Sunday, March 15, 2009

Route 86 consultation on the fast track

The impact on houses exposed to increased traffic, the business downside of decreased parking, and the seeming failure to accommodate cyclists in plans for upgraded tram stops are looming as key issues in the Westgarth segment of Darebin's Route 86 project.

The issues emerged at a Darebin consultation meeting held at the Jika Jika Community Centre last Thursday and attended by representatives of local Westgarth businesses and some residents.

Presenting plans for two options, Darebin's Transport Strategy Coordinator, Kate Myers, explained that new stops planned for Route 86 would be 'DDA compliant' - that is, they would be built to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act coinciding with plans to upgrade tram tracks on the route.

A sticking point for both options was the redirection of traffic along the service road on the western side of High Street south of Westgarth Street. Currently traffic turns left at a 'splitter island' close to the intersection, but redirection further south into the service road at Cunningham Street will allow traffic to continue flowing west along Westgarth Street even if cars are banked up waiting to head straight along High Street up Ruckers Hill.

Unfortunately, this means some eight houses will experience far greater exposure to traffic on what has long been a service road providing a protective barrier between them and the main flow of traffic.

There was a strongly held view at the meeting that this was an inadequate and unfair solution that took the least expensive route in solving design issues for traffic flow at the expense of local residents. A number of alternatives were discussed among the audience, including the use of the strip currently planted with trees, with the possibility of mature trees being transplanted from a realignment of the entrance to the splitter island. The existing plans already appear to impinge on two mature trees south of Cunningham Street, so the potential of a redesign to minimise impact on the service road houses should not be overlooked by Council.

Of the two options, the second (Council preferred) option had a lower impact on car-parking within the strip (approx. 3 versus approx. 9) than the first, but both entailed the loss of 78 car-parking spaces on Ruckers Hill north of Union Street. Kate Myers explained that this was necessary if the tram was to have dedicated lanes north and south in this section, as only one lane would be left either side for traffic, with no room for kerbside parking. Should this aspect of the plans proceed, it will likely have a dual impact on the Westgarth community.

The first is on the sustainability of local businesses. Kate Myers admitted that there had been no specific research to gauge how Westgarth customers travelled to the shops, but said research further north on High Street indicated that far fewer customers arrived by car than business owners thought - 33 per cent compared with 55 per cent. However, the applicability of the Northcote research to the Westgarth strip was questioned, and specific research suggested before any decision was made on removal of parking.

The second impact may well be felt by local residents, with pressure from the lost parking spaces distributed across local streets not equipped to absorb the extra burden. Kate Myers indicated that survey work had shown capacity to absorb extra parking demand at specified times, but the audience felt this was selective and that the parking situation was already generally pressured.

While Council is playing up the project's emphasis on public transport, even the Northcote research showed that more than twice as many people arrived at local businesses by car than by public transport, and this should not be ignored to the detriment of local businesses and residents.

The implications are that options must be developed to expedite trams without prejudice to parking. As Westgarth lacks the dedicated rear car-parks that characterise High Street to the north, consideration must be given to acquiring sites that become available for such parking in the strip - for example, the Ultratune or Armstrong's furniture sites.

Finally, the options presented were felt to favour public transport over a much less emissions-intensive form of travel - bicycles. Despite the claim by Kate Myers that Bicycle Victoria was 'generally supportive' of the plans, there appears to have been little effort to integrate bicycle lanes in either option of the proposal, with cyclists instead directed to Victoria Street or St Georges Road.

Under both options, cyclists will be required to ride up and over the proposed Westgarth tram stops (which will be admittedly lower to assist wheelchair access). As was pointed out at the meeting, however, this at the very least poses a risk from the interaction of bikes and passengers waiting at the stops.

With these and other issues very much unresolved, the timing of the consultation apears somewhat rushed. Submissions (which can be emailed) are due by 27 March, and another public meeting of residents affected by the proposed closure of the splitter island will not be held until this Wednesday at Northcote Town Hall.

Council claimed that the meeting came at the midway mark of the consultation, but it felt to many very much like the beginning. The claims of Council to broad consultation were undermined, in fact, by the use of such a small room to hold the meeting. It appears that the consultation is intended to compartmentalise different stakeholder groups in targeted meetings that fragment the community response and cut across its interests.

Also of note was the absence of the three Rucker Ward Councillors from the meeting, though Councillor Trent McCarthy indicated a prior conflicting engagement booked some weeks in advance. He also indicated a willingness to hear community concerns.

With submissions closing on 27 March and Council to vote on a final report in April, it is vital that community concern is widely mobilised to inform the ultimate outcome. This should certainly take the form of written submissions to Council, but a community public meeting might also be useful.

Your comments and suggestions for further action are welcome.

See all posts on the Tram Route 86 Corridor Project


  1. The promised Westgarth parking survey has been posted.

    Note: the boundary of the survey is quite wide. Nobody would park in the outlying streets in order to make a quick visit to the shops!

  2. I have now emailed all Rucker Ward Councillors (and the Route 86 project staff) calling for their response to the issues raised in this post.

  3. I feel that I should speak up as a resident in the service road. I am directly impacted by the plan to turn the service road into a slip lane. I have written to council to object, and consulted the Department of Infrastructure, Mooney Valley Bus Lines and the EPA. I have many objections to the proposal but feel that there are some incredibly poor outcomes that should be highlighted. These are:

    -- The degradation of the Route 506 bus service due to increased traffic along Merri Pde, and removal of the bus terminus. This was completely omitted in the proposal. The following is quoted from previous communications with the DOI:

    "The terminus is well protected from busy traffic and provides safe/convenient access and sheltering for passengers. An audit of the stop shows that a significant number of passengers currently access the bus service at this point, and that cars are able to by-pass parked buses to gain access to Merri Parade and Westgarth Street."

    -- In the evening peak, the Northbound traffic at High Street queuing up to turn left into Merri Pde, or to go straight up High Street starts well back into Clifton Hill. The travel time from Clifton Hill to Westgarth heading North along High Street is currently around 10 minutes to complete around 600 meters. Additionally, at this time, Merri Pde is a complete standstill in both directions. The proposal effectively loses a lane of vehicular traffic and expects Merri Pde to cater for this loss. The road is simply inadequate to deal with it. The council's plan seems to attempt to alleviate a section of heavy traffic in High Street simply by diverting it to a smaller, single lane road that is already under extreme pressure from peak time traffic . This will affect not just the residents along the service road, but all residents in Merri Pde and Westgarth Street. Omissions in the council plan that are likely to occur include raising the height of the Epping Line train bridge to cater for the movement of large trucks in this residential street, and the widening of the street approaching St George's Road that will impact on open spaces, bike tracks and Merri Creek parkland.

    -- The council proposes forcing the residents of the service road in High Street to lose their distance from the traffic and divert thousands of extra vehicles to move within meters of their bedrooms, lounge rooms, and gardens. This plan will ruin the relative peace that can be had with a small distance from the main road for residents. The council's plans have the effect of exposing residents to harmful emissions. I have contacted the EPA in relation to this matter.

    -- The houses that are affected have no right of way. This means that the 'slip' lane is completely blocked every time a truck is required by one of the resident's houses for deliveries, rubbish removal, street sweeper, cars/taxis stopping to pick people and luggage up, drop it off, removal trucks - every time somebody moves. I would expect if any of these things occurred in the peak, the traffic would very quickly build up well into Clifton Hill. This demonstrates how poorly, and quickly this idea of using the service road as a slip lane has been conceived.

    -- Currently, the preference for bikes is to use the service lane to head north in this section of road, as when High Street has two lanes of traffic, there is next to no room for bikes to travel. The creation of the slip lane will force bikes to share this northbound section of High Street with huge volumes of traffic.

  4. This is a hastily put together and ill thought out plan. What will happen to all of the cars not using high street any more? Does St Georges Rd really have the capacity to take all of the traffic from High St as well?? Where will all of the cars that currently park on high street park when their spaces are gone?

    Not to mention bikes - why are there no bike lanes? The maps show that bikes actually cross over the front of the tram platforms - this is one of the most dangerous ideas I have ever seen, which will result in cyclists being knocked off the platform and under trams by pedestrians stepping forward on the platform after seeing a tram in the distance. Cyclists and pedestrians must be kept separate, why not have 'Copenhagen style' bike lanes separating the cyclists from the pedestrians and cars?

    This plan goes against Darebin council's own cycling strategy which I encourage you to read,
    In particular I would like to quote section

    "Local Area Traffic Management (LATM) Schemes LATM schemes frequently recommend measures that disadvantage cyclists, such as roundabouts, road closures and one way streets. It is recommended that all LATM proposals are reviewed to ensure cyclists are not disadvantaged and that actual improvements to the local cycle network are delivered as an outcome of the LATM measures."

  5. I have created a presentation that outlines the implications if the slip lane is created.

    Powerpoint presentation:

    Powerpoint show:


Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.