Friday, June 07, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network - Part 7: The Mordialloc Freeway corridor

The Useful Network series is typically about low cost ways to improve local bus networks. It normally achieves this by removing duplication between routes and increasing frequency at off-peak times when spare buses are normally available. 

Today we take a different tack. Firstly it will cost more than previous weeks' reforms, since the area has little service duplication. Secondly it covers a larger area than normal. This is because, thirdly, this network was provoked by a proposed freeway. Which we'll discuss before returning to buses.

The Mordialloc Freeway

The state government is proposing what is basically a northward extension of the Mornington Peninsula Freeway. Widely known as the Mordialloc Freeway, it was supported by both parties at the 2014 state election. Estimated to cost $375 million, it will be 9km long and include four interchanges. The Mordialloc Freeway will parallel the Eastlink toll road, about 6km to the east.


The Eastlink experience

Let's talk about Eastlink for a while.

The former Linking Melbourne website says it was Australia's largest urban road development during its construction. It runs from Mitcham to Frankston. Opening in 2008, the public private partnership project was delivered by ConnectEast, with construction by Thiess John Holland. Claimed benefits (in 2009) include faster travel (24 minutes for full trip) and 30 per cent less traffic on existing arterial roads.

While the road itself is exclusively for private cars and trucks (though some use of it may be made by dead-running buses), the project did include some public and active transport components. Their inclusion meant it could be presented as an integrated transport package for eastern suburbs.

Transport planners tell me that such packaging can increase and broaden a road project's political or economic acceptability. This is especially where decision-makers favour bold and expensive 'signature projects' over modest but more cost-effective upgrades for local roads, active transport facilities and public transport services. If things that should be done anyway (but aren't) are tacked onto a grand road or rail project then its overall benefit to cost ratio may improve (or become less worse).

Eastlink was described as Melbourne's Motorway Masterpiece in this promotion brochure.  There is other Eastlink information on this archived copy of the government's Linking Melbourne Authority website. This is the successor to the Southern and Eastern Integrated Transport Authority, the body established to plan and commission Eastlink.

Active and public transport measures were some late additions to the Eastlink project. These include a walking and cycling path parallel to the freeway.  Because there are few dense trip generators right near Eastlink these are basically for recreational rather than commuter transport purposes. Their  positive value is perhaps best compared against the negative effects that freeways and road widenings can have for access by people who could previously more conveniently walk to trains and shops.


The Eastlink project's associated public transport projects included upgrades to four railway stations and the Route 900 SmartBus between Caulfield and Stud Park (introduced 2006).

More than ten years on it is difficult to discern lasting benefits from all of the station upgrades. Noble Park needed to be rebuilt due to level crossing removals. Kananook remains bleak due to its poor surrounding environment. And, while there has been investment in the nearby Dandenong city centre, the poor day to day cleaning and maintenance of Dandenong station still make it not the nicest of places.

In contrast bus Route 900 has been highly successful. It's well used to the point that additional frequency is needed. Peak frequency was recently upgraded from every 15 to every 10 minutes. However further upgrades are desirable, especially on weekends where the current service is only every 30 minutes. Also it only goes only as far as Stud Rd. Most of Rowville's housing is east of Stud Rd where only occasional buses operate. 

One of the arguments for freeways is that they can act as a bypass and divert traffic from clogged parallel roads. In Eastlink's case, Springvale Rd and Stud Rd. Potentially one could do other things with those roads, for instance put in bus lanes, bike lanes and/or make them more pedestrian friendly. If we think in those terms we're starting to think not just about one freeway corridor and cars, but about a wider area and other transport modes. In other words what is sometimes referred to as 'balanced transport' thinking.

Can all that work in practice? It depends. The above carries certain assumptions. These include wheter decision-making for active and public transport is responsive enough to make proper use of any reallocated road space. If the freeway is tolled like Eastlink, removing car lanes from a parallel untolled road will just be seen as 'revenue raising' and be politically unpopular.

Stud Road's bus lanes - a cautionary tale

The initial decrease in traffic on parallel roads to Eastlink provided an opening for the government to introduce bus lanes on Springvale Rd and Stud Rd. However the Stud Rd lanes were not to last.

The Route 901 SmartBus between Ringwood and Dandenong via Stud Rd was introduced in 2008. It runs every 15 minutes on weekdays (including peak periods) and every 30 minutes on evenings and weekends. This was a large improvement on the previous Route 665 but short of what would run on a true turn-up-and-go bus rapid transit system. A few local routes used sections of Stud Rd but their frequency was less. The large catchment beyond walking distance of Stud Rd in the City of Knox has particularly poor service with some main road routes running just one trip per day without  significant service upgrades for decades.

Stud Rd car drivers (understandably) got upset at seeing an almost empty bus lane while their lane crawls along. Bus lanes can appear relatively empty yet still earn their keep (by carrying more people than car lanes) if a good frequent service is provided. This is difficult but necessary to communicate since bus lanes are constantly under threat by motorist interests who think that removing them would ease congestion. This is one (admittedly small) reason for buses not to have window advertising or dark tinting that makes it difficult to see in from the outside.

The bus lane infrastructure on Stud Rd was never backed up with frequent service. Infrequent service is merely inconvenient for train users, who keep their right of way. For buses though it can mean slower and less reliable travel if it leads to bus lanes being removed. An example was in 2011 when the Baillieu government removed bus lanes on Stud Rd after advocacy from local MPs.  Antipathy towards bus lanes can cut across both sides of politics, with the current government proposing bus lane removals on Fitzsimons Lane.  This only adds congestion as people swap bus travel for driving on increasingly clogged roads alongside other ex-bus users. 

The lesson is that bus lanes must be backed up by frequent and useful service along them. If this is missing, as in Stud Rd's case, then the lane risks being ceded to regular traffic. That's likely under policies that favour infrastructure over service. One can then reach the paradox where bus lanes (or other public transport improvements) are used to bolster the case for a road widening or freeway but, due to a lack of service they end up being removed with the benefit gone.

Traffic volumes - fixed or variable?

Also important to discussions about road space is the nature of traffic and whether increasing space will fix problems of congestion.  Many think of traffic as being a fixed quantity like water. At any one time there is a certain number of people on the road who need to go places. It's the transport system's job to keep them moving.

Think about a known volume of water in an elevated tank. Let's imagine it fills up each night and you wish to empty it each day. You open taps to outlet pipes to let the water flow. Add more (or thicker pipes) and the tank empties quicker. But the amount of water you start with each day remains the same.  In this analogy water represents traffic and the pipes represent roads. Hence it seems logical that if you want to speed movement then you add more or wider pipes.

A different way to look at it is to regard traffic as the result of many peoples' decisions. When you make something faster, more convenient or cheaper you attract people to it. Listen in on peoples conversations. Read advertisements. Scour social media posts. Observe traffic volumes. Available transport changes what people do.

It is undeniable that roads like Eastlink have redrawn peoples' mental maps about transport. Driving trips that people previously thought 'too far' or 'too slow' became more practical, so are being made more often. Faster goods travel shortens supply chains and increases responsiveness as people can get stuff sooner.

Employers have a wider labour market (but may lose workers to businesses further away). Specialist businesses gain wider catchments (although also face competition from further away). Eastlink has made some places relatively more accessible, and, by extension, others relatively less accessible. In short, it's changed where we go and how we travel.

While not immediate, all the above factors flow through to business decisions like where to locate and personal decisions like where to live, work, shop and enjoy. That changes the suburban structure, makes non-driving trips less viable and creates demand that simply didn't exist before the freeway was built. This means that traffic behaves less like water and more like a gas, which spreads to fit the available vessel.

No less than the Metro Rail Tunnel, roads like Eastlink have been truly city shaping projects. Decisions as to their desirability boil down to what type of city you want. You fund more of what you want more of and fund less of what you want less of. People are pragmatists who will use what works best for them based on available choices arising from infrastructure and service funding decisions.

Existing public transport near the Mordialloc Freeway corridor

The map below shows the public transport network in the area surrounding the Mordialloc Freeway corridor.  It is pieced together from PTV local area maps. All routes are shown equally, whether they operate every 15 minutes all day or just run occasionally. Hence it overestimates the number of routes likely to be useful for a wide variety of trips. Click for a bigger view.


A better representation is from the Useful Network map. It shows 7 day routes that feature service until at least 9pm and a 20 minute (or better) frequency on weekdays.


Both the Frankston and Dandenong train lines exceed this standard. As do some bus routes. These include: the north-south red, green and yellow SmartBus routes (903, 902, 901) and the east-west bus route 828 (shown in blue). 

However there are some long distances between them. Residential areas beyond walking distance of Useful Network service include most of Carrum Downs, Patterson Lakes, Chelsea Heights, Aspendale Gardens, Parkdale, Mordialloc and Mentone. Similar comments apply to the light industrial and job areas of Braeside, Mordialloc, Chelsea Heights and Carrum Downs.

The distance that most people are from good service limits the existing public transport network's usefulness for all types of travel. That includes trips where public transport should have an advantage, such as trips to the city, especially during peak times where competition for road space and parking at train stations is highest.

As well as their limited frequency, the layout of existing bus routes can limit access to local jobs. For example some trips require multiple changes between infrequent services. Or bus routes to employment areas may terminate short of train stations.  We'll try to deal with those issues next. 

Future public transport near the Mordialloc Freeway corridor

What if you wanted to give those in the Mordialloc Freeway corridor an alternative to driving?

Mapped below are some public transport network upgrades that would dramatically improve access to trains, education and jobs. They will require new buses to be bought as they involve more frequent service on existing routes and extensions to better serve employment and education destinations. With one exception all operate every 20 minutes through the day, making them suitable for a diverse range of employment and education commutes. 

Click this interactive map for more detail, including notes on each route. Note that the map shows only Useful Network routes - ie those that would operate every 20 minutes or better on weekdays. 

Main points of revised network

* New Mordialloc - Monash University Clayton route. Formed from an extension of Route 705, this makes  access to Monash University's Clayton campus much from the southern suburbs much easier with good frequency and directness. The route also connects people to jobs at Braeside and improves service in the Clayton South area. This route along Boundary Rd is the public transport option that most matches the Mordialloc Freeway alignment.

* Route 708 upgrade. An all-day frequency upgrade greatly improves connections to trains from Parkdale, Aspendale Gardens and Chelsea Heights, relieving pressure on station parking at Mentone,  Parkdale, Mordialloc and Carrum. Access to Monash University Clayton is also provided via a connection to the extended Route 705 (above).

* Route 760 and 778 upgrades in Carrum Downs. Both routes are upgraded to operate every 20 minutes to Seaford Station to provide an improved direct train feeder service. This should relieve  commuter parking pressures at Seaford. In addition there is better access to industrial areas in Seaford and Carrum Downs from both Seaford and Cranbourne Stations.

* Route 770 frequency upgrade in Karingal. Current routes are indirect loop services that are difficult to understand. Route reform could involve operating Route 770 and 771 as straight there-and-back routes. Route 770 has been shown as being upgraded to operate every 20 minutes to improve access to Frankston and relieve parking pressure at its station. 

* Route 788 upgrade on the Mornington Peninsula. The peninsula's main bus route is the 788. This gets overloaded at peak times and on warm weekends. Frequency upgrades are proposed to cater for demand and improve connectivity with trains at Frankston. 

* SmartBus Route 902 frequency upgrade. Route 902 operates along Springvale Rd, which like Boundary Rd is parallel with the Mordialloc Freeway alignment. It is often crowded during peak periods and even weekends, with maximum patronage usually reached between Glen Waverley and Springvale South. Adding extra buses over this section would lessen crowding, improve punctuality and make the bus a better train feeder at Edithvale, Springvale and Glen Waverley stations. 

* Upgrades to train services. The Dandenong and Frankston lines enjoy a good turn-up-and-go frequency most of the time. However there are still times when trains are 30 minutes apart. Particularly after 7pm on weekends and on Sunday mornings. A frequency upgrade to every 20 minutes would make services more useful, particularly for those who work shift hours or catch early flights. 

* Other measures. Some aspects are not covered above. These include: (i) poor access between Frankston line train  stations and  jobs in Moorabbin east, largely because some routes stop short of stations, (ii) Frankston South, including access to Monash University, due to an existing complicated local network, (iii) coverage issues on the Mornington Peninsula, and (iv) access to jobs in Dandenong South. All these require wider local network reviews. 

Summary

The Mordialloc Freeway corridor is currently poorly served with public transport. While most people have a local bus to a station for CBD travel, its frequency (typically every 30 minutes) is often too low to be attractive. Melbourne experience is that feeder buses usually need to be at least every 20 minutes (preferably better) to start to appeal to commuters.  In addition current routes don't serve trips to major destinations like Monash University Clayton and surrounding industrial areas such as Clayton, Moorabbin, Seaford and Carrum Downs very well from most areas, with three lots of waiting and two changes often required. 

The outline of an improved local bus network based on routes operating at more useful frequencies is presented above. The higher frequencies are likely to encourage use of them by city commuters to reach stations. This supports usage of the rail network and relieves parking pressure at stations. In addition, the extended routes would improve bus travel to destinations such as Monash University more practical.  

While I've tried to minimise overlaps with existing routes, the higher frequencies and longer routes mean that money will be required to buy more buses, maintain them, fuel them and pay more drivers. However, as we see each day on Route 902, a full bus is an extremely space-effective, cost-effective  and environmentally-friendly form of transport. And, partly because most roads are untolled, most drivers aren't necessarily exposed to the full cost of their own travel. 

Comments on this network are welcome below. Is it too much or does it not go far enough? And should there be connections elsewhere, or are some ones suggested above unnecessary. 

1 comment:

Peter Parker said...

This Infrastructure Victoria paper goes further, recommending a SmartBus from Mordialloc to Clayton and Monash Uni. See Appendix A http://www.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Professor-John-Stanley-and-Dr-Peter-Brain-Investing-in-Melbournes-National-Employment-Clusters.pdf