Saturday, December 27, 2008

Do we need a public transport architect?

Sometimes later add-ons to a railway station, bus shelter or other infrastructure can detract from its function, amenity or aesthetics. Other times buildings may go unused (eg old goods sidings or kiosks) when they could do something useful, such as bicycle parking or a business. Whether it's an inconvenient entrance, an insensitively located ticket machine, a mid-platform obstacle or an errant billboard, expediency can sometimes prevail over passenger needs or built heritage.

Example: A tale of two platforms

Mentone Station was identified here as a 'high amenity perception' station. It's easy to see why from the photo below. The things that make Platform 1 special include a pleasant treed outlook, visibility of people and shops. A low-profile fence, a gap in the shelter and easy access all combine to integrate the station with the surrounding community. Rather than the platform being seen as a 'fortress', 'isolated' or 'unsafe' the perception conveyed is safe and welcoming with good passive surveillance.

The next photos are also of Mentone, but Platform 2. The difference with Platform 1 couldn't be more stark. Outside is a carpark that is full of commuters during the day and empty at night so it is less active than the shops overlooking Platform 1.

The main damage however is caused by the long line of billboards along Platform 2. This visually cuts the car park from the platform and shops and the platform from the people and traffic outside.

While Mentone is a very safe suburb, the poor nighttime safety perception of an isolated carpark and unstaffed station platform still lingers in many minds and the blocked visibility makes it appreciably worse. The fix in this case is simple; remove the billboards to improve amenity and perceived safety. A previously blocked vista to shops and buses would also be opened.

The example shows that good design can make a difference and that a generally well designed station can be spoiled by later add-ons. There is also the matter of competing criteria; in this case the dominant (only?) design factor in erecting the billboards appears to have been exposing waiting passengers on Platform 1 to the most advertising possible.

With booming patronage, proposed 'tag-off' ticketing requirements, and the need for existing stations, platforms and entrances to carry 2 or 3 times their current passenger throughputs, we will need to rediscover the need for good station design.

To cope with increasing demands, some of the expediencies put in place during the 1960s - 1990s patronage slump/stagnation may need to be reversed. A public transport architect conversant with rail operations and passenger traffic may well be a sensible investment to ensure that stations, shelters and stops are reviewed with throughput capacity and amenity maximised.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Walking's slower in the west

If you reckon walking's faster in the middle and eastern parts of the CBD than in the west you're not mistaken. As the figures below demonstrate long light cycles and the lack of or closure of station subways shrinks pedsheds and lengthens access times in the west.

Station entrances that allow access over or under major road

Southern Cross: 0 (since subway under Spencer St closed)
Flagstaff: 1 (under Latrobe St)
Melbourne Central: 1 (under Latrobe St)
Parliament: 4 (entrances at Nicholson, Bourke, Collins, Macarthur St)
Flinders Street: 1 (under Flinders St)

Source: Melway Map 1A & 1B

Traffic light cycle times
intersections with Bourke Street, walking from west to east

Spencer St(120s)|King St(120s)|William St(90s)

Queen St (90s) | Eliz St (75s) | Swanston St (60s)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A win for passenger access?

A previous post studied the 888/889 bus terminus at Chelsea and concluded that it was poorly located for easy access from either the Nepean Highway shopping strip or the railway station. An alternative stop location that could reduce transfer times by 80 to 90 percent was suggested.

The photos below show the alternative site as it was yesterday. If they are indeed the beginnings of timetable totems for the proposed Green Orbital then wisdom will have prevailed and the best possible stop location will have been chosen. And then, it is hoped, passengers will be able to bid the current stop (which takes 4 red lights and 4 minutes to reach from 100 metres away) good riddance!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

34.8km/h: not too bad

Today's Herald Sun is reporting Vicroads figures stating that average morning peak hour travel speed has fallen to 34.8 km/h. This is a decline from 37.5km/h in 1999/2000. The tone of the article was generally critical of the government for 'not doing enough to fix road bottlenecks' and complaining that 'drivers were spending more hours per year getting to work'.

What the article does not do is compare the 34.8km/h average speed with the situation in other cities or with alternatives such as public transport. If it did it might find that 34.8km/h in a large city might still be rather fast.

Let's look at other cities. Generally CBD traffic is slower than suburban traffic, and definitions of cities and urban boundaries around the world vary. But here's a few examples from around the world:

* Los Angeles (highway speeds as low as 5 or 10 miles/hr)
* Dublin (average 13km/h)
* Various UK cities (We're faster than London, faster than Bristol and comparable with Birmingham) Average for English urban centres approx 15-20 mph
* Sydney (22km/h on major roads - article from Herald Sun's Sydney sister
* Perth 30km/h on Mitchell Freeway

The quick survey above is not definitive, but compared with those places, our 34.8km/h (21 mph) does not compare unfavourably.

What about public transport? Travel speeds vary greatly, so here's a 'basket' of trips to provide a range. The Metlink journey planner was used to calculate travel times, selecting the quickest trip departing the origin around 8:00am. Distances are approximate. Waiting times are not included, but neither were parking times in the driving speed statistics reported above.

* 50 Jukes Rd (Fawkner) to Broadmeadows Town Park: 8km @ 55 min = 9km/h
* Durham Rd/Glengala Rd (Sunshine West) to Victoria University Ballarat Rd (Footscray): 10km @ 45 min = 13 km/h
* Glendale St/Whitehorse Rd (Nunawading) to Doncaster Shoppingtown: 10km @ 40 min = 15km/h
* Pascoe Vale Rd (Oak Park) to Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre (Southbank): 17km @ 1hr:08 = 15km/h
* 1000 Glenhuntly Rd (Caulfield South) to 600 St Kilda Rd: 8km @ 31 min = 16km/h
* Tooronga Rd/High St (Glen Iris) to Monash University (Clayton): 14km @ 52 min = 16 km/h
* Beach St/Dandenong Rd West (Frankston) to State Library (City): 40km @ 1hr:06 = 36km/h

Looking at these trip times, it is difficult to achieve a travel speed of more than 20km/h by public transport. For these transit passengers, a 34.8km/h average travel speed would halve commute times and seem in the realm of fantasy.

Public transport at its best (eg frequent express trains) can exceed the average peak driving time, as the Frankston example shows. The gap in favour of public transport may be even wider if 'to CBD' roads move slower than the 35km/h average. However as soon as either the origin or destination ceases to be almost next door to the station or a transfer is involved, travel speeds might fall by a third or more and driving becomes faster.

To summarise, Melbourne's 34.8km/h average morning peak road traffic speed is not necessarily slower than elsewhere and is about twice the speed of public transport for all but direct train trips. Contrary to the Herald Sun article, maybe our drivers don't have it too bad after all!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

iHub transport information: a demonstration

Forewarned is forearmed. The passenger told about the cancelled train before entering the station underpass is happier than one who only found out after the train failed to arrive. And it's better for everyone if the passenger can use this knowledge to do something useful (like grab some food or a paper) and minimise 'any inconvenience caused'.

Conversely not displaying train information until the last possible moment (eg suburban train times at the Bourke Street end of Southern Cross Station) is bad. It's a bit like having a shop on a first floor up a one-way staircase since if the services or times aren't to your liking, you've passed the point of no return and must wait it out.

Hence attempts to bring public transport information off the system to where the people are, in the street, at work or in their homes, are very much to be welcomed. One such information source is the iHub booths around Melbourne CBD. They were installed just before the 2006 Commonwealth Games as part of making the city 'tourist-friendly'. With their touch-screens they're like an electronic visitor guide, with information on things to do, attractions, food and transport.

Today I tried one out, in this case to find out about city trams. You can watch how the trial went below.

To summarise, they're not much good, at least for transport information, and usability was poor. While they might make some advertising revenue for the operator their public benefit is limited. The average tourist would be better off if the space was used for large city maps with attraction guides and transport information instead.

Monday, December 01, 2008

More from the Pedshed Series: Pedestrian and transit access around intersections

The areas around intersections are hotly contested on the road network. Frequently public transport comes off second best, with bus stops and pedestrian crossings planned or moved mid-block to add more lanes or room for turning cars.

The video below looks at the corner of Springvale Rd and Wells Rd in Chelsea Heights. This intersection is 30 kilometres south of Melbourne at the start of one of Melbourne's busiest roads. Topics covered include provision of footpaths, traffic lights versus roundabouts, location of bus stops and access to major trip and job generators.