. To get to either platform involves steps.

Heyington is set into the side of a hill. From the street you go down some steps to the citybound (“up”) platform. Or if you want the outbound (“down”) platform, that’s down some steps, across a walkway, and then down some more steps. (The outbound platform is accessible directly from the adjacent St Kevins College, but that appears to be a private entrance.)

Heyington Station

Heyington Station

Other rail networks

So, every Melbourne station except one has step-free access.

That’s a long way ahead of many of the bigger old rail systems around the world.

In Sydney, by my count, 109 out of 178 (61%) are accessible (following huge investment in lifts), though the proportion across New South Wales as a whole is around half.

In London, it’s around a quarter of Underground stations and about half the Overground stations. It’s also pretty dire in Paris.

Earls Court station, London Underground

It’s not that hard to see how this happened. Much of Sydney is very hilly, so many stations hug the side of hills (like Heyington does), which would have made it quite difficult/expensive to provide ramps, back in the days when accessibility for wheelchairs or prams wasn’t seen as a concern.

(For similar reasons, Sydney never had very many level crossings. Sure, they’ve done a good job at getting rid of theirs, but they never had that many to start with. Melbourne in comparison is fairly flat, so we ended up with lots of level crossings.)

On old underground systems like London and Paris, some of the stations were built before lift/elevator technology had really matured, and it would have been expensive, and not seen as a priority. Providing ramps to station platforms deep underground would have cost a fortune, so to this day they’re very reliant on steps. Some cities are spending up big on retro-fitting lifts.

How did Melbourne end up with ramps almost everywhere? There must have been a policy in place, because stations going back well over a hundred years have them — the MATHS stations rebuilt in the 1910s are a good example, but you can also find photos of Flinders Street Station from the 1890s with ramps.

Whatever the reasons for the policy, it showed foresight.

Ramps at Sandown Park station

DDA compliance doesn’t just mean ramps

So, all Melbourne stations except Heyington are step-free. But this doesn’t make them compliant with the latest legislated standards.

The Disability Discrimination Act, and the subsection, the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport are far more specific than just “no steps”. Melbourne’s station ramps, particularly the older ones, are too steep for some people in a hand-operated wheelchair to use, and can cause problems for people with other mobility difficulties.

Here’s a summary of the relevant DDA standard (AS 1428.1):

Summary of DDA building standards

So basically you need ramps to be no steeper than 1:14, and at that gradient, you need a landing every 9 metres.

DDA probably isn’t perfect. But it mandates a pretty good standard, which if followed, makes more public spaces accessible to most people, not just the able-bodied.

Some upgrades coming

The current state of many of the stations means, even though there are no steps, it’s difficult for some people to use them.

In the past, some stations have been proposed for upgrades; some have happened, some have faced fierce resistance.

Fortunately, the level crossing removal program is resulting in many stations being rebuilt to modern standards. This is a ramp down to the platforms at Bentleigh station — note the gentle gradient, and landing midway along.

Bentleigh station ramp

Accessibility information

If you have specific mobility needs and you’re looking to travel — for instance, you might be capable of using modern DDA-compliant ramps, but not the older steeper ones — there’s not very much official information online.

The rail network map simply says that only Heyington lacks step-free access.

The detailed station information on the PTV web site doesn’t distinguish between a station with fully-DDA-compliant ramps and lifts, and one with steep ramps.

In fact it cheerfully notes stations that have steps, without telling you what this means:

  • Heyington has steps which means you can’t access the platforms any other way.
  • Box Hill and Ormond are also listed as having steps… but platforms are accessible via lifts and/or ramps.

It mentions if station parking, phones and toilets are accessible, but again, doesn’t clarify what this means. Accessible from where? Caulfield’s new accessible toilets are on platforms 2/3, reached from the street via two steep ramps.

Worse, it claims Heyington’s toilets and phone are accessible — I didn’t notice a telephone, and there are certainly no toilets available there.

PTV Journey Planner options

Planning journeys

The PTV Journey Planner can be told:

  • You can’t walk very far
  • You need services and/or stops with wheelchair access

(The Journey Planner seems to know which trams are accessible and which aren’t — eg 96 normally is, 57 normally isn’t. Just don’t bother trying to look at the tram timetables online, which don’t show it.)

But you can’t specify that you need:

  • Unassisted/DDA-compliant wheelchair access
  • Visual displays on the platform (eg hearing difficulties) to confirm you’re boarding the right service
  • Tactile guidance paths (even though these are in the PTV database)

(I’m not trying to catalogue every specific need people might have, just show some examples.)

Google Transit doesn’t have any options other than being able to preference less walking, even though the GTFS data specification includes accessibility information.

Ultimately if you need more information than is available online, the only thing I can suggest is contacting PTV and Metro for that information… if they have it.

Perhaps we should be thankful that most of the train system is accessible, at least with assistance.

Most buses are compliant. Trams… that’s another story altogether.

Clearly lot more is needed to improve the transport system as a whole to achieve full DDA-compliance.

* * *

Further reading:

Thanks to Karen for inspiring this blog post via discussion of her mother’s mobility needs.

The use and misuse of footpaths

I ran a Twitter thread over the last fortnight, highlighting some of the ways that footpath space is misused, or mis-allocated.

This blog expands on those posts.

In some of these cases, capacity constraints are causing problems for large numbers of pedestrians. Able-bodied people are often able to avoid those hazards, though it does slow them down.

More seriously, for those with limited mobility, such as those in wheelchairs, these issues can cause real problems for people just trying to get out and about.

1. Advertising

Real estate advertising blocking footpath

This is commonplace. It’s also in contravention of local council law. For instance, Glen Eira outlaws the following:

  • Placing advertising sign/s or displaying any goods on a Road (including a footpath) or Council Land unless permitted under the Glen Eira Planning Scheme.
  • Owning or occupying a Property from which trees, plants, shrubs or any other thing overhang or encroach on any Road (including footpath) at a height of less than 3 metres or from which a gate obstructs any Road or footpath.

Typically if you ask a real estate agent on Twitter why their banners are blocking the footpaths like this, they’ll invariably say they’re investigating, and ask for details of the specific property, as if it’s some unique occurrence.

It’s not of course. It’s a style of banner that is widely used. There have been occasional prosecutions for this — perhaps there need to be a few more so the real estate industry starts adapting. Some have found a solution: a smaller banner that is clear of pedestrians (though probably not 3 metres above the path).

2. Motorcycles

Motorcycle blocking footpath

Motorcycle parking on footpaths is legal in Victoria — a situation that is unique in Australia. In this post from 2013, I looked at the guidelines (which are not enforceable) and asked the obvious question: are the laws actually appropriate, particularly in busy city centres?

One can argue that motorcycles are more space-efficient than cars. Not if they encroach onto footpaths they’re not.

City of Melbourne’s 2012 transport strategy paper on “Flexible and adaptive private transport” estimates that just 1-2% of trips to the City are by motorcycle. From how they take over vast areas of footpath in some areas, we should be thankful it’s not any higher.

The paper identified this Action (number 42): Increase the supply of motorcycle parking in congested areas to reduce the need to park on footpaths and prohibit motorcycle parking where it obstructs walking, or other complementary activities.

Sounds good, but as far as I know, the short list of three locations in the CBD where motorcycle parking is banned in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in 2001.

There is a law that if the motorcycle obstructs the footpath then council officers can take action. But this is vague. The above example blocks half the busy footpath. Is that an obstruction? (If I blocked one lane of a busy road, I’m sure that would be.)

3. Narrow footpaths

Inadequate narrow footpath

Footpaths like this are found right along most of the Little streets in Melbourne’s CBD: one lane of traffic, two lanes of parking, and two narrow footpaths for pedestrians, despite them being in the majority.

I’m guessing the street has been this way for a long time. Doesn’t mean it still should be. And with City of Melbourne progressively replacing footpaths with bluestone, there’s an opportunity to re-allocate space in favour of the most space-efficient, most desirable mode.

Priorities, right? Recently there have been calls to make Chinatown car-free, at least at some times of day, but throughout the CBD there’s a good argument for reducing parking and widening footpaths to cope with crowds and encourage more walking.

4. Parked vehicle overhang

Motor vehicle blocking footpath

Another common sight where car parks are adjacent to footpaths, including 90-degree street parking.

Someone with limited eyesight who didn’t spot this huge vehicle sticking blocking half the footpath could do themselves a serious injury.

Education of motorists could help, but a design change to prevent this type of overhang would be better.

Possibly this is illegal under the same laws quoted above; it’s not really clear.

5. Traffic signs

Road sign blocking footpath

This one was first spotted by Victoria Walks. Notice how the road is blocked anyway — though this is a temporary (every lunchtime) measure.

Certainly though the roadway is wide enough that it could accommodate the sign plus traffic.

I complained to City of Melbourne about it. They replied that while the placement:

was not ideal, it was not appropriate to locate it on the carriageway, taking up a parking space, as it would affect the servicing requirements of abutting properties within this limited parking area.

They also acknowledged that they only left 1.1 metres of footpath clear, narrower than the recommended clearance of 1.2 metres to allow for wheelchairs.

So there you have it. As far as City of Melbourne goes, parking in the middle of the CBD is more important than footpath users, including those in wheelchairs. And that includes when it’s a sign to advise of No Parking!

6. Driveway extensions

Parked car blocking footpath

This is pretty common in the suburbs. Some motorists think their driveway includes the footpath.

It’s possible to dob people in for this. In the past some have been issued with fines.

But more widely educating might be a better start. Glen Eira have publicised it in their regular newsletter, but given how common it is, more is needed.

7. Motorcycles moving on footpaths

Motorcyclist riding along busy footpath

This is just south of Flagstaff station, one of the busiest pedestrian locations in Melbourne.

It’s not just that the motorcyclist is parking on the footpath; it’s also that he needs to ride it from the nearest ramp. Thankfully he was doing so slowly, walking it (even though he’s sitting on it)… apparently undeterred by the swarm of pedestrians coming towards him.

The bigger problem is that, this footpath is so busy that City of Melbourne have an automated pedestrian counting device to monitor it, and pedestrians regularly walk on the road to avoid obstructions. Despite that, no action has been taken to simply ban motorcycle parking along here.

As per number 2, the ban locations haven’t changed since 2001. Given the explosion in growth in the CBD, that’s just ridiculous.

8. Parked cars

Parked cars blocking footpath

Meanwhile in the burbs, this is happening.

It’s not even clear why these motorists have chosen to mount the footpath, as there’s plenty of space on the road. It’s permitted in some countries, but doesn’t seem to be here. (When I was learning to drive, I was told this was an instant fail.)

For someone with a pram or mobility aid, the choice is try and get past on the grass (and hope you don’t get bogged down) or use the parallel cycling path — not ideal.

9. Caravans

Caravan blocking footpath

Similar to number 6, though trailers and caravans seem to be even more of a blind spot for some owners.

10. No footpath at all

No footpath

Common in some outer-suburbs, but also a problem in Glen Eira. There are a number of streets around Bentleigh and East Bentleigh with no sealed footpath at all.

Pushing a pram? Or you have wheeled luggage? Or in a wheelchair? I guess you just use the roadway and hope a car doesn’t zoom around the corner and skittle you.

Why this persists I have no idea, though I’m told City of Glen Eira at least is moving to address it.

11. Trees and bushes

Bushes blocking footpath

Refer to the council laws quoted in number 1. These are meant to be maintained to leave clearance of 3 metres above the path, which would allow plenty of space, even for an adult on a bicycle (legally on the footpath if they’re supervising an under-12).

The couple pictured above (they’re walking in single file) had to manoeuvre around the bushes to get their pram past. Lucky the weather was dry so the nature strip was okay.

How would someone in a wheelchair go? Onto the grass or cross the street I suppose.

William Street 9am. Narrow footpath + obstructions = people walk on road

The common theme here

Most of us were born with two feet to walk around.

But those who choose to walk, rather than drive, are constantly marginalised, by poor planning, and poor regulation.

The built environment, and the way some people are allowed to misuse it, actively discourage walking.

And almost nobody cares.

This is despite the numerous benefits to personal health, as well as society at large, from more people walking instead of driving.