What can we do with Hoddle St?

Daily traffic across Punt Rd bridge (click)

In Elliot Perlman’s Melbourne-based novel, Three dollars, Eddie thinks the only advice he could offer his daughter is the solution of differential equations and an insight into which trains go via the city loop and why. He imagines that on his deathbed and with his last breath he would say: “Abby, my darling daughter, remember this: no matter where you are or what time of day it is – avoid Punt Road”.

Eddie’s fatherly advice is borne out by the numbers in VicRoad’s Hoddle Street Study: existing conditions summary report. It shows that 10,000 vehicles per hour travel on Hoddle Street in the middle of the day, only a little more than the 9,700 per hour that use it in the morning peak. And as the accompanying graphic of traffic volumes across the Punt Rd bridge shows, traffic on Saturday and Sunday is higher than on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

So if you think the Hoddle St corridor is always busy you’re right. The two-way traffic volume on Hoddle St in the section between the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Pde is 85,000-90,000 vehicles per day. There are also a further 27,000 bus passengers on a weekday, so the number of people travelling along Hoddle St is large. This is a conservative estimate – it doesn’t count passengers in cars.

What to do about Hoddle St is a difficult question and I’d like to hear some suggestions. The Baillieu Government is reported (here and here) to have shelved work on VicRoad’s study of options for the corridor. The remaining money has instead been transferred to the study of the proposed Doncaster rail line. This makes sense politically if the Government feels it is obliged to deliver on the railway line. It could argue that the train will reduce traffic congestion, and thereby make the significant cost of upgrading Hoddle St unnecessary.

While it might fly politically, it’s hard to see that a Doncaster rail line would make much difference to conditions on Hoddle St. The space vacated by any drivers transferring to rail would in due course be filled by others, so it would have no lasting impact on traffic congestion. Not that it’s likely many car commuters would even elect to use the Doncaster train instead of Hoddle St.

As I pointed out here, analysis of journey to work data from the 2006 Census undertaken for the Eddington Report shows the number of workers living in the municipality of Manningham who commuted to the City of Melbourne at the 2006 Census was small – just 8,500 (i.e. 17,000 two-way trips). And the number is declining – this was 700 fewer than in 2001. Nor is this group likely to get much bigger due to growth, as the population of the municipality of Manningham is projected to increase by a paltry 0.7% p.a. out to 2031.

Of these 8,500 commuters, 5,100 drove to work and 3,150 already took public transport. The latter group mostly used buses but a third used the Hurstbridge and Belgrave-Lilydale rail lines in neighbouring municipalities (this was before the new Doncaster Area Rapid Transit services started late last year). If a new Doncaster rail line were to achieve the same mode share as in nearby municipalities like Whitehorse, Banyule and Maroondah that already have rail, around 1,600 Manningham commuters could be expected to stop driving to work and change to public transport. That does not seem a very large number in the context of the likely cost of a Doncaster rail line. Even assuming those 1,600 all currently use Hoddle St to get to the City of Melbourne, that’s only a reduction of 3,200 trips.

Getting city centre workers who currently drive out of their cars and onto public transport won’t be easy. As I pointed out here and here, commuters who work just beyond the Hoddle grid are more likely to drive than take public transport, notwithstanding traffic congestion.  Many workers who drive have high status jobs – it’s likely they enjoy the use of a subsidised car and parking, meaning restrictions on cars would have to be very onerous before they’d shift across to public transport.  Another issue is that many Hoddle St users work on the fringe of the CBD or in the inner city – many would have to change modes if they used public transport, thereby increasing the duration of their journey to work.

Another approach to the Hoddle St problem is to upgrade the road. Since 6,400 vehicles cross the corridor east-west in the morning peak, grade-separating key intersections is probably the most likely upgrading scenario. While this wouldn’t provide anything more than a short-term reduction in congestion, it would nevertheless add to capacity i.e. more traffic could move along the corridor than is currently the case. Upgrading could be a trade-off for providing dedicated 24/7 lanes for buses on both sides of Hoddle St. While increasing capacity should provide economic benefits, that would depend on the cost of upgrading, so detailed analysis would be required. I expect the cost of construction and disruption to existing traffic would be enormous – perhaps not as much as a Doncaster rail line, but probably not that much less either.

However putting a price on the use of the Hoddle St corridor when it’s congested – necessarily as part of a wider scheme – would be the “first-best” option. A congestion price would discourage low value trips and could keep traffic moving (although still well below maximum posted speeds) without upgrading (although it’s possible grade-separation might still make economic sense). Of course road pricing is a politically difficult strategy and would probably be the last choice of government.

What to do about Hoddle St is a hard one. The only plausible technical solution in my opinion – congestion pricing – is very hard politically. On the other hand, the do-nothing option is attractive to politicians because people who hold government’s accountable for the quality of public transport nevertheless seem to accept politicians can’t do much about congestion. But congestion imposes a large cost, especially in terms of time lost. Anybody got a solution?

14 Comments on “What can we do with Hoddle St?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Grade separation I assume means ugly flyovers. The road is already ugly. This will make it worse and while grade separation may lead to reductions in time for some areas point to point, there will always be a narrow point where congestion will happen. Charging for the road will move traffic to other north south roads and side streets. I can’t think of a palatable and practical solution, but then I am not a road designer.

  2. Russ says:

    I agree with Andrew, grade separation would be a poor outcome given the overall aim to increase pedestrian accessibility and density in the Richmond/Collingwood area. It won’t “fix” congestion, but I’d build some freeway tunnels AND boulevard the surface roads with dedicated p/t lanes. The east-west tunnel from Hoddle to the Tullamarine and another from Chandler Highway to Burnley would complete an inner ring-road that, combined with congestion pricing and perhaps an interior congestion zone*, would be about as good as you could expect for road transport in the inner city.

    Not building anything and letting congestion “fix” itself is always an option too. It’s biggest effect is probably to hasten the removal of freight intensive industries and non-CBD specific jobs to the outer suburbs, which has it upsides.

    * The Yarra, Moonee Ponds creek and Alexandra Parade are the logical boundaries of such a zone because they have relatively few crossing points to monitor.

  3. Paul Grgurich says:

    This is a tough one – I think the best – and probably most expensive solution – is to drill a tunnel linking the Eastern and Monash Freeways and ideally continue it further south under Punt Rd to the Nepean highway. This will make it the eastern boundary of what will eventually become the inner city loop (assuming the link b/n the Eastern Freeway the CityLink is ever built).
    Tunnels really are the only solution for a modern city – we tend to make such a song and dance about them – but there are thousands of them in Europe – often linking towns with just a few thousand people – just get on and do it. Given how time consuming it is to travel on that route – i dont think anyone would think twice about a toll if it was say around $5.

  4. Oz says:

    Existing N-S transport corridors such as Hoddle/Punt handling more than 100,000 trips by people seven days a week need their acceptable level of service (LoS) to be decided by Government before any more investment in studies or infrastructure is committed. Who will be the beneficiaries if and when travel times along the corridor are reduced? Or the capacity to handle more trips at the existing LoS is increased?

  5. Mike says:

    It is such an artery of Melbourne. I ride along it sometimes. It scares the shit out of me and I risk my life every time but it is so quick, so direct, same reason many vehicles use the road. It would be interesting to analyse where these vehicles orginate from and where they are travelling to, perhaps with more frequent, fast bus services it might reduce the number of car journeys????

  6. chris gordon says:

    Same old arguments here on what to do. I reckon everyone who can should work from home one day a week. It would be quickest and easiest means of reducing road traffic and people would be happier as well!

  7. suze2000 says:

    I am one of those commuters from Banyule who is using the Hoddle-Punt corridor every day. Ironically, the worst of it is not during peak hour but outside peak hours when there are cars parked up Punt Rd making it a one-lane road in South Yarra/Prahran.

    The govt should immediately extend the Punt Rd clearway hours to cover the entire day up to 8pm at night. This would solve almost all the problems southbound commuters face. During peak hour Punt Rd southbound flows very smoothly – in fact, I sometimes forget to slow for the school zone when I see the joyous sight of a clear road before me! Outside peak hour, the same 2-min journey can take 30mins or worse because of cars parked on Punt Rd.

    I generally take public transport to work during peak hour anyway, but the increasing crowding on the train is making driving more attractive to me as I have subsidised parking at work. I need to sit on the train and it is becoming harder and harder to get a seat during the morning peak. This sets me up for a day of pain. I miss the days when men stood for women. *sigh* (and children stood for everyone) I (and no doubt many others) will never for a seat. I have no reportable disability, just two dodgy ankles and a dodgy knee. I fear the sneers of people. When I can no longer reasonably hope to sit on the train, I will be back in my car full-time. Adding to the problem. Though it is faster for me to drive than take PT anyway.

  8. J galt says:

    Build an elevated freeway down the middle of Hoddle St. 2-3 lanes each direction. Toll it.
    Would just require the removal of 1-2 lanes of ground traffic.
    Elevated freeways have been accepted at Southbank, no reason why it couldn’t happen on Hoddle. At southbank people even buy apartments directly facing the freeway. Building elevated freeways is a fraction of the cost of tunnelling.
    An elevated freeway is also required from the Eastern to the Tulla.
    The inner city freeway loop created by this would alleviate a lot of congestion. Of course, another necessity is to allow the expansion of private car parks in the inner city & cbd, so people don’t drive around for 10 min just to find a park, creating congestion.
    Tolling the links with variable tolls would be a great step forward for road pricing in Australia.

  9. rohan says:

    Overpasses and elevated freeways – uurg ! Much prefer the long tunnel idea, linking Eastern, Monash and on to St K Junction (Nepean Hwy and Dandy Rd). Horrid disruption (cur and cover), but more ‘urbane’ solution. Like South Dowling Rd in Sydney, part tunnel part surface. But is it worth it $$$mills ? Dunno. Could be much of the traffic is not ‘thru’, but if most of it is, then perhaps tunnell would be useful, and allow buses or even trams on ‘surface’. Meanwhile, permanent clearways south of Yarra also a very good idea; often most congestion is here, especially on weekends. Im in Fitzroy and I think twice about going to St Kilda on weekends, takes as long to drive as to catch the 96 tram ! (40- 45 mins).

  10. Frustrated says:

    Get over it and build a freeway – tunnel if necessary. Then all that through traffic that doesn’t need to go into the city can go around it, and you’ll have your pedestrian paradise. No one will care if you widen the footpaths of every other street in Richmond and the city, if they’re just passing on by.

  11. Séan says:

    Where does the traffic go though? Is it all going to the CBD or is there a lot of people crossing the river from both sides? If the later, one potential public transport solution (albeit of the potentially expensive kind) would be to create a tunnel rail link between West Richmond and Richmond stations. This would allow trains from Hurstbridge, South Morang (née Epping) and any potential Doncaster line to bypass the CBD and continue on to Sandringham, a route that would pretty much run close to parallel with Hoddle/Punt in its entirety and be far more attractive to passengers wanting to cross the river than the current in-change-out at Flinders Street arrangement that even with a seamless connection adds around 5-10 minutes to the journey. A new underground platform for Richmond station could be built as part of any future (and sorely needed) redevelopment of Richmond station.

    As for road specific options, the road is on shaky enough ground concerning its aesthetic value without expanding it or (Heaven forbid!) putting a grade separated freeway above it. In any case, both those options are going to be pretty expensive and more so any tunnel, so I’d much rather that money be given over to public transport. Congestion charging is probably the only realistic option, however care needs to be taken to ensure that Brunswick and Smith Sts don’t become rat runs for toll dodgers. The trams on those streets are delayed enough by traffic as it is.

  12. T says:

    I like the do nothing approach. Congestion tends to regulate itself – when it gets to the point of being unbearable, people who can will take an alternate (either an alternate route or alternate form of transport). The key is to have viable and convenient alternatives in place, which is where Melbourne is failing.

    Why should we spend public money upgrading any street? If people don’t like traffic, they can leave the car at home. I think it’s better to use the money on public transport. Roads will always be congested even if we throw truckloads of money at them. The better the roads, the more people will drive, the more traffic etc etc etc. Plus, road works are more disruption than they’re worth.

    In most other cities where public transport is of high standard, traffic congestion (not cost) is the main reason people seem to opt for PT instead of driving. It’s the reason even the wealthy take the subway in NY – these people could afford to drive if they wanted to, but it’s not convenient. So it’s actually better NOT to even bother trying to fix traffic congestion. It’s just a waste of money.

    The congestion price is an ok idea too, but it will only reduce traffic if those drivers have some alternative. Otherwise it’s just more revenue for the government to misappropriate. People who can afford it (and most of those drivers who live in the eastern suburbs are those people) will always chose convenience over cost. The trick is not to make driving more expensive because people will ultimately just pay for it (although grudgingly and probably to the detriment of the government who tries to implement the scheme), but to make PT more convenient than driving. Which means, of course, forgetting about trying to fix traffic congestion, and, instead, fixing PT. If, for example, there was a dedicated bus lane on every major road like Hoddle with busses running every 3-5 minutes (all day every day of course, even saturday and sunday), I think many drivers sitting in traffic would consider the bus instead. It works all over the world, it can work here too.

  13. Arpit says:

    Build an elevated freeways which connects all major freeways. Spent a bit more on overall project which will give benefit to everyone. Connecting all freeways dandy, West gate freeway, Princess highway. Don’t give exits every street. make 5 lanes on each side. Make it a toll way.

  14. […] by Melburnian Elliot Perlman, the writer of Three Dollars (which has the great reference to Punt Rd I’ve cited before) and then I’ll tackle Dave Egger’s new novel, You shall know our […]

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