Melburnians are all too familiar with trying to cross busy a intersection in the CBD as cars attempting to turn left inch their way forwards into the crossing pedestrians, or worse, cars turning right chance a dash through the line of crossing pedestrians.
A recent RACV article stated that there has been a 43% increase in pedestrian traffic in the CBD since 2001, with many 1,000s of pedestrians crossing busy intersections like Spencer and Collins Streets every hour.
Surely there is a better way to separate pedestrians and traffic to allow freer and safer flow of both groups around the CBD.
Melbourne City Council is taking feedback on its Draft Transport Strategy 2030, which aims to improve pedestrian and bicycle access, and reduce cars and congestion in the city.
A Tried and Tested Solution
Most people will be familiar with the famous Shibyua Crossing in Tokyo. This iconic intersection is both a famous tourist attraction, as well as probably one of the most photographed intersections in the world. It is also the world’s busiest, with 2,500 people crossing every time the lights change and up to 2 million using the crossing every day!
Shibyua Crossing Intersection Ryoji Iwata, 2018
The thing that enables this volume of pedestrians to get across on every change of the lights is having dedicated pedestrian crossing times. When the lights change, vehicles in every direction come to a stop, allowing pedestrians to cross in every direction, including diagonally. The pedestrian lights are green long enough for the required volume of pedestrians to get across the intersection.
The pattern is replicated across many other busy intersections all over Tokyo, as well as being used at the intersection of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets in Melbourne’s CBD.
So, why not replicate this pattern across other busy intersections in the CBD?
Identifying Busy Intersections
What constitutes a busy intersection? Luckily, Melbourne City Council provide access to pedestrian counts at locations across the CBD, which not only show which locations have the most pedestrians, but also at what times of the day they are busiest.
Using this information we can build a picture of which intersections would benefit from dedicated pedestrian crossing times.
I took a week’s worth of data in May and did some analysis on it. First, I identified what patterns of usage were like, which revealed (not unexpectedly) that weekdays and weekends had different peaks. Weekdays showed a morning peak at 8am and a slightly higher evening peak at 5pm, whereas weekends had a single, more rounded peak between 2 and 5pm.
Weekend peak pedestrian volumes and times
Weekday peak pedestrian volumes and times
I then looked at the busiest locations where the peak hourly volume was 2000 or more (for either weekend or weekday, or both), and where the location was on or near an intersection. As such, locations like Bourke St Bridge, Southbank and Flinders St Station Underpass we’re not included in the analysis even though the peak volumes at those locations were over 2000 pedestrians.
One thing that was evident (even though I was not considering pedestrian-only locations), was that pedestrian volumes fan out from 3 centres - Flinders Street Station, Southern Cross Station and Melbourne Central Station. Volumes of pedestrians in and around these locations were very high, especially at morning and evening rush hours, with numbers then spreading out towards Docklands, Southbank, RMIT and Bourke Mall. This implies that most people travel to the city by train. Were there to have been data available for Parliament and Flagstaff Stations, they would likely show a similar picture.
Melbourne CBD, showing 3 centres of concentrated pedestrian volumes
This points to 2 areas where dedicated pedestrian crossings would be beneficial:
- a corridor up and down Swanston and Elizabeth Streets between Flinders Station and Melbourne Central Station
- the intersections of Spencer and Collins Streets, and of Spencer and Bourke Streets outside Southern Cross Station
Implementing the Change
While it seem easy to just paint some zebra-crossings at intersections and change the traffic lights to give pedestrians right of way in all directions on green, there are some other factors that need to be considered.
The map below outlines 12 dedicated pedestrian crossings shown as drops with people running in red (intersections with pedestrian volumes available) and blue. The intersection at Flinders St-Elizabeth St is shown in green to indicate the dedicated pedestrian crossing at that intersection is already implemented.
The complete list of intersections that would have dedicated pedestrian crossing times would be:
|Elizabeth St||Swanston St||Spencer St|
|Elizabeth St-Flinders St||Swanston St-Flinders St|
|Elizabeth St-Collins St||Swanston St-Collins St||Spencer St-Collins St|
|Elizabeth St-Bourke St||Swanston St-Bourke St||Spencer St-Bourke St|
|Elizabeth St-Lonsdale St||Swanston St-Lonsdale St|
|Elizabeth St-La Trobe St||Swanston St-La Trobe St|
All of the intersections have either one or two tram lines across them, some with that uniquely Melburnian road rule - hook turns. With cars turning right from left after their lights turn red, where would the dedicated pedestrian times be slotted in? Perhaps the hook turns could be removed and a right filter arrow be adopted instead (this is used at other intersections like Little Lonsdale and Elizabeth Streets).
Another question is whether trams and pedestrians should be given priority after every change of the lights for road vehicles. For example, the sequence of pedestrians-trams-road (direction 1)-pedestrians-trams-road (direction 2) could be used. At both Spencer Street intersections, trams turn around the corner, so the sequence would need to allow trams to flow in both directions, one after the other. This may make the length of time quite large between when road vehicles move, frustrating some motorists.
Another consideration might be to make Elizabeth Street a tram/cyclist/pedestrian-only street from La Trobe Street down to Flinders Station, the same as Swanson Street is. Elizabeth Street is not a cross-city route, so traffic volumes are lower than other north-south streets like King Street or Exhibition Street. Removing or severely limiting road vehicles would improve pedestrian flow, as well as making it easier to implement dedicated crossings at intersections.
Whatever Melbourne City Council decides for its Transport Strategy 2030, it will definitely include pedestrians at its heart, improving the city’s liveability and making it easier for those who live and work in the city to get around.