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. Read the rest of this entry »

-24 hours of LA traffic (animation)

Animation - 24 hours of Los Angeles traffic

This is a recently released animation of 24 hours of traffic in Los Angeles. It’s constructed from reports sent from the smartphones of Waze users. Waze is a “social mobile application providing free turn-by-turn navigation based on the live conditions on the road and driven by users”.

It starts at 4pm but really goes beserk the next day in the AM peak. As far as I can work out, red dots are concentrations of high congestion and green dots are hazards reported by Waze users.

Will networking make public transport the mode of choice?

What's the biggest danger?

According to a report in The Age last month, new research published in the latest issue of Australian Planner shows that higher suburban densities are not a precondition for vastly better public transport. Reporter Andrew West says:

City dwellers have been presented with a false choice – live in apartments and enjoy good public transport or retain the house and land and rely on cars

The research by Dr John Stone and Dr Paul Mees contends that it is not necessary to intensify land-use across the whole city before significant improvement in both patronage and economic efficiency of public transport becomes possible.

They say the contribution made by urban consolidation “to recent public transport patronage growth is modest and makes little impact on the density of the whole urban region”. Most residents of Australian cities will continue to live in houses and suburban subdivisions that are already built so “alternatives to the car will need to be effective at existing urban residential densities”.

They argue instead for a ‘networked’ model of public transport. Improving the way existing public transport resources are managed – especially by providing higher frequencies and improving coordination between services and between modes – will yield significantly higher transit patronage in the suburbs without the need for broadbrush increases in density.

I’ve argued before that increasing residential density, by itself, will not necessarily increase public transport patronage significantly, much less shift travellers out of their cars in large numbers.

I’ve also argued that there are generally better gains to be had from using existing resources more efficiently rather than relying on strategies based around huge new infrastructure investments or massive land use changes.

And I think the idea of networking public transport is absolutely critical. By embracing transfers, networking provides faster travel paths to all parts of the metropolitan area than is possible by radial routing.

However it’s not obvious to me that ‘networked’ public transport, by itself, would have the sort of major impact on mode share in the suburbs implied by The Age’s report. I can see that it would make public transport much better for existing users and I’ve no doubt it would increase patronage, but I’m not persuaded that it would be enough to address the ‘false choice’ that The Age says Melburnites have been presented with. Read the rest of this entry »

How liveable are our major cities?

How residents of our five largest cities (combined) see liveability

Adelaide is the most liveable capital city in Australia and Sydney is the least, according to a study released earlier this month by the Property Council of Australia.

The Australian reports that Sydney might have the harbour, Opera House and Bondi, but most Sydneysiders live a long way from these attractions in less salubrious places like Liverpool, Strathfield and Penrith.

The Property Council’s study is based on a national sample of 4,072 respondents in the nation’s eight capital cities (with around 600 in each of the four largest cities). They were given 17 attributes of liveability and asked, firstly, to rate them by importance and, secondly, to rate how well their cities perform on each of them. These two dimensions were then combined to produce a ‘liveability score’ for each city.

I’ve taken quite an interest in “liveability” in the past, especially as it relates to Sydney/Melbourne rivalry (e.g. here, here and here), so naturally I had a look at the study.

These sorts of surveys are often problematic and this one is no exception. For example, information on the representativeness of those who actually responded to the survey is scant and some of the attributes are sloppily conceptualised and poorly worded.

So with that caveat, let’s look at what the study found. The aggregate liveability scores of the eight capitals are probably the least useful aspect because the differences are small – Adelaide does best with 63.4 and Sydney does worst with 55.1. Third ranking Melbourne scores 60.9 but sixth ranking Brisbane scores 60.2. Put Sydney aside and there’s not enough in it to be useful.

What’s more interesting is how respondents define liveability. I’ve put the accompanying chart together to show how the five largest capital cities perform in aggregate i.e. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide (you won’t see this table in the Property Council’s report because I had to correct the figures in the Appendix to the report. Also, make sure to have a look at the full text of the questions).

The first column shows how important respondents think each attribute is for liveability (smaller is better). The second shows what proportion of respondents agree that their city exhibits this attribute. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is public transport patronage increasing?

Public transport patronage growth in Australian cities (chart by Chris Loader)

As the accompanying chart shows, public transport patronage has grown sharply in some of Australia’s capitals this past decade but the rate of growth has generally slowed significantly over the last 18 months.

We’re accustomed to thinking that growth in patronage is driven by higher petrol prices but the chart indicates the explanation is probably more complex.

In particular, the considerable differences between cities suggest that one single factor is unlikely to provide a satisfactory explanation. Patronage grew spectacularly in South East Qld, Perth and Melbourne, but was modest in Greater Sydney and unremarkable elsewhere.

It needs to be borne in mind that all of this growth is from a relatively small base. For example, public transport’s share of all motorised travel (weekday and weekend) in Melbourne is even now only around 11%. This is only slightly lower than Sydney’s. Perth is likely to be only around half Melbourne’s level and Brisbane somewhere in between.

The usual suspect when looking at increasing public transport patronage is higher petrol prices. However if that were the key factor we’d expect a more uniform pattern of growth across cities. Canberra has one of the highest levels of car use of all capitals, yet public transport patronage in the nation’s capital barely moved over the period. The same is true of rising traffic congestion. Sydney would have to figure much more prominently if this were the key driver. Read the rest of this entry »

How bad is traffic congestion in Melbourne?

IBMs Commuter Pain Index

The Age reported earlier this month that Melbourne is second only to Stockholm for low traffic congestion according to a survey of 8,200 motorists in 20 cities.

The survey (here and here), which measured “commuter pain”, was undertaken by IBM, an active player in the international traffic management industry.

My experience of weekday traffic congestion in Melbourne is pretty limited but it is consistent with the survey’s finding. A couple of times a month I have a mid-week late afternoon meeting in South Yarra and finish up between 6pm and 6.30pm. I drive home up Punt Rd/Hoddle Street and then on to Heidelberg Rd.

The thing that always takes me by surprise on these trips is that the congestion is never as bad as I expect. In fact it has never yet taken me longer than an half an hour to get home and I rarely have the feeling that I’m “stuck” in traffic. Once you get past Victoria Pde it flows reasonably well in my experience.

I’m surprised because I always remember Eddie in Elliot Perlman’s novel, Three dollars, offering this advice: ‘Abby, my darling daughter, remember this: no matter where you are or what time of day it is – avoid Punt Road.’

But it’s dangerous to extrapolate from the personal to the general – many of the comments in The Age suggest my experience is atypical. Perhaps Punt Rd is much worse in the AM peak than in the afternoon or is simply not as bad as the freeways. Read the rest of this entry »

Why do inner city residents walk and tram to work?

More than half of all trips to work by residents of the inner city are made by walking, cycling or public transport. In fact three quarters as many residents walk and cycle as use public transport for their commute.

Why? Is it because of the higher density of the inner city?

Inner city Melbourne (photo by ExTester)

The view that density predicts more sustainable transport use is a common one. While it has some role, it is not the key force at play here. In fact there’s evidence that the population density of some parts of the inner city is not that much higher than that of the suburbs – this is because the average size of households in the inner city is relatively small compared to suburban locations.

There are also examples of higher density developments where use of public transport is quite low, for example edge cities in the US and suburban New Urbanism developments like Orenco in Portland, Oregon.

So if density isn’t the primary force driving more sustainable transport use in the inner city, what is?

Here are four plausible explanations.

The first is proximity. Inner city residents live cheek by jowl with the largest concentration of jobs in the metropolitan area – the inner city has 28% of all metropolitan Melbourne’s jobs and the CBD, despite its diminutive geographical size, has 14.5%. There is no other location in Melbourne that comes within cooee of the job density of the CBD. Read the rest of this entry »

More on rail link to airport

The Age is continuing its campaign for a new rail line to be built from the city centre to Melbourne Airport (I discussed this previously on March 2 – Possible rail link to Melbourne airport). There are also a couple of follow-up letters this morning supporting the idea of a rail link.

In a story yesterday, Airport ‘exploiting’ public on parking fees, The Age reported on a new analysis by the ACCC of airport performance in Australia, noting that parking charges account for 20% of Melbourne Airport’s revenue but just 8% of Sydney Airport’s.

The Age’s reporter, Ari Sharp, said the figures, “could add to calls for a rail link to Melbourne Airport to help overcome the growing problems – and costs – of getting there by car or bus”.

However contrary to The Ages’s apparent inference, the difference in the Sydney and Melbourne figures does not appear to be caused by a rapacious parking operator ripping off travellers who lack an alternative to driving.

What the story didn’t say was that Sydney Airport’s revenue from charges to airlines is $446 million, compared to Melbourne Airport’s comparatively modest $197 million. Parking revenues are much the same ($88m and $95m respectively), hence it’s not at all surprising that parking makes up a much larger proportion of total revenue in Melbourne than Sydney. Read the rest of this entry »

What can we do about traffic congestion?

The Federal Government’s State of Australian Cities 2010 Report was released yesterday.  It says the avoidable cost of traffic congestion in Australia’s capital cities was $9.4 billion in 2005 and is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2020.

What can we do in a city like Melbourne about congestion? There are four basic ways to address the issue:

  • Increase road space
  • Shift travellers to a less-congested mode
  • Suppress demand for road space
  • Manage the level of demand

The first approach involves building more road capacity e.g. new or widened freeways.  However people seem to have an almost inexhaustible demand for travel, so as soon as a route gets faster due to added capacity, it pretty quickly fills up again until once more it becomes congested. Read the rest of this entry »

Possible rail link to Melbourne Airport

The Age ran an editorial this week arguing that a rail line should be built from the CBD to Melbourne Airport to deal with growing traffic congestion on the principal radial freeway route.  I have a lot of difficulty seeing how this could ever work financially, much less why it should be a priority compared to other potential transport projects.   I’ve been on both the new Sydney and the new Brisbane airport rail lines and judging by the low patronage I’m not surprised they’ve both been in deep financial difficulty. Read the rest of this entry »