What’s causing all the congestion?

By Meg Hill

Melburnians reported over crowding as one of the top issues last year in a City of Melbourne survey of transport and pedestrian users.

But the cause of the issue is likely to have more to do with planning than with population. Victoria Walks executive officer Ben Rossiter said a major cause was the prioritising of cars over pedestrian and public transport space.

“Cars account for about a third of the trips in the city, but they get over 60 per cent of the space. We actually have to start reallocating the space, otherwise the city won’t function properly” Mr Rossiter said.

Mr Rossiter said the City of Melbourne had shown initiative on the issue, but the Victorian Government has halted progress.

“We think the change in Lord Mayor has refreshed the whole agenda, the public conversation and the desire to look at all the options. We’d like to see the Victorian Government step up,” he said.

“The changes need Victorian Government approval but they also need a lot of money. The state government has been very car-focused and narrow in their outlook.”

“It will impact the economic functioning of the city. We’re at risk of going backwards fast, and that process has started.”

This is partly why Mr Rossiter described the free tram zone as a “bad policy decision”.

“A good policy decision on public transport would be to make them free in the outer suburbs so people can come into the city on public transport.”

City of Melbourne data also shows that those who drive into the city tend to be more affluent, leading Mr Rossiter to identify congestion as an equity issue.

Mr Rossiter said plans were needed to close various streets and areas to cars. He believes the City of Melbourne’s proposed Elizabeth St mall should be extended all the way to Queen Victoria Market.

“Down the bottom of Bourke St should be closed and the tram stops opened up. We need to get to the stage where the little streets – Flinders Lane, Little Collins, Little Bourke – are made car free.”

Alternatively, Mr Rossiter recommends the little streets be redesigned as 20km an hour shared spaces. The redesign would include levelling the street, as gutters and road space in such areas cause pedestrians to stick to the footpaths as before. 

He also highlighted pedestrian crossings outside most of the train stations as the most congested and dangerous. Mr Rossiter said the crossing between Federation Square and Flinders Street Station, for example, should also be closed to cars.

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