Four minutes? Impossible!

I can’t help noticing that when traffic is relatively light, this sign on Kings Way always it’s 4 minutes to Williamstown Road.

4 minutes to Williamstown Road

This seems as optimistically unlikely as those old Citylink travel time promises. Google Maps reckons it’s 7.7 kilometres, and estimates a travel time without traffic of 6 minutes.

The speed limit along the freeway and over the Westgate bridge is 80 km/h, which by my calculations makes it just under 6 minutes if you were able to consistently do the speed limit for the whole distance. To do it in 4 minutes you’d need to be zooming along at about 115 km/h.

The estimate to get to the Western Ring Road seems a little more accurate.

Of course the very reason these signs are needed is because travel times on the roads can vary widely. In peak hour they are crowded and slow… in a city the size of Melbourne, this is inevitable, because it’s simply not efficient to move people in ones and twos in their cars.

Vicroads figures just released show that traffic continues to get slower… and that’s despite a multitude of motorways having been built, extended or widened over the last decade. This graphic from the PTUA:

Despite billions spent on roads, traffic is still getting slower.

In a big city I contend that it’s probably not possible to fix road congestion. But is it possible to reduce overall average travel times for everyone (not just motorists)?

Well yes it is. Vancouver’s managing to do it. How? By not building motorways, but upgrading public transport instead. The more people are off the road, the better.

Photos: the loveliness of elevated roadways

It’s easy when looking at aerial pictures to see the vast amounts of land taken up by freeway interchanges.

South Melbourne freeway interchange (Google Maps)
(Pic: Google Maps)

What is sometimes forgotten is the impact at ground level from elevated roadways. Here are some snaps from around South Melbourne — which of course being inner-city, has some of the most valuable land in the country.

I suppose there’s a certain grace to the roadway structures themselves, but underneath it’s certainly not pretty.

Car park below Westgate Freeway

Tram line below Westgate Freeway

Beside the Westgate Freeway

Tram stop below Kings Way

It really does seem that the only use for the land underneath roadways is parking — mostly for cars, but some for trucks/hire companies.

Car park below Westgate Freeway

Car park below Westgate Freeway

I only saw one exception: McDonalds seemed to be the only other business willing to be located underneath the freeway.

McDonalds below Westgate Freeway

Of course, elevated railway bridges also have an impact at ground level. But the carrying capacity for the space taken is much higher with rail, and “interchanges” (eg stations) don’t have the huge footprint, as humans alighting trains don’t need the big turning circles found on freeway interchanges.

East West Link

It’s important to note that while some is proposed to be tunnels, a big aspect of East West Link is elevated roadways. Both the western and eastern sections will involve new elevated sections. The Clifton Hill interchange will involve connections up high above the railway line, and the interchange from the eastern section to Citylink includes elevated roads — infamously surrounding the newly built Evo apartments, as well as from a tunnel portal in the middle of Royal Park. The new elevated sections won’t be just at the interchange itself, but also providing an expansion of lanes along the existing Citylink in both directions — north and south.

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

That is, of course, if it’s ever built.

I’m told that the expansion will take the northern end of Citylink near Bell Street up to a total of fourteen lanes. Maybe one day we’ll stop pretending that motorways are an efficient form of transport for big cities.

Yesterday’s Monash closure showed why a “backup for the Westgate” won’t work

Yesterday’s closure of the Monash Freeway outbound at Warrigal Road due to an accident shows one reason why the “second river crossing“/”backup for the Westgate” idea wouldn’t work.

The Monash Freeway is 4 lanes for most of its length.

So is Dandenong Road (aka the Princes Highway), which runs more-or-less parallel to it, and was recommended as an alternate route:

[VicRoads spokeswoman Sally Pickering] urged drivers to avoid the Monash Freeway. “Try the Princes Highway,” she said.

Here’s how Dandenong Road and other nearby roads coped:

Monash freeway outbound closure 20/2/2013, at 5pm as seen in Google Maps
(Source: Google Maps — red and black are slow.)

The backup route idea only works if you keep the backup closed until the primary route is shut.

Otherwise, those routes have their own traffic. Dandenong Road does; thus it struggled last night with the extra load.

Leaving aside for the moment that the proposal is too far north to be an alternative route for most, so too an east-west “Westgate alternative” would have its own traffic.

Mind you, it would still most likely not be economically viable. The construction cost, especially for tunnels, seems to have made toll roads so impossibly expensive they can’t make their money back. In the past few years, no less than four Australian toll road operators have gone bust — those running Brisbane’s Clem7, Sydney’s Lane Cove tunnel, Sydney’s Cross-City tunnel, and this week Brisbane Airport Link.

The only way the east-west motorway would get built would be to be propped-up by taxpayers (like the just-opened PeninsulaLink)… sucking up to $10 billion or more out of the budget, and away from upgrades to more sustainable modes including public transport.

A far better, cheaper, more efficient, more sustainable “backup for the Westgate” is to provide more frequent, more reliable public transport links — including the trunk high-capacity heavy rail network, but also including high-frequency feeder and local buses with traffic priority — so that as many people as possible have a genuine time-competitive choice and can get out of their cars and be off the roads altogether.

For those who don’t necessarily need to be in cars, public transport can easily move more people than motorways — it only takes about 7-8 trains per hour to shift the equivalent number of people to a four-lane road. With numerous other roads to/from the west, which can take the traffic that has to be in vehicles, there’s simply no need for an economically shaky multi-billion dollar east-west motorway tunnel through Carlton.

Ultimately, the best way of fighting traffic is to get people off the roads.


Please note that I’m away for a couple of days, and may not be able to approve comments that fall into the moderation queue while away.

Caught in trafficI don’t drive as much as many people, but one trip I do regularly is from my place to Marita’s (in Footscray), generally with a big box of fruit+veg from her favourite green grocer in Ripponlea.

There are two principal ways of doing it, to avoid the CBD:

When I’m in a hurry and/or don’t mind paying the toll: Kingsway, Westgate Freeway, Bolte Bridge, Footscray Road.

When I’m not in a hurry and wish to save the toll: Kingsway, Westgate Freeway, Montague Street, Wurundjeri Way, Footscray Road.

The toll is $2.15. Not a huge amount, admittedly. But then, it’s not a huge time-saving, either. And sometimes I like to check out the state of the Wheel or see if Melbourne’s fascination with Costco is still leading to queues into the carpark.

Not to mention the “spot the people who get into the left-hand lane for Aurora Lane and then try to sneak back out again” game.

As of this Sunday, the toll-free route will vanish:

New westbound entry-ramp at Kings Way for drivers heading to the West Gate Bridge, Bolte Bridge or Todd Road (please note drivers will no longer be able to get on at Kings Way and get off at Montague Street)
West Gate Freeway – major traffic changes October 2009


I suppose I could go via South Melbourne to get to Montague Street, or via King Street, but I’d rather not clog up South Melbourne or the CBD with my car — nor get caught in traffic. Or I could go all the way over the Westgate then up to Footscray. But I suspect I’ll just end up paying the toll.

Which is not to say I’m against road tolls for the purposes of reducing demand or getting cars off city streets, but this may have the opposite effect. And while I know my taxes and rego etc don’t pay for the cost of roads, this could be seen as a massive $1.4 billion tax-payer funded subsidy to Citylink.

Oh, and thank you too to the government for failing to fund more frequent train services so that this kind of cross-town trip could be done without the current 20-30 wait between trains on weekends.