Melbourne Swanston street

The City of Melbourne has suggested creating car-free CBD zones, reducing traffic speed to 30 kilometres an hour and increasing the time given to pedestrian movement, as part of an ambitious Transport Strategy refresh looking out to 2050.

The council on Thursday released two discussion papers on its new strategy, focused on walking and city space. The walking paper said that the city had growing issues to do with overcrowding, pedestrian delays, security and restricted mobility, which were an amenity issue and economic burden on the city. Increasing connectivity of the pedestrian network, the paper said, could result in an economic uplift to the tune of $2.1 billion.

City of Melbourne transport portfolio chair Nicolas Frances Gilley said the strategy invited debate on how space was used and allocated.

“Pedestrian crowd crush is a big issue in Melbourne and with the number of people in our city set to grow by 50 per cent in the next 20 years, we need to think about how we address that,” Mr Frances Gilley said.

Superblocks mooted

Among the suggested actions to improve walking in the city is create “new car-free spaces” by closing off vehicle access to some roads, much the same way as Bourke St Mall has been pedestrianised.

A related background paper for the council prepared by MRCagney notes Barcelona’s trial of “superblocks”, where traffic is banned from the interior of a designated block and road space is repurposed for walking and to enhance the public realm.

“A similar intervention in Melbourne could involve discouraging through-traffic circulation from certain streets through use of various access control devices that prevent direct vehicle travel and force more convoluted paths for vehicles in all areas outside of designated priority traffic routes,” the paper said.

“This could free up pockets of pedestrian-only spaces and enable widening of footpaths and shared spaces while allowing access to properties and deliveries.”

Mr Frances Gilley said allocating most space to cars when most people in the CBD walked or used public transport was “not sustainable”.

“We are a walking city: within our CBD 89 per cent of all trips in the city’s core are made on foot and if we want to encourage more people to walk more often so we need to make it safer and easier to do so.”

Lower speed limits

Inspiration is also taken from Dublin in a proposal to reduce the speed limit to 30km/h, down from 40km/h. While the city has lower speed limits than many areas, the report said it still had “unacceptably high” levels of injuries and fatalities, with on average 46 pedestrians injured and at least one fatality every year. Whereas chance of pedestrian death is 40 per cent at 40km/h, it reduces to 10 per cent at 30km/h.

“In addition to reducing the risk of pedestrians and cyclists being killed or injured on the road network, lower speed limits can transform high-speed roads to traffic calmed, people-oriented environments with lower levels of traffic noise and increased public realm amenity.”

Make signalling pedestrian friendly

Another suggestion is to change transport signalling in a way that better accommodates pedestrian movement.

“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,” Mr Frances Gilley said.

The proposal in the discussion paper would see pedestrian delays at traffic lights reduced by 38 seconds at Spencer and Collins streets, which could cut pedestrian crowding in half during the evening peak.

“Overcrowding on footpaths poses a serious threat to pedestrian safety: on Spencer Street alone, one pedestrian was killed and 31 have been injured in the past five years,” Mr Frances Gilley said.

The strategy points to research from Auckland, New Zealand where the economic costs of pedestrians delay were quantified. All up major retail precinct Queen Street, annual pedestrian delays were estimated to cost $11.7 million a year.

Increase city space

A separate paper on city space advocates removing on-street parking and traffic lanes for “more economically, socially and environmentally productive uses”, and building wider footpaths to accommodate pedestrian activities.

It also suggests creating more shared spaces that can be used by a multitude of transport options.

Comments are being sought on the discussion papers, with additional papers set to be released on public transport, emerging technology, cycling, parking, motor vehicles and transport pricing.

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  1. You fail to mention that pedestrian crossings in Queen St, Auckland, now have double the crossing time with two crossings per cycle. So the traffic from one street gets to go, then the people get to cross, then the traffic from the intersecting street gets to go and then the next lot of people cross. A much improved pedestrian experience.