By David Schout
Cars travelling through one of the CBD’s busiest intersections can expect peak-hour gridlock after another motorist lane was removed last month.
In the past two months, two car lanes at the busy Swanston and Flinders streets junction have been removed for Metro Tunnel and security bollard works.
The moves culminate a year in which Town Hall has made no secret of its philosophy of prioritising foot and bicycle traffic in an ongoing bid to clear the CBD of what it views as space-inefficient cars.
In late August, motorists were informed that left-turning lanes on Flinders St (onto St Kilda Rd) would be reduced from two to one owing to Metro Tunnel work, adding 15 minutes to journeys.
Then in early November, the City of Melbourne announced that 130 sqm of “public space” would be added under the Flinders Street Station clocks as part security bollard installations.
The casualty in this plan was the left-turn-only lane from St Kilda Road turning into Flinders St. The cyclist lane at the intersection will remain.
Drivers were again encouraged to “plan ahead and allow extra time” due to the new conditions.
Both moves will frustrate motorists when works ramp up in early 2019, while those championing pedestrian and cyclist rights believe moves to rid the CBD of cars are well overdue.
The “car wars” narrative peddled through the media and fought (largely) online is nothing new, although it is expected to rise in the coming years as the CBD’s daily population exceeds one million people.
Footpath users have shown an increased tendency to post photos online of offending individuals or companies who block their path, and pedestrian advocates such as Daniel Bowen (Public Transport Users Association) and Ben Rossiter (Victoria Walks) have garnered strong support.
The cutting of CBD car lanes has meant that workers who drive into the CBD daily, especially via the Flinders and Swanston streets intersection, may be forced to reconsider travel plans.
And that is exactly the cultural change Town Hall is wishing to implement.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp, a former London resident, has made no secret of her desire to implement bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure similar to the UK capital.
In June, Cr Capp proposed a drastic reduction in CBD cars by cutting speed limits to 30 kmh, reducing on-street parking and creating more one-way streets.
This plan, released as part of a transport discussion paper, coincided with a proposal to give pedestrians more space and time to cross the street.
“The balance of how people are moving around our city has changed significantly,” Cr Capp said before confirming heftier parking tariffs to further deter motorists.
“We are seeing more pedestrians and more people using public transport, who then use our streets to walk to their destination. We are asking ‘how do we redress that balance?’”
The proposals, however, were shot down by both Premier and opposition leader.
Council numbers estimate that drivers make up 30 per cent of people travelling around the city. However, they take up around 60 per cent of space.
“We’re thinking about giving some of that space back,” council transport portfolio chairman Nicolas Frances Gilley said earlier this year.
The council will halt works outside Flinders Street Station during the busy Christmas period of mid-December to early January.