A new strategy imagines what Australia’s second-most populous city will look like in 10 years through the lens of transport infrastructure.
Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city, has a long list of accolades to its name. Not only is it an international pilgrimage site for coffee aficionados and street art enthusiasts, it held the title of World’s Most Liveable City for a record seven years before being dethroned by Vienna in 2018.
But like a gangly teenager, the city is experiencing some growing pains. In its assessment for the Global Liveability Index (which ranks the most liveable cities), The Economist Intelligence Unit gave Melbourne kudos for the city’s investment in infrastructure. However, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the city had been a “victim of its own success”, as growth is making it difficult to maintain liveability standards.
To rectify this, City of Melbourne Councillors will consider an ambitious, 10-year plan that aims to reshape the city centre into a less congested, more pedestrian-friendly space.
“If we are to maintain our status as one of the world’s most liveable cities, we have to create beautiful spaces for people to want to come and enjoy,” said Transport Portfolio Chair Nicolas Frances Giley.
A true network
The Draft Transport Strategy 2030 includes measures to help transport infrastructure keep pace with projected population growth. Melbourne is expected to reach 8 million residents by 2051 — nearly double the present-day population of 4.6 million.
Sixteen metro train lines, six regional train lines, 22 tram routes and 28 bus routes carry more than 900,000 people to and through central Melbourne each day. According to the strategy report, this number will rise to more than 1.4 million people by 2036.
“The 1.4 million people forecast to be in the central city every day in 2036 will need to move around in the same amount of space that is used by 900,000,” the report states.
Rather than prioritise one transport mode over another, the transport strategy is “about balancing infrastructure”, Capp said in a statement.
“Our streets, footpaths, public spaces and transport hubs must adapt for the variety of ways people are travelling around our city today and into the future,” she explained.
This ethos is aligned to Victoria’s Transport Integration Act 2010 (TIA), which requires a holistic approach to transport networks, rather than viewing each mode in a silo.
If this plan is successful, Melbourne in 10 years’ time could be characterised by more shared spaces, more public transport options and fewer cars on city streets. The CBD’s Hoddle Grid, home to many of the city’s famous ‘Little Streets’, laneways and arcades, could see the most change.
Almost 89 per cent of trips that start and finish within the Hoddle Grid are completed on foot, yet only 26 per cent of street space is allocated to footpaths. To ease footpath congestion and improve safety, the equivalent of 20 Bourke Street Malls’ worth of public road and parking will be repurposed for pedestrian and retail use, and 300 motorcycle parking bays will be placed on streets to discourage parking on footpaths.
The transport strategy also sets a goal of making Melbourne Australia’s “premier bicycle city”. More than 50 km of protected on-road bike lanes will be added on key routes into the CBD — up from just 6 km available today.
The city will also trial parking management reforms like demand-responsive parking fees, reduced speed zones, longer red light times and congestion charges. The main target of these measures is to reduce non-essential through-traffic and reduce vehicle emissions. Under this strategy, more vehicles trips would be diverted to freeways and arterial roads, freeing up space in the CBD’s streets.
“I understand that travelling into the city by car is the only option for some people. We will continue to welcome drivers whose destination is the central city including tradies, delivery vehicles, emergency services and people with a disability,” Capp said.
“We know that 43 per cent of cars in the Hoddle Grid are passing through the city, adding to congestion. We want to see this through-traffic reduced and the draft strategy includes actions to provide people with alternatives.”
Physical and digital
Besides growing the number of ways people can move around the city, the strategy proposes to make Melbourne’s public transport network the ‘turn-up-and-go’ kind. This will require improved bus and tram routes, more frequent services, and better access to public transport, regional rail and airports.
Recent project proposals like the Melbourne airport rail link and the $50 billion rail loop could go some way towards achieving this. The North East Link, currently Victoria’s biggest ever transport infrastructure investment, will slash congestion across Melbourne’s north east through new ring roads, busways, freeway upgrades and a set of three-lane, 5 km long tunnels.
Both the inner city tram network extensions and the cross-city rail are listed in the transport strategy as critical projects to boost capacity, relieve overcrowding and improve transport accessibility across the network.
Besides the physical infrastructure blitz, the strategy also explores how digital infrastructure can play a role. Shared mobility services like dockless bikes and car share apps could mean fewer single-occupancy cars travelling through the CBD, although, in this case, the biggest barriers to greater uptake are a lack of regulation and improper management, which the strategy does discuss.
Artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technology are also being floated as ways to coordinate traffic light cycles to give pedestrians, trams and cyclists priority. The report makes some mention of emerging and disruptive modes of transport like electric vehicles, drones and autonomous vehicles. However, these are barely mentioned in the transport strategy, as it’s unclear if and when there will be enough uptake to make an impact.
All together, these initiatives will transform Melbourne into a “city lab”, where new technology can be trialled and refined to improve mobility.
The draft strategy is now open for public feedback and submissions, after which it will be finalised and delivered through the Transport Strategy Implementation Plan. The implementation plan will include targets and outcomes to measure its success over the next five, 10 and 30 years. For example, the strategy lists monitoring the number of transfers between public transport services to measure network integration.
“The City of Melbourne’s draft transport strategy aims to provide safety, liveability and prosperity for all Victorians moving around our city,” Capp said.
“Collaboration will be a vital feature over the next 10 years, and we are committed to working closely with the Victorian Government and other key stakeholders to deliver a world-class transport network.”