The City of Melbourne’s proposal to reduce the number of private vehicles in the CBD and prioritise pedestrians is a smart move in assisting Melbourne to keep pace with other progressive, tourist-friendly cities in Europe. As a Transport Engineer with four decades of professional experience and a resident of inner Melbourne, I am definitely in favour of retargeting our city towards alternate and sustainable modes of transport.
An inescapable part of the typical Australian psyche is to resist a proposition that demotes the power of the private vehicle in favour of alternate modes of transport, namely walking, public transport, bicycles, scooters, and e-transport. As a car-reliant nation, it’s clear that our most liveable city is currently lagging on a global scale when it comes to prioritising the pedestrian. This could be about to change, and it could help return Melbourne, once again, to its status as the world’s most liveable city.
As part of the Future Streets Framework to be considered by Councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee on 6 June 2023 as a precursor to community consultation, the proposal for a series of ‘Melbourne Squares’ would see streets near railway stations and prominent civic locations closed or restricted by time of day and/or direction of travel to non-essential vehicles. The whole of Elizabeth Street would be closed off at certain times of the day, as well as sections of Flinders, Collins, Bourke, Spencer, Spring and William Streets near key sites that attract communal congregation in a bid to encourage safe and comfortable access by a range of sustainable transport modes and create attractive and walkable open spaces. Importantly access to these ‘Melbourne Square’ streets would still be permitted for loading, service and emergency vehicles.
Furthermore, the framework is implementing Action 1 of the adopted Transport Strategy 2030, and already has strategic support, as it builds on significant research, so this proposal shouldn’t come as any real surprise.
However, what Melbourne City Council is proposing is not a new idea and initiatives that favour pedestrian and bicycle movement over private vehicles have been successfully implemented in a wide range of vibrant European cities, such as Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Vienna, Copenhagen and Berlin, cities that top every ‘to-visit’ list not least because they are great places to stroll around.
Most of the trips within the CBD grid are already conducted on foot and the ‘Melbourne Square’ proposal encourages a greater level of walking trips in association with other sustainable modes of transport in a safe and attractive environment.
In the realm of my professional experience, we are guiding clients with major new developments away from car-centric buildings using green travel plans, car-share vehicles, lots of bicycle parking and associated end of trip facilities. Now, we just need city infrastructure to keep pace with these initiatives.
To activate the city as a place that attracts a wide range of visitors, residents and workers, as well as catering for the future influx of commuters as part of the future completion of the Metro Tunnel project with key new stations set to open in the Melbourne CBD, we need to promote initiatives that provide better access to our wide range of dining and entertainment venues and retail offerings, and create more open accessible spaces with considered greenery, climate adaption and safe streetscapes.
What this ‘Melbourne Square’ initiative is really proposing is as much a shift in our attitudes and behaviours than just a major transport upheaval. Our streetscapes will adapt, and we have plenty of successful international precedents to support this.
Studies suggest that pedestrian-oriented streets generate higher retail sales compared to car-centric centres. Pedestrians are drawn to spend more time and have more freedom to browse, leading to increased impulse purchases and longer shopping durations, a win for small and struggling businesses.
The Melbourne Square opportunity consolidates the CBD into a place for people to visit that pares back the unappetising prospect of ever-increasing traffic and road congestion in a bid to seek limited on-street parking or just pass through the CBD on the way to another destination.
Melbourne must recognise the face of the CBD is already changing with the city’s character shifting towards boutique and high-end office spaces and residential offerings more concerned with offering attractive amenities and a sense of location.
In my professional and personal journey, I have observed the city gradually becoming a better place to walk and cycle around, enjoy kerbside dining, and use public transport to access key destinations. Further improvement is needed to make Melbourne a pre-eminent place to walk and increasing car usage as the means of getting access to the CBD is certainly not the way forward.
It is clear that there will also be loud protests to this initiative by those who prefer or rely on the use of private vehicle mode for access to the CBD and prefer to remove bike lanes and ramp up the capacity of streets servicing the CBD but this is not the answer in providing a safe, attractive and liveable CBD that seeks to attract a strong level of worker, resident, tourist and visitor demand to a welcoming destination.
Community engagement for the draft framework is proposed for 7 June to 19 July 2023. Speak up now for a future-looking Melbourne.