Monday, 30 March 2015

Ballarat's walkable CBD

This blog deals primarily with public transport, but it is occasionally worth touching on other aspects of transport policy - after all, public transport is important, but it is only part of the way people get around a city.

The Ballarat council has recently launched two proposals to improve walkability in the CBD. Firstly, to increase pedestrian signal times, so that people have more time to cross the road. This is pretty uncontroversial - judging by what I've seen on social media, and even in comments on The Courier's articles on it, most people seem to support it, myself included. I can say that as an able-bodied young man, I sometimes cut it a bit fine on several of Ballarat's CBD pedestrian signals, so I am sure that they are far too short for many members of the community. This could happen cheaply and quickly, and it should - it would go a long way to improving walkability in the CBD.

The second proposal is a lot less popular. The council wants to lower the speed limit around the CBD to 40km/h, in an area bounded by (but not including) Dawson, Mair, Humffray and Dana Streets.

via City of Ballarat
Broadly, I am in favour of this. The evidence shows that such initiatives have been a big positive, in terms of both safety and economics, when they have been introduced elsewhere. A more walkable CBD is definitely going to be good for Ballarat.

That said, I do have two issues with the proposal that I feel need raising, to better serve the stated goal of the proposal: "The proposed 40kmh speed limit is aimed at promoting the safety and amenity of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and reducing through traffic which does not have a CBD destination." Hopefully my version would also act as a compromise, and prove a bit more popular with motorists who currently oppose the initiative.

Firstly, Doveton Street is also the Midland Highway. A large portion of its traffic is through traffic which does not have a CBD destination, and there are not really any viable alternative north-south routes that could absorb this traffic. I am sure projects like the Ballarat Western Link Road will (eventually) help mitigate traffic which is heading from north of the freeway to destinations south of Buninyong, but it doesn't really do much for trips in between, unless the origin and destination happen to be on the western fringe of the city (in which case they wouldn't be using Doveton Street anyway).

Doveton Street is a major thoroughfare and must remain so, so the 40km/h zone should not apply to it. Whether this means the 400 block of Sturt Street (between Doveton and Dawson) would be converted to 40, as currently proposed, or whether the project would simply end a block earlier, I have no strong position on either way. I would nonetheless be happy to see the increased pedestrian signal time applied to Doveton Street, to ensure adequate crossing time.

Secondly, and in a similar vein, Sturt Street (and Curtis Street/Little Bridge Street further down) is currently a major thoroughfare, with much through traffic that does not have a CBD destination. It is in this case perfectly reasonable to want to divert this traffic elsewhere, as Mair Street is a viable alternative route for through traffic (and also Sturt/Curtis/Little Bridge is more important in terms of economic activity than Doveton is). However, while Mair Street is geographically suited to absorbing east-west traffic along this corridor, it is not really capable of handling such large volumes of traffic in its current state.

Phase One - side streets only, Sturt/Curtis/Little Bridge left as-is
Significant improvements to Mair Street have been planned for many years, but until they are actually completed, the limit should not be lowered on Sturt. If - as is reasonably likely, given the nature of government funding at all levels - the improvements are delayed by several years, the interim period would be disastrous. You would have either unmanageable traffic on Mair Street, people exceeding the new speed limits on Sturt Street, or a combination of the two.

Personally, I would be happy to see a phased introduction, whereby the various side streets are lowered to 40km/h as soon as is practical, and the Sturt/Curtis/Little Bridge corridor is lowered when works to improve Mair Street are complete.

Phase Two - once Mair Street has been improved, we can drop the speed along Sturt
In many ways, traffic is like any fluid - it follows the path of least resistance. Through-traffic cannot really be stopped, because people will still want to get from point A to point B; it can only be diverted to take the route which best suits us. While diverting through-traffic is a worthy goal and is essential to the success of walkability initiatives, simply putting roadblocks like lower speed limits in place is not enough on its own - you must give the traffic an easier alternative to follow. As such, maintaining Doveton Street's speed limit and status, and improving Mair Street, are as essential to the goals of this project as the lowered speed limits are.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that it follows that, since Doveton is a through route, it cannot be reduced to 40kmh. A lot of busy roads commonly slow to this speed anyway when it's busy, and with traffic signals, flow can actually be better at low speeds.

    ALso, 40kmh is great. Above 30kmh, the chances of a car impact killing a pedestrian start to rise exponentially. Some councils (Yarra, at least) are lobbying VicRoads to allow 30kmh speed limits in appropriate areas. That might be good for some streets too.