Friday, July 05, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 10 Inner north (east west routes)

One of the densest populated and least driving part of Melbourne is its inner-north. Trams and trains are closely spaced, all running north-south towards the city. Few people are beyond walking distance of a route that qualifies as being part of the Useful Network. 

We're talking about suburbs like Coburg, Brunswick, Northcote and Thornbury between Brunswick Rd and Bell St. Although we will also touch on areas either side and south towards Parkville.  

Unlike the inner east and south-east, inner-north trains and trams all run parallel. Occasionally they twist over one another, allowing connections. But by and large they're good for going to one place only - the CBD. By themselves they don't form a true network.

That's where buses come in. They run east-west. Add them to the trains and trams and you've got a network good for travel in all directions. Provided they're running when you need to travel and waits for connections aren't excessive.  

Existing Useful Network

I explain the Useful Network concept here. It's those routes that are frequent enough and run over long enough hours to be useful for many trips. I've specified a 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 7 day service until 9pm. In other words the coloured lines on the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network map with the 20 minute frequency selected.

The map shows the existing Useful Network in Melbourne's inner north (click for better clarity). 

Useful Network routes include the Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda and Hurstbridge train lines and trams 59, 58, 19, 1, 6, 96, 11, 86. These all run north-south. 

Useful Network buses include 513 and others on Bell St, 510 on Moreland Rd and 508 on Victoria and Blyth. Much further south is 402 in Parkville. 506 on Glenlyon Rd appears as a grey line but doesn't really qualify as it's only 6 days/week with limited hours. These all run east-west. 

Some of these routes extend into the Northcote / Thornbury area. There's no trams east of the 86. But there are Useful Network bus routes like 250, 251 and 552 running north-south. I'll review these at another time.   

Where are the gaps? The biggest gap is between Victoria/Blyth (508) and Parkville (402). In between are routes 506 (limited hours) and 504 (not frequent enough). Even if those were included there is still a large gap in Carlton North. 

Smaller gaps are on Albion St and Brunswick Rd. These gaps are less than the multi-kilometre gaps found in areas looked at previously. However if the area is densely populated, has low car ownership and the cost of upgrading services is low (e.g. requires no new buses to be bought) then you might still improve routes that only just fall short. 
Expanded Useful Network

A revised Useful Network map is below. It has three more lines. Two (503 and 504) are upgraded  existing routes while one (502) is a new route. Others like 506 and 508 get new or improved service on weekends. There are also some minor reroutings (503, 504, 506, 510) and extensions (510) to make the network simpler or to serve more active termini. 

In more detail suggested network upgrades, grouped by cost, are as follows:

No or negligible cost

* Simplify Route 503 and 510 near Essendon Station by removing cross-over
* Simplify Route 504 in Carlton North area
* Remove Smith St kink on Route 506 to operate directly along Dawson St
* Simplify Route 512 routing to be consistent for all trips in the Coonans Hill area

Low cost (service hours only) 

* Upgrade Route 503 from every 25 to every 20 min weekdays off-peak to form a new Useful Network route. Extend operating hours to 9pm and provide a new Sunday service. 
* Extend operating hours on Saturdays and provide a new Sunday service on the well-used Route 506. 
* Upgrade Route 508 frequency to every 20 min on weekends and increase operating hours.
* Upgrade Route 512 to 7 days with longer operating hours. 

Higher cost (likely to require buses)

* Upgrade Route 504 from every 30 min to even 20 min on weekdays
* Extend 510 from Ivanhoe to Heidelberg to improve connections to hospital precinct and connect with more bus routes eg the 903 Orbital.   
* Upgrade major routes like 508 and 510 to operate every 10 - 15 min in peaks to operate as improved train feeders. Intended to provide faster travel and relieve pressure on station parking and tram services. 
* Further upgrade Route 508 to run every 10 minutes during the day and 20 minutes at night to provide a SmartBus-style service operating over long hours. Examine options for a stronger eastern terminus. 
* Consider a new Newmarket - Clifton Hill route (502) to provide an east-west service through a larger area currently without it.  

Train service upgrades

* Upgrade evening services from every 30 to every 20 minutes or better on the Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda and Hurstbridge (to Eltham) lines 7 nights per week between 7 and 9 pm (Stage 1) then 9pm to midnight (Stage 2)
* Upgrade Sunday morning services from every 40 to every 20 minutes on the Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda and Hurstbridge (to Eltham) lines from 8am (Stage 1) then from 6am (Stage 2). 

See the link to interactive map here if you need more detail. You can also view it below after selecting the menu (top left) to show whether you want to see existing or expanded Useful Networks. Top right opens it in another window if preferred.  


I have presented a list of upgrades for buses in Melbourne's inner north. Together with existing train and tram services they would form a versatile network suitable for a wide range of trips. 

What do you think about them? Do you think the suggested route 502 is worthwhile or will its limited catchment limit its success? And what should be done with the eastern end of Route 508? Please leave your comments on these and other local network topics below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide NEW!

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)


Callum Scott said...

The 502 makes sense but to make it more useful I think it should continue up Heidelberg road to the new Yarra Bend development in Alphington and on the other end should continue down Smithfield road to Footscray.

510 extension to Heidelberg also makes sense.

If these bus routes were more frequent I'd use them more. Living near Bell and spending most my time in the inner north, the only buses I occasionally use are the 903 smart bus and the 250/251 as they seem to be frequent and reliable and are quite useful for going across town rather than just in it out.

Ricky G said...

I think you're somewhat on the right direction with the 502 Peter, however, I would consider making a few slight changes.
I. Looking at the somewhat dead wood that is the 404, extending the 502 across to Footscray has a lot of potential in creating a somewhat reliable East-West link where one doesn't exist at present.
II.Running it via the front door of the Zoo and Monash Parkville/Royal Parade, whilst adding on 3-5 minutes, would avoid the narrowest section of Elliot Avenue, probably being somewhat beneficial for running times.
III. Using Elgin between Swanston and Nicholson would provide the triple benefit of having a connection to Melbourne Uni (meaning less requirement for a 401-esque service), avoiding the narrowest and most congested section of Princes St (the main reason why 546 has major late running issues), and provide a solid patronage generator, with much more reason to dump the 403.

The 510 extension, I would somewhat consider the pros and cons of going through Lower Heidelberg Rd over Upper. Whether this would provide much benefit is debatable, but it leads rather nicely to replacing the 551 with it as a Latrobe link for the inner north.
If this was the case, 504 or 506 would be a nice candidate for running via the Yarra Bend Development and Upper Heidelberg Rd to Ivanhoe/Heidelberg, if a service really had to go that way, or else replacing a modified 549 as a southern link to Northland.

Eastern End of 508 has always been an interesting one. It lends itself to being a very nice inner orbital smartbus (what blue should have been but wasn't to be) involving Highpoint/VU/Williamstown and Glenferrie/Camberwell/Caulfield. Whether it would be better off being a defacto orbital though coupled with an upgraded and modified 472/548 though is another matter entirely. Either way it has untapped potential, and for it being in the top 30 patronage, should really be looked at closely.

512, whilst being easy to upgrade to 7 day operation, doesn't exactly have much going for it, with weak termini at both ends (extremely weak in the case of the East). A potential option could be combining it with the 526 and the western half of 553 (with an extension to Reservoir), but otherwise it's basically a charity service.

503 is somewhat dead weight, as a legacy service. Whilst yes, there's a 500m-1km gap to the 508/510 (and even less to the 509!), it doesn't exactly have much of a purpose outside of being a small scale station feeder.

All in all some good ideas there, but definitely some food for thought.

Peter Parker said...

Thanks Ricky some good points. Regarding the 404, I'll have more to say about this and a potential east-west link on Friday. Stay tuned! I deliberately left out a Clifton Hill - Melbourne Uni link. It would have to be every 10 min or better to be worthwhile and I only had every 20 min down for the 502.

I contemplated running 510 via Lower Heidelberg Rd but it would overlap a fair amount of the 546, be a bit longer and be less direct to the hospital area. Eaglemont is a high income area. It would support a reasonable peak and school time service but I'm not sure if it has the right demographics for a 20 minute all-day service (in the long term I can see routes like 508 and 510 going to every 10 min). Also the area needs to be considered in relation to the 548, 567, 350 and other north-south routes that were beyond the scope for this item. My gut feeling is there should be a route southwards from Latrobe Uni then Heidelberg then down Burke Rd for Camberwell to replace the existing 548 (Heidelberg being bigger than Ivanhoe and offering a 903 connection). If you did pull out the 548 you could, as a substitute, route an extended 510 to Heidelberg via St Elmo Rd.

Re 508, more on that Friday but my view is that 472, while it's got good frequency, is too indirect to connect with anything beyond Moonee Ponds. It's really a neighbourhood route that just happens to have good frequency (like 552). I did think of extending 508 to Ivanhoe but it might miss part of Alphington near the station. Running straight south down Grange Rd also misses the station. I don't like its dead eastern terminus but in the end I left it as something to consider for a separate review. Too many interdependencies make implementation harder and I try to limit it to only a few each week.

My scope is generally routes every 20 min or better (ie 'Useful Network') but routes like 526 could be useful to 'mop up' issues created by making the former more direct. As it serves a residential area it should run to minimum standards. The main issues in the area are the mess of 903, 513 and 527 as opposed to a single route running every 10 min (maybe 6-8 min in peak). But I do like the concept of tying 526 and 553 somehow, though the latter may have implications for western Reservoir which is very poorly served with only the limited service 558.

I think 503 has potential. Especially if the Upfield line is upgraded to a 10 min service. It serves areas that are near trams but a bus>train trip might be faster. And these are gentrifying densifying areas. While 503's eastern terminus is weak there is potential to extend it eastwards. Eg if 567 is made purely a north-south route, extended to say Hawthorn via Kew then you might still want something in Bastings St to replace the deleted 567. That something could well be an extended 503. There is some overlap with 508 but it's probably tolerable. The purist might say that Bastings St doesn't need buses as most is walkable to train stations. However not having a bus would cut its local connection from Northcote. An extended 503 would not only retain that connection but improve it with service nearer Northcote Shopping Centre.