By David Schout
As the usually bustling CBD remains quiet under COVID-19 restrictions, the City of Melbourne is pushing ahead with key works before workers and visitors return.
The council has especially ramped up the installation of new protected bike lanes, while it is also transforming the CBD’s “little streets” into pedestrian priority areas.
Long-awaited Elizabeth St works outside Flinders Street Station were also due to begin in October.
New bike lanes
While the new bike lanes were committed to before the pandemic, the council has pushed ahead with its rollout as the inner-city remains largely free of workers and visitors.
It is currently installing more than 500 metres of new lanes each week, with the latest along the southern end of William St.
Cyclists can now travel south towards Queens Bridge with a kerb-high protection from cars and trucks.
And in good news for those on two wheels, more protected lanes in the CBD are set to be installed, including;
- William St from Flinders Lane to Little Collins St
- William St from La Trobe St to Dudley St; and
- Exhibition St from Flinders to Bourke streets.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the recently-completed lanes near Queens Bridge were vital, and that cycling’s importance had only increased since COVID-19.
“This intersection was known by cyclists as a tricky spot to navigate with no bike lane previously, so we’re proud to make it safer,” she said.
“Melburnians have embraced riding as a great way to stay fit and get around while maintaining physical distance during the pandemic.”
In September the council also began transforming four of the CBD’s “little streets” into pedestrian priority zones, by limiting speed limits from 40km/h to 20km/h and giving those on foot right of way.
On all one-way sections of Flinders Lane, Little Collins St, Little Bourke St and Little Lonsdale St, new road markings will indicate that cars and bikes are to slow down.
Similar changes had been flagged in the past, but the need to accommodate social distancing has more than likely hastened its rollout.
“Many of our footpaths are less than two metres wide, so there’s not enough space for people to pass each other safely while maintaining physical distance,” Cr Capp said.
“The changes will ease footpath congestion as people safely return to the city. People walking will be prioritised over motorists and cyclists to make our little streets more welcoming for shoppers.”
Elizabeth St works finally begin
The council will also begin long-awaited works on Elizabeth St in October.
Long earmarked for renewal and once called an “ugly duckling” of the city by former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, successor Cr Capp acknowledged delays on the project had been “frustrating”.
The road between Flinders St and Flinders Lane will be excavated this month in preparation for a new stormwater drain.
The busy area opposite Flinders Street Station, which saw more than 9000 pedestrians in the evening peak hour pre-COVID, is prone to flooding, the last of which took place in 2011 when a severe rainstorm caused disruptions.
Streetscape work will follow early next year, where pedestrian space on the street’s eastern side will double, and the southbound traffic lane closed permanently.
Cr Capp said the council was conducting the work in two stages to not impact local businesses during the Christmas period.
“We’ve been contacted by businesses in the area who want us to get on with the job before restrictions ease. It’s been an extremely difficult year for our local businesses and the last thing we want to do is cause disruption just as they are able to reopen, that’s why we are delivering this project in two stages.” •