Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bringing Stations to Life: Cafe 3162 at Caulfield

Caulfield Station's Cafe 3162 opened yesterday. It's a project of Bringing Stations to Life, a Metro Trains project intended to generate activity around railway stations.

Cafe 3162 serves Asian cusine, in keeping with the international student demographics of the area. It was very quiet earlier this evening with more staff than patrons. Probably understandable given its newness and the university holidays.

The cafe is built on railway land. It abuts but is remote from Platform 4; the opportunity was not taken to add a serving window from the fare paid area (unlike McDonalds at Box Hill). For in-train cleanliness though this is probably a good thing!

Given that 'Bringing Stations to Life' is about the interaction between the station, its urban environment and community, it's worth a few comments on this aspect.

The position is across the road from Monash University and the Route 900 SmartBus stop. While just metres from these facilities, lack of zebra crossings, poor visibility (especially if there is a bus waiting) and fast traffic make direct pedestrian access poor or dangerous. If one was to use the 'approved' method to reach the cafe, ie via the zebra crossing near 7-11, the comparative advantages of the cafe's proximity disappear.

From inside the building one can see Platform 4. The view is through narrow windows covered in mesh (possibly to retard glare from the afternoon sun). The view is not reciprocated; very little of the cafe's insides can be seen from Platform 4 (at least during the day). It presents as a rusted metal edifice and passengers would have little clue that it was a cafe since its back is turned to the tracks.

Although only a day old, the building is already tatty. Graffiti (on the street side) appears easy to do and hard to remove due to its rusted surface. Maybe in time this will give what some may call 'character'.

What would I have done instead at Platform 4 Caulfield? Firstly I'd be inclined to demolish all billboards, walls and existing buildings that present a barrier between the station and the shops on Sir John Monash Drive. There would be ticket machines, timetables, toilets and perhaps a remodelled waiting room, but little else.

Secondly I'd have a second station entrance, located on the down end of the platform. Positioned at the current site of Cafe 3162 this would allow more direct access to Monash University and the Route 900 SmartBus stop. This would be aligned with a second zebra crossing and traffic calming on Sir John Monash Drive, slashing train to bus access times from about 2 or 3 minutes to about 30 seconds.

Thirdly, as part of a broader plan for the area, I would remodel access to Caulfield Plaza, providing a proper footpath between it and the station precinct.

So what's the verdict? I don't think implentation has been ideal at Caulfield due to reasons and missed opportunities outlined above. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the concept of 'bringing stations to life' is a very good one and rail operators have a constructive role to play.

The concept encompasses matters such as surrounding land uses, precinct design, passive surveillance and pedestrian access. Most of all it aims to make station precincts versatile multi-purpose spaces that nevertheless remain efficient as transport facilities.

I sometimes think that in the past stations have sometimes (unwittingly) erected barriers around them, and this gives rise to some of the negative personal safety perceptions.

In some local station cases a simple un (or modestly) fenced platform and shelter, accessible from every direction and surrounded by supportive land uses offering passive surveillance may be the way forward (similar to the Port Melbourne tram terminus of Route 109). Yes ticket checking will be harder and there may be a risk of people jumping fences. But bringing platforms closer to people have urban amenity benefits as well.

In contrast heavy concrete structures like at Moorabbin, Roxburgh Park or Sunshine distance a station from life. These rank amongst Melbourne's least attractive stations to wait for a train, as well as being a blank canvas for vandals. Grade seperations as seen at Huntingdale, Oakleigh or Boronia, though marvellous from a transport efficiency viewpoint, further isolate station platforms from main streets and thus urban life. And multiple levels create shadows which lessen passive surveillance and require more intensive policing than a single level designs with no walls and only a high canopy roof.

There are sometimes tensions between efficiency, safety and design aesthetics. Nevertheless even events such as Sunday trash and Treasure Sales (eg opposite Bentleigh Station) demonstrate how simple things bring station areas to life. It folows that a key aspect of station design is the provision of adequate space near stations (preferably open access and multi-purpose) to allow such activities to thrive.


Russ said...

Peter, well said all round. It strikes me as odd that anyone could think it is a benefit to have a cafe at a station without a platform egress?

I find access onto platforms a constant thorn in my travels by train, it can add 100-200m to any exit (1-2min), for no real benefit to the transit authorities, given how infrequently they check tickets on platforms (as opposed to on the train, or just at the CBD end).

This project is a start, at least, though.

Loose Shunter said...

Peter, a good post. You know my opinions on multiple access points into the paid area at stations though, so we'll say no more about it!

I do think it is a failing to at least have a servery on the paid side of the platform, so that at least some incidental revenue can be obtained from waiting passengers (although inter-peak and PM-peak Down Pakenham line commuters probably won't tip the revenue scales in its favour).

In terms of Russ' critique, I would say the gating of Platform 1 at Caulfield would greatly assist revenue protection and passenger safety, particularly in the counterpeak, interpeak and postpeak periods. The gating of Glenferrie station has been particularly instructive in showing us the level of access control and revenue protection that can happen at a station that adjoins a major activity generator.


Riccardo said...

My significant other and I tend to know about such things and can say the food is OK but the service is awful.

The food is supposed to be Canto but the Northern Girls don't know how to sell it (even if the way they kiss is something the Beach Boys might have sung about).

Save your cash for Ayi's down one stop in Carnegie.

Not sure Platform 4 revenue would make much difference - but would like to see more spare platform buildings put into use.

The glory days of parcels offices, ticket sales on all platforms, first class waiting rooms - those days are not going to return so we might as well get as much use out of buildings as we can.

And we should be aiming to get pax onto the train as quick as possible through better frequencies, not cater for them waiting around.

Windsor is my fave.