Theatregoers win in Exhibition St upgrades

By David Schout

The CBD’s East End theatre district is set to become a “beautiful boulevard” under new streetscape improvements on Exhibition St.

City of Melbourne councillors have approved plans to widen footpaths, plant new trees and improve street furniture outside Her Majesty’s Theatre and The Comedy Theatre.

The Exhibition St project aimed to improve the experience of theatregoers spilling out from shows between Little Bourke and Lonsdale streets.

Under wider improvements for the street, the council will also install new protected cycling lanes between Bourke and Little Lonsdale streets, termed the “missing link” for the city’s north-to-south protected cycling lanes.

Cr Rohan Leppert, who initiated the upgrades three years ago, said the move was “very exciting”.

“This isn’t just a project to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, although it will undoubtedly do that,” he said at the May 18 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“This is actually also a project that is going to make the theatre district and a whole lot of shopfronts on Exhibition St a remarkably different space.”

Cr Leppert said post-show congestion would be eased after the project’s completion, which would benefit nearby businesses. 

“The expansion of the footpaths, the planting of trees that are going to turn that part of Exhibition St into the most beautiful boulevard … it is going to make what is currently a difficult place to get in and out of at showtime, into a place for people to linger, a place for people to enjoy, and the benefits for neighbouring hospitality businesses in particular is going to be extraordinary.”

Feedback from key stakeholders at both Her Majesty’s Theatre and The Comedy Theatre, as well as the Rydges Hotel, Marriott Hotel and The Elephant and Wheelbarrow, was positive.

“I think it is extraordinary to ever have a project that has the word ‘bicycle’ in it to come back with a list of stakeholders showing support for it. This is no small feat,” Cr Leppert said. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the upgrades would improve the experience of theatregoers. 

“Our East End of the city, like the West End of London, is our primary theatre district and just that sense of people spilling out onto the streets and enjoying their experience even more is something I’m looking forward to,” she said.

The new safe cycling lanes as part of the project provides the final link connecting Melbourne’s northern suburbs (down Canning and Rathdowne streets) to the central city and the Yarra River trails to the south.

Protected kerbside lanes on Exhibition St between Flinders and Bourke streets were completed in February, and this project represents the final piece of the puzzle. 

“Research in 2018 showed that when we provide protected bicycle lanes, 83 per cent of people who live within 10 kilometres of the CBD and own a bike will actually consider cycling for transport vis-à-vis other modes of transport, and that’s compared with only 22 per cent who feel confident to ride on the painted bicycle lanes … as a bicycle rider I know I feel much safer,” Cr Capp said. 

The project’s draft designs are now set to be exhibited for community feedback •

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