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 exhaust fumes spewing everywhere. These fumes are 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 Hastings 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.