I enjoyed researching and writing this feature for the April-May edition of RoyalAuto magazine (and with great pics by Eamon Gallagher). Having worked in and around Melbourne since the late ’90s I’ve noticed the CBD get increasingly squishy in recent years.
It looks like the City of Melbourne is seriously committed to making things friendlier for bipeds. But will state and federal governments give them the financial support they need?
It’s 5pm on Collins Street and, like the famous 1955 John Brack painting of that name, a stream of office workers flows towards Spring Street, headed for train, tram and the comforts of home. But this is Melbourne in 2019, so in place of drab ’50s raincoats and gaunt Anglo faces, the procession is more interesting: a woman in a sari, a student in a red polo and backpack, a man in green short sleeves and fancy headphones.
Among the homeward-bound are 26-year-old software engineers Smriti and Anes. Both enjoy the energy of this vibrant, thronging city, but Smriti has a few concerns over this particular intersection at Collins and Spring.
“Sometimes in the mornings it can get too crowded [and] before the signal opens people start running,” she says, gesturing to the corner of the footpath, which narrows considerably as we turn left into Spring Street. “There are a lot of people here. It does get a bit congested.”
In fact, this happens to be one of the eight most “severely overcrowded” pedestrian intersections in the city, according to research commissioned by the City of Melbourne. The lack of footpath real estate is further hindered by a row of junction boxes and other street furniture on the Spring Street corner. Waiting for the lights to change here is not only a congested drag, it’s becoming dangerous.
Central Melbourne is booming. The City of Melbourne estimates there are more than 900,000 people living, working, visiting or studying in the city on an average weekday, up from 680,000 in 2004. That figure is predicted to top 1.4 million in 2036. By 2030, council planners want 30 per cent of all trips to, from and within the municipality to be on foot. That makes one million walking trips per day, two-and-a-half times the current level. How will the city cope?
We now have not got enough space on our pavements for people in the city on busy corners.
At time of writing, City of Melbourne councillors were poised to vote on the Draft Transport Strategy 2019. It comes after the release of eight discussion papers, 1300 submissions and what councillor Nicolas Frances Gilley calls the “most engaged response” to policy the council has ever seen.
Nicolas, who as transport portfolio chair is driving the process, says for the past eight years the council’s view has been to make the city better for pedestrians and cyclists.
“And my conclusion in the last two years,” he says, “is that it’s absolutely a necessity. We now have not got enough space on our pavements for people in the city on busy corners. There are 15,000 pedestrians every hour crossing Spencer and Collins, which is five times the number of people in cars [but] cars have got twice the amount of time to get through.”
It’s clear something has to change. But what exactly is the council contemplating?
To find out, I battle my way through the crowds surging along Swanston Street and head left down Flinders Street to a cafe on Exhibition. En route I pass over Russell Street, which has no dedicated pedestrian crossing to Federation Square on its western side. It’s a detail that doesn’t escape my coffee date, MRCagney transport consultant Karl Baker.