CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use

Laurence DragomirApril 3, 20190 min read


It's not everyday I find myself writing about transport-related issues - this is usually the domain of Alastair Taylor - but as Melbourne's population continues to soar it is seriously at risk of becoming a victim of its own success.

Roads are congested, trains and trams are packed along Melbourne's busiest and fastest growing corridors, footpaths in the city and other inner city activity centres are bursting at the seams.

If we're serious about maintaining the liveability of our great city (beyond simply the Global Liveability Index) then it's time we as Melburnians changed our attitudes and dependencies on the motor vehicle.

By 2050 Melbourne's transport system will need to accommodate 10.4 million additional trips as Melbourne's population is projected to cross the 8 million threshold.

New urban renewal precincts at Arden, E-Gate and Fishermans Bend will go some way to providing housing, jobs, schools and open space for our city's growing population but more needs to be done within existing activity centres.

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use

If credit for Melbourne CBD's renaissance of the 90's can be attributed to the creation of its now famous laneway culture, then perhaps the focus of the next decade should be on enabling increased pedestrian and sustainable transport movements around central Melbourne.

This could be achieved through the strategic removal of vehicular traffic and car parking on some (not all) streets - a super-sized version of Melbourne's laneway culture - reclaiming the streets for people and creating meaningful interactions and experiences.

One of the biggest barrier to overcome before greater adoption of cycling is achieved is the perception of safety for cyclists. The City of Melbourne has previously surveyed 366 people as part of its Transport Strategy Refresh, with 39% of respondents claiming they felt current conditions for cyclists were "unsafe and intimidating"

Already we've seen cars removed in central Melbourne to create Bourke Street Mall and parts of Swanston Street have been closed off to traffic to allow for the creation of Copenhagen-style cycling lanes while projects such as Elizabeth Street South, Market Street Park, and Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street will redefine the pedestrian experience in the city.

Last year, I spoke with GoGet's Justin Passaportis and Joshua Brydges about the role car sharing can play in the design of our cities, as well as the potential benefits of autonomous car sharing vehicles to support a strong transport network.

One statistic that stood out during our conversation was that 1 car share vehicle removes the equivalent of 10 private vehicles off our roads. While cities still need to be serviced by a comprehensive, reliable and efficient transport network, car sharing can support and complement this.

We also discussed the fallacy or overstated benefits of the likes of Uber and autonomous vehicles which I think is best summarised by the image below:

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use

Essentially, all of these 'alternatives' are still occupying road space and contributing to congestion (even if in some instances carbon emissions are reduced). These all have a role to play in easing congestion however much more dramatic city shaping change is required.

A key pillar of the State Government's Plan Melbourne vision for guiding Melbourne's growth through to 2050 is the concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood. The 20 minute neighbourhood aims to encourage and provide people with the "ability to meet most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip of their home." 

"Research shows that 20-minutes is the maximum time considered reasonable for pedestrians to travel to meet most of their everyday needs. This represents a pedestrian catchment of 800m3

800m is the measure of a 20-minute neighbourhood.

Plan Melbourne establishes clear direction to create an integrated local transport system that prioritises pedestrian movement in neighbourhoods. While cycling and local public transport provides people with active travel options, these modes do not extend neighbourhoods beyond pedestrian catchments of 800m. Pedestrian infrastructure, connections and streetscape design should be considered during the local planning process with priority given to pedestrians in neighbourhoods, particularly in activity centres."

Plan Melbourne

According to research undertaken by the Heart Foundation (Victoria), a 20-minute neighbourhood must:

  • be safe, accessible and well connected for pedestrians and cyclists to optimise active transport
  • offer high-quality public realm and open spaces
  • provide services and destinations that support local living
  • facilitate access to quality public transport that connects people to jobs and higher-order services
  • deliver housing/population at densities that make local services and transport viable
  • facilitate thriving local economies

For this to be fully embraced as a viable concept, obviously the delivery of much needed infrastructure is crucial and already the State Government and Local Councils are looking at ways to turn this vision a reality.

Below I'll be looking at some of the initiatives either underway or planned with regard to improving the quality and safety of our public realm.

Chapel Street, South Yarra / Prahran / Windsor

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
Chapel Street. Image:

I live in Prahran and don't own a car. I either catch a tram or train, but for the most part I walk to the shops or cycle if I'm travelling within 15km of home. I only catch an Uber if I'm pressed for time and generally as a last resort. 

I (along with many others) cycle down Chapel Street every day and have experienced near misses with car doorings, cars pulling out of parking spots suddenly and unexpectedly or distracted pedestrians stepping out onto the street completely oblivious of their surroundings. 

Chapel Street is a Council controlled local road with a 40 km/h speed limit from Dandenong Road to Toorak Road, while the section of Chapel Street between Toorak Road and Alexandra Avenue is controlled by VicRoads.

It is an extremely constrained street due to its width - 20m along its length with the northern section to approximately 25m - and attempts to balance the needs of a number of road users with very little success. 

As part of its Chapel ReVision 2013-2031 which guides development, land use, movement, public realm/open space, strategic opportunities and economic/social planning and sustainability, The City of Stonnington engaged GTA Consultants to conceive the Transport Strategy.

"It is evident that Chapel Street is intended as a functional road space for all users but due to limitations in size and capacity cannot function appropriately as such. The result is a suboptimal environment for many users where pedestrian footpaths have become overcrowded, parking is scarce, the cycling environment could be improved and trams and vehicles are often delayed by heavy congestion.

Whilst Chapel Street provides a direct north-south cycling route and has cycling lanes and head start boxes well marked-out, safety for cyclists riding along this route is a concern. The existing cycling lanes are inadequate in their current form for the number of cyclists using the route, as well as the conflicts with other modes that occurs along Chapel Street."

- GTA Consultants | Transport Strategy | Chapel reVision Structure Plan 2012-2031

Issues identified by GTA Consultants that create a hazardous environment for cyclists:

  • large volumes of traffic
  • on-street car parking and associated risk of “cardooring”
  •  the number of busy intersections
  • high levels of pedestrian activity on and around Chapel Street

City of Stonnington's Bicycle Parking Report in 2010 identified a shortage of bicycle parking in most strip shopping centres with the greatest demand for short term parking being near cafes, take away food outlets, post offices and convenience stores.

By removing car parking you allow for the creation of dedicated and protected cycling lanes, and you also remove the conflict of cars sharing roadway with trams allowing for a greater frequency of services. The difficulty of doing this on Chapel Street isn't to be understated.

As mentioned earlier, Chapel Street for the most part measures 20m in width which even with the removal of car parking doesn't completely solve the various issues around footpath congestion and safety for cyclists. This is highlighted in the indicative illustrated section below where car parking is removed but footpaths can't be expanded and a two-way protected cycling lane is provided.

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
Chapel Street Remixed.

The question obviously then becomes where do cars park? Parking hub structures, which have the ability to be retrofitted over time as demand is reduced are one possible solution in the short-term. These should be well designed with a 'sleave' of active uses around the perimeter. Not screens with token artistic gestures or planting. In an ideal world these would not be required

As a point of reference, GTA Consultants - as part of its report - recommended the investigation of a dedicated north-south cycling route which would extend alongside the Sandringham rail corridor from Windsor to South Yarra and beyond linking up to the Yarra Trail and which for the most part completely bypassed Chapel Street. 

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
GTA Consultants' indicative future commuter route would bypass Chapel Street. Image: GTA Consultants

Cato Square, Prahran

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
City of Stonnington's Cato Square project is on track for completion this year. Image: Lyons Architects

Just off Chapel Street in Prahran, The City of Stonnington, is developing Cato Square - the $60m transformation of the old Cato Street car park into 10,000 sqm of public realm.This represents a step in the right direction even if the project will still provide over 500 underground car parking spaces ( a 20 per cent increase on the current car park).

According to Council, Cato Square is "one of the largest, most ambitious and exciting construction projects ever delivered in the City of Stonnington" and is on track to be completed later this year.

For the most part, Cato Square along with City of Stonnington's revamp of Greville Street is helping reshape Prahran's streetscape and with a further two stages of the latter to be delivered, the focus is slowly beginning to shift away from the car towards the pedestrian and quality urban environments.

Prior to carrying out the Greville Street upgrade, Council set up temporary activation installations to occupy car parking along Greville Street allowing for the transition to fewer car parking spaces and more public space. 

Acland Street, St Kilda

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
A flexible plaza space has been created by moving the tram terminus. Image: BKK Architects

Changing focus to neighouring City of Port Phillip where the Council has revamped a section of Acland Street in St Kilda by removing car access and parking to create a pedestrian friendly village.

In the face of fierce opposition and resistance - mainly from traders - Council stood firm and pushed ahead with the transformative project designed by BBK Architects and McGregor Coxall. The traders argued that the removal of cars would negatively impact their businesses. So what was the outcome of the transformation?

Well, City of Port Phillip undertook a twelve month post construction evaluation of Acland Street which found:

  • Over 80 per cent of survey respondents showed clear support for the upgrade and believed the plaza had a positive impact on accessibility, safety, amenity, and atmosphere of the area.
  • Pedestrian counts indicate that the works have affected the concentration of pedestrian movement throughout the day, with reduced activity in the mornings and increased activity on weekends, in the weekday afternoons and into the evenings.
  • The Acland Street Village Precinct experienced greater growth in local spending than benchmarked regions. Total spending grew at around $330,000 or 1.5% per month. This compared favourably with the modest upward trend, around 0.2% per month, in the benchmarked regions.

Contrary to the traders unsubstantiated claims that the strip would die a horrible slow death, the opposite has in fact proven to be true.

Acland Street is an excellent example of the potential of our streets to become high quality public spaces when people and not cars are prioritised.

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
City of Melbourne will transform car parking into a new public space by 2026. Image: NH Architecture

Late last month, the City of Melbourne released its revised vision for the Queen Victoria Market Renewal Project based on feedback and recommendations made by the Queen Victoria Market People's Panel.

This was in response to Heritage Victoria's rejection of Council's proposal to dismantle, restore and reinstate the heritage listed sheds and to build underground parking and infrastructure to better service market traders and manage waste.

One of the recommendations which stood out from the People's Panel Report presented to Council last year was Recommendation No.3 which read:

"500 carparks in Munro, plus 500 carparks to be maintained on current carpark, with remaining land to be re-purposed to open space."

After some debate this was revised by Council resolution in December last year to instead read: 

"In addition to the 500 car parks in Munro, investigate an additional 500 car parks in the precinct with the current at grade car park to become an open space once transitional parking there is no longer required."

In its revised proposal developed with NH Architecture, City of Melbourne has proposed the additional 500 car spaces are included in the southern development site which was always earmarked for development in a deal struck between the State Government and Council.

The catch? For the State Government to transfer ownership to City of Melbourne who would then sell the site to a developer (or developers) it would need to deliver a public space on the existing at grade car park by 2026.

Unsurprisingly, this brought out the doomsayers who believe that removal of parking in lieu of much needed open space in the central city would surely see the demise of the Queen Vic (see Acland Street above).

“Without the car park the market will shrink. The market is Melbourne's "old city" she says, "and all cities protect their old cities. Not us.”

- Mary-Lou Howie, Friends of Queen Victoria Market president

This is a completely baseless argument. If we're talking Melbourne's "old city" then it must be acknowledged that when the market was first established in 1867, cars hadn't even been introduced in Melbourne. The removal of cars would be a case of  "Back to the Future" for the grand old market.

I also find it hard to fathom that the Market would shrink when according to The Age, Melbourne is growing at a rapid rate of 327 people per day, and the sheer number of apartments added in the vicinity of the Market precinct (and yet to be added) number in the thousands. These new residents don't need to drive to the market they can simply walk. 

Additionally, the market is well served by public transport via trams and Melbourne Central and Flagstaff Stations which are both within easy walking distance.

The vocal minority's love for the Market isn't in question and never was, they're just ill-informed and misguided. The removal of cars is crucial to creating much needed public open space and a safe precinct for pedestrians which has significant economic benefits to the city as well as the health and well being of its residents.

To the minority I say:

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use

Move to the city. Move next to the market. Or don't. Grow your own veggies. Change your attitudes and behaviours. When forced to people will adapt. We saw it with water restrictions. We see it with shutdowns due to construction works on roads or rail. People adapt. And they need to. For the benefit of everyone.

South Melbourne Market, South Melbourne

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
Could South Melbourne Market take cues from Burwood Brickworks?

Sticking with the theme of markets, it's also time South Melbourne Market had a rethink of their car parking situation. The Market has a real opportunity to be a global exemplar of what the Market of the 21st Century looks like, but in order to achieve this it must first become less reliant on car parking and create a safer pedestrian precinct.

The precinct is currently dominated by cars with parking along York, Cecil and Dorcas Streets and an at grade car park on the corner of York Street adjacent to the light rail corridor. This car park would be better served as a public park with exposure to solar access to the north and south. 

Cecil Street adjacent to the Market could be converted into a full time pedestrian plaza. York Street's footpaths could be expanded with the removal of angled parking and provision of only taxi and uber pick-up and drop-off and of course accessible parking for the mobility impaired.

The market has already had a bit of a face lift in recent years with Paul Morgan Architects designing a new roof back in 2013 which covers the entire 7,865 sqm roof top which currently has capacity for 275 cars. But it needs to go further.

The level one car park above the market has the potential to be converted into to an urban farm/greenhouse where crops and produce are grown and then sold at the market below. Why is this important? Well for one the global demand for agricultural production is predicted to rise 70% by the year 2050 so making use of existing space in urban centres becomes crucial.

This also has a flow on effect to carbon emissions produced by the freight of produce to the market. If this can be reduced you effectively kill two birds with one stone.

South Melbourne Market could take a cue for its upper deck from the Burwood Brickworks Shopping Centre's upper level. As reported on earlier in the week, Burwood Brickworks will include an urban farm feature beehives, a chicken coop, worm farms, composting facilities, vertical planting and hydroponic growing, and garden beds using Rooflite technology.

We've also seen as part of The District Dockland's Market Lane development the conversion of ground and first floor levels into a market but I believe there's also opportunity there to better utilise the top deck of the car park. A few summers ago this was used as an outdoor drive in cinema.

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
Market Lane currently under construction at The District. Images: Ashe Morgan | redden

This could again be the perfect location for an urban farm to serve the wider precinct.

City of Melbourne Transport Strategy Refresh

City of Melbourne's Draft Transport Strategy Refresh was released almost twelve months ago in the form of a series of discussion papers which focused on eight different themes:

  1. Walking
  2. City Space
  3. Public transport
  4. Emerging technology
  5. Cycling
  6. Car Parking
  7. Motor Vehicles
  8. Transport Pricing

These were supported by evidence, benchmarking/best practice from other cities, options and ideas. (You can read's initial article here.)

"Melbourne’s central city is congested. Footpaths are overcrowded while trams and buses are stuck in traffic. Driverless cars could increase the number of car trips significantly, making congestion worse. With a population growing from 4.5 million people today to 8 million by 2051, there will be more trips on all forms of transport and we will need more space on our streets for people. Increased congestion could erode what is great about Melbourne.

Melbourne’s economic success is vital to all Victorians and Australians. Road congestion costs Melbourne $4.6 billion per year, growing to $10 billion by 2030. Poorly-functioning public transport and congested roads undermine the city’s international reputation, liveability and economic prosperity.

....the growth in jobs and population mean that our footpaths are becoming overcrowded. To improve conditions for pedestrians, a faster and bolder approach to changing the way space is used in the city will be required over the next 30 years. This will include reducing on-street car parking and removing lanes for private vehicle use as the city grows."

- City of Melbourne

In response to the aspirations of the discussion papers I penned an article in April of last year, which I won't repeat myself on too much but in short, was a look at applying Barcelona's "Superblock" strategy to the streets of Melbourne's CBD with a slight twist; closure of streets to cars would occur predominantly occur adjacent to Flinders Street, Southern Cross, Melbourne Central and Parliament.

This sought to deal with the issue of overcrowding of footpaths which occurs during morning and afternoon peaks, and in the case of Southern Cross during events at Marvel Stadium. By closing these sections of street to traffic and handing them over to pedestrians not only do you create safer walking environments but you also provide the ability for efficient and safe interchange between modes of transport.

CAR WARS: To maintain its liveability Melbourne needs to change its attitude towards car use
Melbourne superblocks.

Moreland City Council's Integrated Transport Strategy 

Not to be outdone, Moreland City Council last month endorsed and adopted the Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS) and Parking Implementation Plan 2019.

With Moreland’s population projected to grow by 43,000 people and 18,000 households by 2036, the adopted Transport Strategy addresses the impact population growth will have on liveability in terms of increased traffic and congestion, through achieving a shift towards walking, cycling and public transport use.

"We need to have less cars in the city. And if we keep building car parks we will see more cars."

- Natalie Abboud, Moreland City Council Mayor 

Developed following three phases of community consultation held in 2017 and 2018, MITS 2019 is part of Future Moreland, Council’s vision to address population growth’s impact on the community and the city.

The strategy outlines a plan to deliver:

  • A 10-year capital works plan to develop and deliver sustainable transport infrastructure to give greater priority to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
  • Advocacy to state government to improve public transport frequency, reliability and accessibility.
  • Safer, quieter streets through:
  • The continued implementation of 40km/hour speed limits on all local streets
  • Reduced speed limits on arterial roads near places like schools, hospitals and activity centres
  • A 12-month trial of 30km/hour speed limits in two select areas in south Moreland
  • Closure of some local roads to through traffic, while continuing access for pedestrians, cyclists and local traffic.

On top of that Moreland pledges to dump the requirement for new apartments to include car parking which has already raised eyebrows in the media.

For any of this to be realised, projects such as the currently under construction Melbourne Metro Tunnel, the long-awaited Melbourne Airport Link which forms part of the Suburban Rail Loop and (fingers crossed) the early delivery of Melbourne Metro 2 connecting Newport to Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend and Southern Cross Station are crucial to providing Melburnians with alternatives to car use.

If Melbourne is to maintain its liveability we must change our attitudes towards cars and our dependence on them. tl;dr

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.
Urban Design
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