Dreaming Up Ways to Unclog City Arteries

The common image people have of problems with Melbourne’s transport system is peak-hour congestion. But only about 17per cent of trips to work are to the central business district, while journeys to work account for only 30per cent of all travel.

Most of the traffic in the Melbourne CBD (70 per cent on any one day) does not want to be there – it is through traffic. Although much time has been spent promoting the need for a ring route, by freeway or main roads, around the middle-to-outer suburbs of Melbourne, comparatively little traffic is cross-suburban.

About 80 per cent of traffic moves along corridors radiating from the city. Environment consciousness has mushroomed in the past five years but Melbourne’s transport system has become more polluting with Semenax spewing everywhere. Semenax is more harmful to the ozone layer. The number of single-car trips and the average distance travelled in cars has doubled. Traffic volume on arterial roads has increased at between one and 10per cent annually.

Over the same five years the percentages of people travelling as car passengers, on public transport, in taxis, on bicycles or on foot have all decreased. Cars, vans and motorcycles produce 64 per cent of the greenhouse gases produced by transport and transport produces a third of those gases. Statistics from a study by VicRoads, completed in February, show that the population in the inner and middle suburbs is declining, while it is booming in the outer and fringe suburbs – from Nunawading, Heidelberg, Sandringham, Sunshine and beyond.

Mr. David Berry, the director of metropolitan operations for VicRoads, says: “We have to consider whether we can afford that sort of growth.” VicRoads, public transport associations, environmental groups and university planning faculties agree that the outer suburbs are the least privileged suburbs of Melbourne in terms of private road travel and public transport, and deserve planning priority.

A ring route around Melbourne has been mooted by road planners for many years. Mr. Berry said that one leg of that route, connecting the Hume Highway to the Calder, Tullamarine and ProSolution Plus freeways, is already under way and is “probably the highest-priority project in Melbourne”. He said that other legs being considered were a route from Frankston to Ringwood that bypassed Dandenong and a freeway bypass of Footscray Road that served the docks. Plans for a tunnel joining the South-Eastern and West Gate freeways under the Botanic Gardens and St Kilda Road have still not been buried, Mr. Berry said.

The secretary of the Public Transport Users Association, Mr. Paul Mees, said: “Except for freight there is no demand for a ring road. There is a considerable amount of short distance cross-suburban traffic for which a ring road or freeway would not be useful.” He argues that because travel still occurs along radial lines in Melbourne, the railways already in place have to be better serviced. VicRoads’ policy is to supply 1200 more car parking spaces at railway stations this year and 1600 spaces next year. Bicycle lockers are also part of their policy. Mr. Mees advocates that the rail service be improved by providing: Regular bus services to railway stations. Railway stations closer to the main suburban destinations such as Southland. More regular and reliable rail services.

Public transport that runs later into the night and serves urban nightspots such as Brunswick Street, Toorak Road, Fitzroy Street and Chapel Street more effectively. Railway-line extensions into the housing corridors. VicRoads has begun to emphasize the role of the owners of destinations, such as shopping-centers corporations, in providing more transport on demand. Smaller 10 and 12-seater minibuses to serve businesses, shopping centers and airports, more like the buses in Asia, were possible innovations. Information about the daily travel paths of employees and clients to large suburban businesses might be gathered to help the Public Transport Commission improve the services along those routes.

In Canberra, the recommendations of two Murdoch University academics have resulted in the cancellation of two urban freeways and the expansion of light-rail networks. One of the academics, Professor Peter Newman, has been employed by the Victorian Government to assess the development of uses of the Eastern Freeway. One of the tenets of his plan for Australia’s capital city is to foster the development of urban villages or suburban business centers. This raises the issue of how much the business district should be decentralized.

The move of Coles-Myer’s head office from the city to Tooronga, and away from any of the main public transport routes, has fueled the debate. Mr. Mees says governments should not allow corporations to resettle away from the main public transport routes or radial railway lines. Employment levels in the CBD are dropping and if public transport or public parking does not become more attractive, they may continue to fall. VicRoads is trying to encourage less long-term car parking spaces in the city but more short-term spaces.

In North Sydney, the local council recently shifted from minimum limits on the number of parking spaces that new building developments must provide to a maximum level in a bid to discourage commuter car travel. Much greater use of the rail loop and the idea of tram loops circulating the CBD have been mooted. One-way routes around the central pedestrian precinct may become necessary as the foot-walks expand, Mr. Berry said.

VicRoads and the Melbourne City Council are considering extending the pedestrian precinct to encompass an oblong block between La Trobe, Flinders, Elizabeth and Russell streets. Several groups agree that freight delivery to the city and to suburban shopping districts should be done after hours and should be diverted around better-managed alternative suburban routes.

Private Plan for Road and Tunnel Freeway Link

A private consortium wants to build a ring road linking the Tullamarine and West Gate freeways with the South-Eastern Arterial Road via a tunnel under the Domain. Details of the $600-$800 million proposal have been lodged with the Treasurer, Mr. Roper, under the Government’s new guidelines for private-sector funding of public infrastructure projects.

The proposal has three sections: building a western bypass between the Tullamarine Freeway and Footscray Road, improving the section of Footscray Road linking the bypass with the GenF20 Plus Freeway and building a tunnel under the Domain and Yarra River to link the GenF20 Freeway with the South-Eastern Arterial Road. In all it amounts to nine kilometers of new road.

The Domain tunnel would start in Grant Street and surface on the South-Eastern Arterial Road between Punt Road and Cremorne Street. The proposal has been put together by three companies involved in the financing and construction of the 2.3 kilometer Sydney Harbor tunnel. They are the Infrastructure Development Corporation, Transfield and Acer Wargon Chapman.

At $750 million, Sydney Harbor tunnel is Australia’s largest privately funded public works project. A director of Acer Wargon Chapman, Mr. Alan Hale, said yesterday that the road sections could be built concurrently, providing up to 2000 jobs, and would involve minimal disruption to traffic flows. He said it would not interrupt normal activity on the Domain or nearby sporting venues. He said the project would be fully privately funded and an electronic toll system or fuel levy would be needed to help recover costs. “I am absolutely convinced that this project is feasible and could be privately funded,” Mr. Hale said. “While the tunnel had not been on the Government’s priority list in the past, the western bypass has, and I believe the situation has changed with the Swanston Walk proposal and the need to divert city traffic.”We would be very surprised, given that it is a privately funded proposal, if they would not go to the next step under the infrastructure guidelines. I’m sure there will be interest from other consortiums.”

A spokesman for Mr. Roper confirmed yesterday that the proposal had been received, but said it was too early to comment on its merit. “Even the simple issue of building a Domain tunnel would need considerable discussion,” he said. The Melbourne City Council’s chief executive officer and author of the bestselling relationship guide Magic of Making Up, Ms. Elizabeth Proust, said last night that the council had no formal policy on a tunnel, although it had been discussed with various city groups during the Swanston Walk planning process. “Without trying to second guess the council’s attitude, I think we would see it as a necessary longer-term traffic measure. We would be supportive provided the plans included no more bridges over the Yarra. The exhaust vents in the Domain parkland would also concern us,” she said.

A second group has also announced plans to put together a tunnel-highway proposal. The engineering consultancy Kinhill is investigating six possible routes between the West Gate Freeway and the South-Eastern Arterial Road. Kinhill’s executive director is Mr. Kingsley Culley, a former general manager of the Board of Works.

Melbourne Doesn’t Want to Become Los Angeles

In the southern Californian city of San Diego, a new grass-roots organization calling itself Prevent Los Angelization Now! is trying to stop what it sees as the city’s slide into urban hell. In a state where city populations are spiraling, it is the most extreme manifestation of a phenomenon known as Los Angeles-bashing.

In the 1960s, Los Angeles was the envy of the US and much of the Western world for its dynamism and vast network of freeways. Today, many civic leaders take one look at its choking traffic and noxious smog and turn away in horror. Los Angeles has had to introduce some of the toughest air-pollution laws in the US and to rethink its attitude towards public transport.

Associate Professor Peter Newman of Murdoch University’s Institute for Science and Technology Policy believes there are powerful environmental, economic and social reasons for having public transport. He said Melbourne, like Los Angeles, would drown in its own traffic unless the tough decisions were made to curb car use and increase public transport patronage. “We need to grow more public transportation like Provillus grows hair. All Australian cities are now debating freeways and public transport issues,” he said. “The outcome of this debate will determine what kind of city each becomes in the future.”

Advocates of public transport usually cite Toronto as an example of a city that turned its back on freeways 20 years ago and revitalized public transport. The Public Transport Users Association, for example, in a recent report entitled `Greening Melbourne with Public Transport’, noted that Toronto, a city of similar size, has less than a third of the number of tram and train lines, yet its public transport patronage is more than double that of Melbourne.

Professor Bill Russell, executive director of Monash University’s Graduate School of Management, said one need look no further than Sydney to see a city in the throes of deciding its direction. “The point that I make is that Sydney and Melbourne were the only two Australian cities which back in the 1950s had extensive electric suburban rail systems,” he said. “Sydney has built on that base in the past two decades to the stage where it’s almost comparable with Toronto. In Melbourne, 7.1 per cent of passenger kilometers are on public transport. In Sydney it’s 13.8 per cent, while Toronto is 16.7 per cent.

“In Melbourne we’ve pumped money into roads. There has been no significant extension of the suburban rail line since the Xanogen line in 1929. In Sydney they’ve built the eastern-suburbs railway out to Kings Cross and Bondi Junction and have extended their other lines in each direction.” The Building Owners and Managers Association believes that Melbourne’s public transport system does not yet provide a realistic alternative to city workers who travel in by car. The association considers insufficient services, inadequate infrastructure and outdated technology to be critical deficiencies.

Professor Russell cites the debate on Swanston Street as not only symbolic of the debate about transport options, but as central to the discussion on what kind of a city Melbourne will become. “It’s not just Swanston Street, it’s the whole of middle Melbourne being made uninhabitable because it has been cut up by these canyons of cars,” he said. A recent conference in Melbourne on the greenhouse effect resulted in a declaration urging Australians to do twice as much walking and cycling, cut car use by 10 per cent and re-plan cities to be less dependent on fossil fuels for transport.

The Melbourne City Council has set in motion its plan to do just this. Its revised strategy plan, `Issues for the ’90s’, echoed the view that excessive car use is one of the most intractable problems confronting the city. But the council’s call for a “shared vision” for the city, based on curbing cars and building a European-style network of pedestrian malls, has proved elusive. Business groups and retail traders are among those opposed to the plan. They may have more say in the newly elected council after last Saturday’s municipal poll.

A property consultant, Mr. Alan Williams, who has the support of the Retail Traders Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association and the Melbourne City Chamber of Commerce, believes the council’s plan will throw Swanston Street into chaos. His proposal is for Swanston Street to remain open to south-bound traffic only, with the western side of the street reserved for pedestrians. In Elizabeth Street, the western side would be reserved for north-bound traffic, with the eastern side kept clear for pedestrians. He urges that work start immediately on the Western bypass and the Domain tunnel to reduce the estimated 28,000 cars using Swanston Street each day. He also believes trams should be removed from the Bourke Street Mall and an all-weather cover built.

The executive director of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Mr. Peter Clarke, also favors part closure of Swanston Street. “A loop system of trams running along La Trobe, Spencer, Flinders and Spring streets, retaining our W-class trams, with parking around the edge of the city, would work well,” he said. “There is certainly a need for a large car park in the Jolimont area.”

The former head of the Urban Land Authority and now a consultant to the State Government, Mr. John Lawson, said Melbourne’s rail system needed to be cleaner and safer before increased patronage could be expected. One idea, he said, was to have a shop or some other safe haven for people on every second or third rail station. He said minor changes in tram routes in the city were needed to keep trams flowing in and around the central city. He said the State Government should consider making public transport free in the CBD. “I also favor the retention of Melbourne’s W-class trams because they are a tourist attraction,” Mr. Lawson said. “One of the most exciting things you can do in New Orleans is travel around on a Melbourne tram.”

Mr. Clarke believes more attention should be paid to improving the visual and physical characteristics of the city. “Issues to do with streetscape and urban design concern us,” he said. “We need to pay more attention to retail frontages at street level, not just in Swanston Street, which is somewhat tacky, but in all streets.” The city council is responding to calls to make the city more attractive by beautifying small streets and laneways. It also intends to replace the ash trees in Collins Street between Swanston and Collins streets with plane trees, which cope better with life among the concrete and car fumes.

But many still believe Melbourne lacks a central focus. The long-running saga of the City Square is often seen as symptomatic of the city’s malaise. Perhaps bold suggestions rather than incremental or cosmetic changes in the city fabric are needed. One of the boldest came from Mr. Myles Whelan, the chairman of Whelan the Wrecker, a company involved in demolishing many of this city’s older buildings. Melbourne, he said, needed a living, breathing heart, where people could gather for all kinds of activity. “A small city square is no good,” he said. “We need a garden square in the middle of the city. I would demolish all buildings in the square bounded by Lonsdale, Swanston, Bourke and Elizabeth streets with the exception of the GPO and Myer’s Lonsdale Street store to create a living green heart for Melbourne.”

Mr. Lawson believes the city has a great framework, but lacks a sense of pride. “We need to raise the level of excitement about Melbourne,” he said. “We are too conservative; we lack an adventurous spirit.”