M1 blocked, sky falls in

M1 blockage, picture from HeraldSun.com.auWhile I realise the shutdown of the M1 eastbound on Tuesday was probably misery for those caught up in it, the lengthy article on it in yesterday’s Age I think vastly overstates the impact. The article basically has the road lobby saying that the whole thing doesn’t work (and the $1.4 billion of improvements won’t last long) and so therefore we should build another one.

Because apparently the solution to something that doesn’t work is to have two of them.

”I have consistently said we can’t into the medium and longer term continue our reliance on the M1. It is an unsustainable reliance,” he [Roads Minister Tim Pallas] said yesterday.

I think it would be more accurate to say that we can’t continue to have thousands upon thousands of individuals each driving alone in a car for long distances around Melbourne. It’s in no way an efficient method of doing things. And they’ll continue to do so until they’re given a time-competitive alternative.

While the government quietly starts building the new road tunnel (claimed to be for freight to the port, but their own artwork gives away that it’s really for city access) and tentatively starts early work on the rail tunnel, they’re neglecting basic public transport service frequency improvements (such as linking two rail lines through the CBD to provide a cross-city route, and boosting frequencies across Melbourne) that would get cars off the road more quickly and cheaper.

Up to 160,000 vehicles a day use the road

“…when that corridor is closed it doesn’t just impact people travelling on that road, it shuts down Melbourne.” [Peter Daly, RACV]

Both of these can’t be true at the same time.

160,000 vehicles is a tiny proportion of the vehicles in Melbourne.

And how many were actually affected by this incident? Well, if the road is 3-4 lanes in that section, and freeway capacity is 2000 vehicles per hour, and freeway AM peak vehicle occupancy is 1.13, and it was three hours, that’s a maximum of 21,000 vehicles, or 23,730 people. (Someone will point out of my maths is flawed, I hope.)

Which is a lot, but it’s also less then a medium-sized football crowd, and it is plainly not true that it impacts the whole city.

While I’m sure the talkback lines at 3AW were overheating, myself and many others were completely oblivious to it. Central Melbourne was unaffected. It didn’t affect the trains (which bring the majority of people into the city centre). It didn’t affect road traffic on most other routes around Melbourne.

The State Government is spending $1.4 billion upgrading the vital transport link with extra lanes and ramps, but even Pallas admits there is only so much ”sweating the asset” can achieve.

Ah yes, the M1 upgrade which was going to cost a mere billion, and then blew-out by 40%. So now they’re saying that even that huge expense to taxpayers will provide limited benefits.

Even the RACV admitted this last year:

… the RACV dismissed the upgrade as a quick-fix.

“Its life of providing relief is probably only going to last five to 10 years,” public policy general manager Brian Negus said.

“Traffic on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge slows under heavy load”, Herald Sun, 18/2/2008

In the context they said that, they were asking for yet another freeway to be built, but it appears to be admission that it’s pointless to add road capacity — it attracts more vehicles and fills up again. It’s not like building that capacity on a separate road will magically prevent it filling.

Unless of course they build it, but keep it closed until there’s a blockage elsewhere.

Thankfully in yesterday’s article, Graham Currie of Monash University was there to counter the rev heads:

Ironically, according to Currie, the Government’s massive upgrade of the M1 will not help travel times in the long run because the improved road will be an incentive for more vehicles.

Spot on. Just like, in fact, the previous improvement (known as Citylink) was meant to speed things up, but didn’t.

Trip 1: Oakleigh to the City
Route Travel time
Current [1999] 38 minutes
Future 13 minutes
Save 25 minutes

Trip 2: Gladstone Park to MCG
Route Travel time
Current 46 minutes
Future 26 minutes
Save 20 minutes

Trip 3: Dandenong to Melbourne Airport
Route Travel time
Current 87 minutes
Future 39 minutes
Save 48 minutes

— RACV morning peak predictions for Citylink, then under construction, published in The Age 27/5/1999

Ask a regular motorist if they can drive from Dandenong to the Airport in 39 minutes in peak hour today and they’ll laugh their heads off.

As I post this, about 8am, the VicRoads web site is estimating around 58 minutes for the trip. (Monash inbound 40 + Citylink Western Link outbound 9 + Tullamarine outbound 9). Admittedly there are roadworks going on, but still! And it’s not even the very peak of the peak yet.

It might have been 39 minutes on day one of opening, or perhaps if only those motorists using the road pre-upgrade had been allowed to use it afterwards. But that’s not how things work. New trips are attracted, and it clogs up again.

And I come back to my point: the best way to get the M1 running smoothly is to give as many car drivers as possible a fast, frequent public transport alternative.

(Pic: Herald Sun)