Rushall station has a mysterious shared path to nowhere, following close to the creek it naturally continues the Merri Creek Trail southward through some pleasant open space ringed with trees.
However the path terminates into the creek with a large turning area, hiding off to the side is its real purpose as an access road for servicing the river sluice behind the fence in the far right of this image.
Being a dead end this rare open space has been adopted by local dog owners as an area to play with their animals off leash away from any through traffic. Despite it not being a nominated off-leash area by the council the ideal siting away from any other users ensures only a mean spirited prune would try and discourage its use as such. The path isn’t closed or marked off at its junction with the Merri Creek Trail as the first section of it is used to access a pedestrian walkway attached to the side of the railway bridge crossing the creek.
This is the only entrance to the secluded area and the flights of stairs at each end of the pedestrian walkway ensure there is no bicycle (or wheelchair) use across it. Drawing a map of the area we can see the Inner Circle Rail Trail coming in from the west (left) with the Merri Creek Trail travelling north-south, their common junction at the extreme left of the map.
Travelling from the Inner Circle Rail Trail and continuing south on the Merri Creek Trail constitutes a section of the Capital City Trail which encircles Melbourne city in a (not-so) continuous loop. Here both it and the Merri Creek Trail are broken with a short section prohibiting bicycles, followed by an alternative bridge across the creek which had been the official Merri Creek Trail route until it was downgraded from a shared path to a footpath following an audit revealing the bridge was too narrow to meet current requirements for a shared path. From the video following the Merri Creek Trail is that bridge and the underpass meeting at the railway station:
Onward (south) is the continuing shared path but here it simply terminates into footpath connections where cyclists are expected to dismount and walk. Most of the problem is the outdated zig-zag entrances to the underpass, but even then it is slightly too narrow to be used as a shared path. These small underpasses are the traditional design in the Melbourne train network and despite being extensively connected with shared paths the vast majority sport markings or signs prohibiting bicycles even when there are no alternative crossings as here.
The underpass its self is of the dark and scary variety, is owned by VicTrack (government infrastructure body) and has police armed transit officers sporadically stopping cyclists over the questionably enforceable undersized and fading no bicycles markings on the footpath. Faced with the illogical situation of highly publicised shared paths terminating into this subway, of course the public completely ignore any signs and continue on through.
Flush with money the council on the left bank of the creek wants to add a bypass the subway with a new shared path continuing past the underpass and connecting to the dead end above. From studying an aerial view or map this seems like a logical route until you realise the linking path would require removing most of the established trees between the two points and reduce utility for the dog owners using the open space, both preciously limited resources in the area. Laying more paths to add to the existing dense coverage is prioritising paths over the natural environment, worse they are further duplicating existing routes.
In preparing for redesigns of this area bicycle counts have been made public showing slightly higher daily use on weekends dominated by recreational cyclists but instead considering journeys per year the vast majority of use is during the week and by people using bicycles for transport. Surprisingly in both cases the dominant flow is actually east-west and not continuing through the Merri Creek Trail making the utility of any additional north-south capacity marginal.
Sadly any obvious solutions for improving the flow through the underpass are hampered by the numerous layers of bureaucracy that would need to be aligned like a transit of Venus with: different councils on each side of the creek, 2 separate layers of government bodies and a private operator selfishly controlling different aspects of the railway without oversight (VicTrack, Public Transport Victoria, Metro Trains Melbourne), and then the varied views of local residents. Its a mess and unlikely to ever be resolved cleanly until Melbourne can return to having a planning body with power to co-ordinate the government organisations.