Monday, May 15, 2006

Improving Melbourne’s transport system

Yep, a parochial (and boomer-free) post, inspired by yesterday’s Herald-Sun cover-story: "Road chaos relief".

Robert Hoddle’s 1830s Melbourne grid has a lot to answer for, particularly when it comes to the rigid mindsets of transport-planners nearly two centuries later. North-south and east-west are the default directions, with the only deviance permitted, in more modern times, being freeway radial spokes emanating from the CBD (which is in microcosm admittedly skewed from the compass-cardinal), and nowhere but.

This approach thus notably excludes new diagonal arteries, unless these converge on the CBD, or alternatively form part of a recognisable "ring". When talking about above-ground road and rail, sticking to the NS/EW grid does have clear advantages, but when it comes to road or rail tunnels (below-ground being the only way that transport infrastructure can now be viably retro-fitted in most of Melbourne) diagonal tunnels can make more sense than grid-following ones. Most obviously, below-ground diagonal arterials won’t duplicate above-ground routes.

A prime example of a useful, but never conjectured by anyone before me, AFAICT, diagonal arterial tunnel is an answer to the double-headed traffic snarl at the city end of the Eastern Freeway. Most of this traffic is headed generally SW, to-, if not through the city (going further south or west). Separately, a reasonable amount of such traffic is headed NW, onto various points along the Tullamarine Freeway, including the airport.

The traditional approach is that there are two snarls here, so requiring two solutions. The simpler one of the two is to dig a 5 km EW tunnel to link the Eastern and Tullamarine Freeways at their closest point. Trickier, and/or less satisfactory, is de-tangling the city-bound snarl; hence the various lame mutterings about somehow improving Hoddle Street/Punt Road.

Well, fuck Punt Road, I say (words that every Melburnian would say “Amen!” to, if they actually haven’t personally uttered them already at least once in their lives). Rather, there only needs to be *one* answer to the two snarls: a 5 km road (and rail, of which more about soon) tunnel running WSW from the city end of the Eastern Freeway to the Docklands side of North Melbourne station (and so also the NS CityLink tollway). In terms of interim entrances/exits, just one (perhaps at the Elizabeth Street mega-roundabout, south of Melbourne University) would probably suffice.

While such a route would be somewhat indirect for some city-bound Eastern Freeway motorists (viz, those headed for the eastern CBD), even if a freeway tunnel was dug under the Hoddle Street alignment, getting the last two or three, EW kms in or out of the city would still be a nightmare. Melbourne CBD road access is currently less-stressed, generally-speaking, from the north and NW than from the NE, east, or SE.

Also admittedly somewhat indirect for Tullamarine Freeway-bound, Eastern Freeway motorists, such a tunnel would add about another 2 km (= 75 seconds, at 100 km/hr) to the journey, compared to a pure EW tunnel. Balanced against this is the greater chance of the dual-purpose WSW tunnel being free (which I strongly support), compared to a single-purpose EW tunnel.

Anyway, that’s my Great Idea Number One.

Great Idea Number Two has been thought of already, as it happens (viz, yesterday’s Herald-Sun cover-story) – perhaps because it is Hoddle-grid compliant. A relatively short (2-3 km) road tunnel under Footscray would link the two, moderately-used, above-ground EW Docklands arterials with the grossly under-used Geelong Road. Such would provide a practical (same-distance) alternative to the Westgate Bridge for most motorists (SW-to-SE and vice versa “coast-huggers” aside). It would also get huge numbers of trucks off existing residential-street rat-runs, particularly in and around Yarraville.

Great Idea Number Three is a pure-play rail idea. Ironically, it also Hoddle-grid-neat, and an explicit counter-point to an oft-cited radial suggestion. The Doncaster rail line, as it is usally mooted, involves building 13 km of new track WSW down the Eastern Freeway, to meet existing track just east of Hoddle Street. Such a route features a distinct lack of population along its path, the suburb of East Kew aside.

Instead, why not use the existing railhead, and very suitable interchange point at Box Hill – 4 km south Westfield Doncaster (the logical terminus for a Doncaster rail line)?
Further, the 4 km of NS rail tunnel involved in a Doncaster-City (via Box Hill) line could be value-added by being built in tandem with a Box Hill-Burwood rail tunnel, so continuing the NS alignment another 4km. With a suggested terminus of the Burwood Highway, near Deakin University, a captive (and currently very car-dependant) rail clientele already exists, not to mention a large institution that would hopefully part-underwrite the cost.

Finally, my first Great Idea was for a rail, as well as road, tunnel from the city-end of the Eastern Freeway. Starting from the existing NS track just east of Hoddle Street, such a rail line would run under the southern fringes of Melbourne University, another institution whose staff and students would surely much-benefit from the new track.

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