And with a click of his fingers...
Russell Degnan

... all public transport had fantastic pedestrian access.

2.4 Relationship between Transport Routes and the Surrounding Area

Public transport networks and services should be considered in the context of their surrounding areas, including how pedestrians will access the services. This means that pedestrian design features such as safety, amenity and urban design will be important considerations when planning public transport services.

That, in full, is the Department of Infrastructure's draft guidelines for integrating public transport into the urban landscape. On the one hand, I should be pleased. I am writing my thesis on a related topic, and have already written a (still unreleased *sigh*) report on precisely this problem.

On the other hand, are we so unadvanced in our thinking, that a vague aim can be passed off as a guideline for future development?

I know we are not, but as usual the dog's breakfast that makes up Victorian planning means the people in the know aren't in this department. A developer, or a local council doesn't just need to read these set of guidelines, but [1] also the DSE's Melbourne strategic plan (Melbourne 2030), the DOI's Melbourne transport plan, VicRoads' engineering practise notes, the local council's strategic plan, transport plan, urban design guidelines, and planning scheme, the Department of Health's guidelines for safer and the DoH's guidelines for healthier streets. And others too, some of which may have more than just aims.

While it's ironic that a profession that justifies itself on the basis that many small, albeit well intentioned, decisions can produce negative outcomes embodies the problem so acutely, that is not the fault of the writers of this report.

Two other issues with this report are. The first is a typically inadequate discussion of the implementation of an inherently political problem. Setting forward best-practice guidelines for handling trams and buses in congested road-space would be fine if the other road users (cars/ pedestrians/ bikes/ businesses) didn't have equally valid claims on its use. At the moment, the only guideline on what to do is this:

"the appropriate level of priority will be considered by PTD DOI and VicRoads on a case by case basis"

Which brings me to the second issue. That the guidelines focus on engineering solutions to problems that are commonly design issues. In computer programming terms, designing in and around public transport is a user interface problem, not a structural one. The structure, in the sense of where and when transport runs, is largely complete, the user interface is decidedly poor.

Good user interfaces are notoriously hard to achieve, mostly because they tend to depend on small details that defy generic practice. Good interfaces are a state of mind, taking into account what the user -- the pedestrian -- sees, and is trying to achieve. If decent pedestrian and cycling access is to be achieved, then the guidelines should require the urban designer to enter that state of mind, and produce a plan that shows it. VicRoads asks for considerably more on a traffic plan than a signed statement that they have considered "features such as safety, amenity and urban design".

The guidelines could, and perhaps should, ask a plan that shows primary and secondary pedestrian and cycling routes. Where:

Primary routes are dedicated routes that separate the user from other types of traffic. At intersections they should prioritise the user using appropriate urban design and timed access. Where possible, they should protect the user from unnecessary noise, and the elements. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided consisting of trees, seating, toilets, rubbish bins, and regular sign-posting of nearby transport, shops and other public places.

Secondary routes are mixed routes that separate the user from other types of traffic where possible. At intersections appropriate traffic calming should be used to allow safe interaction. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided as space permits.

And then require that all public transport, shops and facilities are connected by a direct primary pedestrian and cycling route. And that all residential properties be connected to surrounding primary routes by a direct secondary route.

Despite being basically minimalist, that would be a huge improvement on the current urban environment. Sadly, drawing it for almost any local area would demonstrate just how far from providing decent pedestrian access to services we are.

On the other hand, one paragraph is better than none, right?

[1] I won't provide links to these, but they and their many variants are easily found.

Sterner Matters 27th August, 2006 16:10:31   [#] 


And with a click of his fingers...
Russ, hope you put in a submission (and maybe publish it here). I thought they were more concerned about roundabouts and not street layouts. I used my submission to put a wishlist of dos and don't (pdf on my blog) though I don't cover the 'little things' as well as yo do.
Peter  29th August, 2006 16:34:07  

And with a click of his fingers...
thanks Peter, I had a look at your submission, and I'll put one in if I get time.

This is the first time the DOI has been a referral authority so in a sense it is very significant. Whether they'll be allowed to (or even if they should) advise on more genral walking and cycling urban design issues is probably an open question. Being vague helps noone though.
Russ  1st September, 2006 21:05:43  

And with a click of his fingers...
Well someone should. I don't know enough to know if DOI have the expertise or not. Though when the lift to floor 18 of Nauru House (the library) happens to stop at an intermediate floor, you see some tantalising branches on the way up.

Am currently reading 'On a Human Scale' by Gordon Stephenson, and in particular his defence of pedestrianised town centres (as per Stevenage but also Woden in Canberra in which I lived). The problem with these is that while they assisted movement inside town centres, they made walking from residential areas just outside into town less pleasant (due to ring roads & car parks). From this perspective many of our established Melbourne suburbs (without pedestrianised cores) are superior IMHO. Similarly I'm not that keen on seperating pedestrians and cars due to poorer safety, less passive surveillance and the risk of urban blight of underpasses/grade seperations (eg the railway at Oakleigh or Huntingdale).
Peter  2nd September, 2006 21:35:43  

Pedestrian Cores
Peter, pedestrianisation, and related traffic calming is a complex topic. The effects of a pedestrian core depend on whether it encompasses residents, its size and vitality, the means by which people can access it and their options if their preferred means is blocked. Car-free (or heavily reduced) enclaves are quite common around Melbourne, in places like Roxburgh Park where they design the streets to prevent through-traffic, Carlton with its blocked streets, and Chadstone or Eastland which are enduringly popular, even if their pedestrian access is problematic. So while yes, in some ways the established centres \"work\" better, the general public can be pragmatic.

There are many ways to \"share\" road space, and create pedestrian friendly areas without completely impinging on traffic, and we would do well to consider them first, instead of a stronger either/or scenario. There is quite a bit on this in Allen Jacobs' books Great Streets and he Boulevard Book.
Russ  3rd September, 2006 02:51:54  

And with a click of his fingers...
I'd agree. I'd be curious to hear about what the other Jacobs (Jane) says about seperation, but I imagine she'd be against it, ie taming the car in town rather than eliminating it or pushing it out to a peripheral ring road.

I haven't warmed to the Radburn idea of parks (and pedestrian paths) at peoples rear doors. However I do like circular or square parks surrounded by local streets, with houses along one side of the street only facing each other via the park.

I observed this is Kalgoorlie (where a local estate agent confirmed that although the housing stock was nothing special, homes sold at a premium) and in Braybrook (Melway 27 C11). Again the homes were modest and the suburb's SEIFA ranking is in the bottom 5% but the effect was most pleasing with good surveillance, amenity and safety.

This compares to a Radburn development, which would be extremely unsafe and heavily vandalised, especially in a low socio-economic area.

I'd treat sections of railway lines between stations similar to parks, with the sequence being a narrow strip of parkland (optional), a fence (optional), cycleway, footpath, nature strip (optional) local street parallel to the line (traffic-calmed) then houses facing the railway line/nature strip.

Royal Ave & Dorothy Ave in Glenhuntly are excellent examples, and graffiti vandalism is reduced by 80-90% compared to if it was just back fences.

I'd do the same for major roads (especially controlled-access roads) since these may well be major bus routes and you need passive surveillance. Yes it might appear wider (due to parallel service roads) but I think the outcome is better than what we have now.

Peter  3rd September, 2006 15:10:11  

And with a click of his fingers...
Good points Peter, although conversions of existing roads and railways to something more suitable varies from straight-forward to very difficult. I think, more than anything, the usability of the space should take precedence. It is amazing how often some very basic needs are ignored, or subverted by not considering that aspect.

Jane Jacobs is good like that. She was very pragamatic, arguing that the car had its place, but that it shouldn't consume the neighbourhood. That argument can come across as seeming a little naive and simplistic, but complex answers haven't got us any closer to a solution (if one even exists).
Russ  3rd September, 2006 20:03:16