City of Melbourne's transport strategy refresh - should it not apply to other municipalities?


“Every hour during the morning peak, 15,000 pedestrians cross the Spencer and Collins Street intersection outside Southern Cross Station which is five times the number of people in cars, yet cars are given twice the amount of time as pedestrians to pass through.”

That's Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley from the City of Melbourne. It goes right to the heart of an issue that, for the moment, is a focus for the City of Melbourne but should be a question that councils beyond the centre of the city should be pondering.

In the context of population predictions of a metropolitan area of 8 million people, why do we allocate so much space to a transport mode which consumes a heck of a lot more public space per capita compared to more efficient modes?

For a few decades now, the City of Melbourne has led where others have decided business-as-usual is the best course of action and it's resulted in a centre-of-Melbourne which attracts, feels, and is radically different to other areas in the metropolitan area.

The City of Melbourne has begun publishing discussion papers which the council seeks to use to inform the draft transport refresh it hopes to release toward the end of 2018.  The first two of eight papers focus on walking and city space.

The most important transport mode in the City of Melbourne - walking

Both discussion papers outline relevant data - such as the mode share of transport trips within the Hoddle Grid and in the wider municipal area - and point to examples overseas where other cities are facing similar issues.

For instance in Auckland, the CoM discussion paper tells the story of how pedestrian delay at traffic lights has been quantified ($2.2 million NZD per annum) and how Oslo will make its centre of the city car-free by 2019.

Barcelona's 'superblock' treatment where the Catalan capital has enacted major change: previously, the blocks in Eixample had 75% of public space allocated to private vehicles, 75% of public space is now allocated to pedestrian uses.

The discussion papers can be found on the Participate Melbourne website.

It should not go unnoticed that it is a municipality that is driving change forward.  The City of Melbourne is unique within the metropolitan area as it is the historic commercial centre which has always had a high concentration of activity and our rail network connects us all to it.

The story of central Melbourne's change from the dark, car-filled street days of the 80s is well documented and we are all the beneficiaries of the progressive change however it's unfortunate that this wonderful revitalised central Melbourne, for the most part, stops at the municipal boundary.

The tram network is what the City of Melbourne and other adjoining councils have in common - much of the network is located on streets where trams are slowed down (and therefore their capacity to transport people more efficiently is curtailed) by on-street car parking and the misallocation of road-space to private vehicles is rife.  

Other councils do have transport strategies that would see progressive change over time, but there is nothing uniform across municipal boundaries that could inform the mainly state-based agencies who make the decisions on where to invest capital to create new or improve existing public transport routes.

While we give major kudos to the City of Melbourne for taking the lead - again - on showing Melburnians how change can happen for the better, what we really should be asking is why can the same prioritisation of people over cars not be applied firstly to other parts of Melbourne the tram network touches and then the emerging nodes beyond the tram network.

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