Sunday, July 27, 2008

What is a 'wasteland station'?

Today's Age had a story slamming some stations as unsafe wastelands.

The problem was seen as this:

...the unstaffed stations where people don't want to park their cars because they might get nicked.

Their solution?

transform the stations into community-friendly hubs

While the article focussed on staffing, I believe the article missed other important factors that affect a station's perceived amenity and 'friendliness'. The most important are design of the station, the surrounding facilities and access to them from the station.

Let's compare a few stations; large and small, staffed and unstaffed and group them by amenity. I will define 'amenity' as being 'would you want to wait 20 minutes there at night'.

Comparison factors will include (i) staffing, (ii) platform configuration (island or edge/facing),(iii) nearby active shops/facilities, (iv) direct at-level access to these facilities and (iv) grade seperation of platforms.

High amenity perception stations

* Clayton: Staffed. Edge platform. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Mentone: Staffed, Edge platforms. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Montmorency: Unstaffed. Single platform. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Oakleigh: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via subway. Platforms at-grade.

Low amenity perception stations

* Boronia: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via steps/bridge. Platforms sunken.
* Huntingdale: Unstaffed. Island platform. Few nearby shops. Access via subway. Platforms at-grade.
* Kananook: Unstaffed. Island platform. No nearby shops. Access via bridge. Platforms at-grade.
* Moorabbin: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via steps. Platforms sunken.
* Patterson: Unstaffed. Island platform. Few nearby shops. Access via steps. Platforms raised.
* Richmond: Staffed (remotely). Island platforms. Some distance from nearby shops. Access under rail bridge. Platforms raised.

No one factor is critical (there are high amenity unstaffed stations for example), though several go together to influence a station's amenity.

For example, to characterise the highest amenity stations, they tend to be staffed and are surrounded by open and active shops overlooking and visible from the platforms. If it's 20 minutes until the next train, walking to them is a quick at-grade duck around the corner. Platforms are at ground level and walks are not lengthened by under or overpass ramps. Access to bus stops and surrounding residential streets is direct and passengers do not need to walk across empty car parks to reach them.

The lowest amenity stations are pretty much the opposite. They are either not near shops (Kananook), or access to them is dark and uninviting (Richmond). Especially if the station has an island platform there is a feeling of being 'trapped' as there is only one way in/out and that is via a subway (Huntindale) or bridge (Kananook). The same effect applies where platforms are lowered (Boronia) raised (Patterson). While there are video monitors, staff cannot directly see the platforms (Boronia, Moorabbin) or are so remote from them they might as well not be there (Richmond). And what made the comment about parking ironical is that surrounding it by acres of parking is a great way to turn a high amenity station into a low amenity station.

Sometimes giving people what they say they want can reduce a station's amenity or 'friendliness'. As an example, there are often more calls for more parking at stations and Boronia-style grade seperations for better (car) traffic flow. However such projects could actually reduce passenger amenity and wellbeing as they isolate a stations's platform from its local community. Conversely single-platform stations (eg Montmorency or Altona) tend to be well integrated with the surrounding area, providing a 'village' feel.

I should mention that the concept of amenity described above, though important, is a somewhat narrow view and operational compromises sometimes have to be made.

For example, while island platforms cut a station off from its community more than edge plaforms they are operationally better. This is because they permit more accessible customer service (staffed stations) and cross-platform passenger transfers (eg Caulfield on the weekends). In this case, you'd stick with island platform at major staffed stations (especially junctions) but acknowledge that for unstaffed stations facing platforms are better (eg Huntingdale or Hughesdale vs Murrumbeena).

Similarly ticketing system designers love island platforms and single entry points. This is because fewer ticketing hardware is required and enforcement is easier. However platforms accessible from a single end reduce a station's pedshed (and thus patronage) by around 20%. Plus island platforms are more claustraphobic than edge platforms and require use of under/over-passes or wide at-level crossings (Bentleigh).

Then there are the nearby shopping strips that provide the facilities wanted in the report and make a station the hub of the community, rather than its edge. Southland's dominance at the expense of Moorabbin, Forest Hill Chase at the expense of Blackburn, Altona Meadows instead of Laverton, Patterson Lakes instead of Carrum and the demise of other strips (eg Edithvale) can't have helped passenger amenity or provided 'safety in numbers'. Melbourne 2030-type policies, along with the removal of minimum parking regulations for new homes and businesses near stations, could be helpful in this regard.

To summarise, there are several factors that determine the amenity of a station and its environment. Staffing is one factor, but a station's design and the surrounding facilities are at least as important.


Anonymous said...

Amenity also has to be proportional to need. I would even give Wattle Glen a high amenity mark - it is literally an unattended park and ride stop, but it fulfills that role excellently. You park right next to the platform, can even wait in your car till the train appears. You wouldn't hang around here any longer than you need to, and wouldn't buy a ticket here.

There is no town and there is no shopping.

I agree Clayton gets high marks.

I wouldn't be hard on places like Boronia merely because they have been grade sepped (or Richmond for that matter) - in this case it is more about staffing and how it is used, and the reaction to criminal threats.

Boronia looks no different from the QR Gold Coast stations, or a typical underground station on hundreds of underground networks around the world - the difference is those places are generally protected from crime, while Boronia isn't.

Anonymous said...

Some nice murals - perhaps 'graffiti art' - has the effect of masking graffiti and adding a sense of vibrancy.
Although I have no empirical evidence to support my idea, I would point to examples in other cities (such as New York) where such art contributes to the atmosphere of a station positively.