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.
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.
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:
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.