The City of Melbourne is looking to accelerate plans for improvements to Elizabeth Street between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane. As part of its actions for 2016-17, Council aims to consult with relevant stakeholders on the Draft Elizabeth Street Strategic Opportunities Plan, in addition to investigating and producing design options for improvements to the southern end of Elizabeth Street.
Despite being one of the most important entry points into the city and the retail core, this section of Elizabeth Street is characterised by poor urban design, an absence of trees, soft and hard landscape and constrained footpaths which results in a compromised pedestrian experience. Additionally the current state of the tram turnaround area and shelters detracts from the visual and historical significance of Flinders Street Station.
Traffic analysis undertaken by Council indicates that there are very low motor vehicle volumes in this section of Elizabeth Street, particularly southbound. According to Council the majority of vehicles which currently travel south on this section of Elizabeth Street can use alternate routes to reach their intended destination.
In contrast, pedestrian volumes are high and growing exponentially, driven in part by growth in public transport patronage.
These numbers suggest that there exists an opportunity for Council to reallocate space currently used for the southbound vehicle carriageway and parking to provide a more generous space for pedestrians on the East side. City of Melbourne is considering a range of design improvement possibilities that extend from street lighting, tree planting, landscaping and furniture placement that need to be considered in line with best practice Safer by Design considerations.
Streetscape improvements in the area are intended to provide a number of benefits to the city including an improved pedestrian experience, improved amenity and presentation of this historically and culturally significant part of Melbourne.
Public Transport Victoria (PTV) is required to replace some tram tracks in the southern end of Elizabeth Street and plans to do this in early 2017. Council officers are working with PTV to better understand the opportunities to take advantage of the track works to improve the surrounding area as a fully coordinated approach.
Council proposes a program of targeted stakeholder consultation to be undertaken from 3 to 31 August 2016. The aim is to understand all the issues pertinent to formulating a design outcome for the area.
Issues are likely to include loading and deliveries, property access, stormwater management, the condition of subsurface infrastructure, bicycle access plus accessible tram boarding and alighting.
The outcomes of the consultation along with a recommendation for the next steps on the project are expected to be presented to the Future Melbourne Committee following the 2016 Council elections. This would include implications for the remainder of Elizabeth Street to inform the Draft Elizabeth Street Strategic Opportunities Plan.
The feedback from stage one will help the City of Melbourne develop achievable design options for Elizabeth Street South which have broad support from key stakeholders. Additionally, it will assist in developing an optimal phase two engagement process into which the wider community can have input.
To assist with these activities, materials explaining the rationale for the project and the existing site conditions will be produced.
The purpose of the stage one engagement is to help share with the community council's intention to proceed with the road discontinuance in addition to:
A report detailing the outcomes of the stage one engagement will be prepared and presented to Future Melbourne Committee in late 2016.
A series of design options will be developed following stage one and the broader community will be engaged to provide feedback on these in early 2017. This will provide input to assist with the finalisation of the new streetscape design for Elizabeth Street South.
This isn't the first time someone has suggested improvements to this section of Elizabeth Street. Gilbert Rochecouste, founder and managing director of Village Well, and widely recognised as the man who turned Melbourne's neglected and decrepit laneways into a globally renowned attraction has previously suggested tearing up Elizabeth Street, and incorporating and revitalising the hidden waterway under it that runs down to the Yarra River, known as Williams Creek.
While his concept extended beyond the boundaries of the current study area, the idea of removing vehicular traffic in both directions and perhaps through to perhaps Collins Street may have some merit and it would be good to know that Council has at least considered every possibility and opportunity.
While certainly ambitious it certainly would represent the next stage in Melbourne's evolution: replacing defunct or underutilised infrastructure with landscape and public spaces. Similar improvements have previously been foreshadowed for Southbank Boulevard, City Road and Stage 2 of the Sandridge Bridge transforming it into a High Line style linear park: yet none of these is yet to see the light of day.
This area of Elizabeth Street provides the bookend to the Queen Victoria Market Precinct and both carry significant cultural and historical importance to Melbourne. High quality pedestrian environments and spaces at these particular key locations are critical for they have been long neglected and provide the doorsteps to two Melbourne icons and are also important interchange nodes for public transport patrons.
I'd love to hear readers thoughts.