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.

Post delivery by tram

For some time – since well before the introduction of the Free Tram Zone – I’ve seen uniformed Australia Post employees with small delivery carts on board trams in central Melbourne.

Post by tram

At first I wondered if this was a good use of space on a tram, given how crowded they can get.

But I think it’s arguable that it’s Australia Post being smart about moving (at least some) letters and parcels around a busy urban environment, quickly and cheaply and without taking up the road space that the usual van fleet would take.

Similarly, long distance travellers with wheeled luggage often seem more inclined to use public transport than catch a taxi — Gordon Price described this as “the only significant new mode of transportation to develop so far this century.”

(Note: I’ve seen Post employees stand back and wait for a less crowded tram, rather than trying to squeeze on with a cart, so it’s not like they’re being totally unreasonable about it.)

Now it turns out Amazon is doing something similar in New York City on the subway.

Once upon a time many cities had freight trams. Perhaps this is the 21st century version of that.

And perhaps it’s yet more evidence that the wheels of commerce can adapt to not requiring motor vehicles to survive and thrive.

Post delivery by tram

Corrs Lane, Melbourne’s narrowest public laneway?

Corrs lane is a handy shortcut between Little Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street, just east of Russell Street.

At the northern (Lonsdale Street) end, it’s so narrow that you could easily walk past it without noticing. It’s all a bit… I dunno, Platform 9 3/4.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne - at Lonsdale Street

I noticed yesterday snapping pics that there seems to be one property entrance in this narrow section, which still gets mail deliveries.

It’s narrow enough that two pedestrians can just pass each other. If a wheelchair user squeezed in, you’d have problems getting past.

Is it the narrowest laneway in the CBD? I don’t know… anybody know?

Corrs Lane, Melbourne - at Lonsdale Street

After a little way, the lane soon widens out to a more standard width, with various Chinatown restaurants prominent.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne

It was one of these restaurants (since disappeared/changed hands from the looks of it) which a group of us, all of whom worked at various places in Lonsdale Street, used to eat at regularly around the turn of the century. Partly based on its small size, and partly based on the tiny lane to get there, Josh dubbed it “The hole in the wall”, though I’m sure it had a real name.*

At the time the lane had no markings at the northern end, and in fact I totally failed to direct someone to the restaurant by phone once, as I couldn’t remember where he needed to look to find the lane.

At the southern end, it seems extra wide thanks to the presence of one of the last single level car-parks in Melbourne’s CBD, with some bonus Melbourne street art to brighten the place up.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne

I had a quick search around, and couldn’t figure out what or who Corrs Lane is named after, but couldn’t find anything — it’s not in this excellent list of names from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Maybe better researchers than I will have more luck.

*Some of us might remember that the term “hole in the wall” was once used to describe ATMs (automatic teller machines) when they were first introduced.

Traffic light programming is why your CBD tram trip is start, stop, start

It’s not uncommon to see trams stopped at traffic lights along Bourke Street, sometimes in queues, at locations where there is no stop.

If you’ve wondered why your tram journey is start-stop, it won’t surprise you to learn that the lights are all over the place.

Tram westbound on Bourke Street, waiting at Queen Street

With the handy-dandy stopwatch function on my mobile phone, I timed the lights along the central and western section of Bourke Street.

Bourke 30 / Swanston 30 = 60 second cycle

Bourke 35 / Elizabeth 35 = 70

Bourke 47 / Pedestrian crossing near Hardware Lane 23 = 70

Bourke 40 / Queen 50 = 90

Bourke 30 / William 60 = 90

Bourke 30 / King 70 = 100

No wonder trams have to stop continually at lights!

Trams on Bourke Street

Along Bourke Street, and other CBD tram streets, there are numerous improvements that could be made…

Shorter cycles — There are obviously competing demands on the various streets. Because of large numbers of pedestrians, you can’t necessarily have pre-emptive traffic lights that detect trams coming and switch instantly to give them the green. But you could certainly reduce the cycle times. Judging from existing timings, even with our wide streets, it could be as little as 30 seconds each way, or a cycle every 60 seconds. This would greatly cut down waiting times for trams and walkers and everybody else for that matter — but you’d need to check the 15ish seconds Green Man time is enough to get waiting pedestrians off the kerb.

The King Street intersection is particularly bad, giving most of its time to cars — despite Vicroads data showing traffic on all segments of King Street between Flinders and Latrobe Street dropping between 2001 and 2011, and despite that policy should not be to prioritise cars in and through the CBD.

But William Street is almost as bad, despite having much fewer trams than Bourke Street (typically 5 per hour on route 55 vs about 15 per hour on routes 86 and 96 combined).

To help tram drivers know when to depart, for the spots where traffic lights are distant from the tram stops, they should get these lights working — they’re meant to indicate when the best time is to take off. It doesn’t necessarily result in a quicker trip for the tram, but it may allow the driver to wait for passengers who might otherwise miss the tram, while knowing the tram isn’t about to miss a green light.

That’s the theory, but they never seem to actually operate.

Tram stop, Bourke Street at Spencer Street

Co-ordinated cycles — For where there are multiple intersections which are between tram stops, whether or not they are short cycles or long, they should at least be co-ordinated. In this section the important ones are the intersections at Elizabeth and Queen Streets, as well as the pedestrian light in the middle. A tram leaving the Elizabeth Street stop westbound, and not delayed by anything else, should never get a red light before the next stop — and vice versa.

Obviously you’d need to work out the best cycles for the intersecting streets as well — for trams on Elizabeth Street and buses on Queen Street. But how hard could it be?

With the recent movement of tram stops, there are now similar blocks of traffic lights between stops along Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street.

Traffic light programming isn’t the only cause of tram delays of course.

But if moving people quickly and efficiently around the CBD is a priority — and it should be — these issues need to be addressed.

  • A PTUA study found up to 30% of tram travel time is spent wasted waiting at red lights

You shall not pass

I know it’s been around for a while, but I was quite struck the other day by these traffic lights on the corner of La Trobe and Swanston Streets, facing southbound traffic coming down Swanston.

The left and right arrows are for motor vehicles (which can go left or right, but not straight ahead). The middle two are for cyclists (which have their own “Copenhagen”-style lanes) and trams. They go when all vehicles are stopped (which is also when pedestrians cross La Trobe Street north-to-south).

Traffic lights, corner Latrobe and Swanston Streets, Melbourne

I wonder if these are a little bewildering to novice drivers, having all the lights in a bunch like this? Finding and obeying the individual light(s) that apply to you would be a good challenge for learner drivers (and you’d hope the rest of us can get it).

Any good examples of other complex sets of lights, including in other cities?