pedestrians queuing behind bollards

Pedestrian downgrade at Flinders St Station

Sneaking in reductions in utility and safety while claiming the opposite, politics at its worst. The recent redevelopment of the Flinders St Station forecourt facing onto Swanston St was promoted explicitly as improvements to protection by the City of Melbourne but the majority users of the intersection have been short changed with an absolute reduction in accessibility.

Publicly available figures for the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street show the pedestrian dominated environment. Vicroads 2019 volume data puts 45,000 vehicles per day using the junction, without counting any trams. In comparison a pedestrian counter on the busiest of the 6 footpaths approaching the Station from the other side of the road counted over 60,000 people per day (2015 data, counter removed during Metro tunnelling works). Tram data is harder to come by but assuming a similar daily distribution as pedestrians the Metropolitan Tram Load Standards Survey Report (2018) would estimate 82,000 passengers daily on the north-south routes through the junction. These mid week volumes have the partial tram and pedestrian volumes far exceeding the motor vehicle users without even capturing their full totals.

Private motor vehicles are the minority user of this space but even with the lane removals are still given the majority of the space and priority.  The City of Melbourne (local council) tried to dress up the improvements as inclusive:

The new measures will provide improved protection to people around Flinders Street Station, as part of a program of security enhancements being delivered in partnership with the State Government and Victoria Police.

The measures have been designed to accommodate all users of the area including pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, trams and emergency services.

But with Vicroads controlling the intersection and traffic lights other parties would have little say in the overall result. The existing signalised pedestrian crossing was already known to Vicroads to have inadequate timing for pedestrians, ignoring their own design guides and leaving pedestrians stranded in the roadway without enough time to cross.  Even with removal of one traffic lane to narrow the crossing width pedestrians are still ending up conflicting with green signals for the roadway.

pedestrians conflicting with green bicycle light

pedestrians conflicting with green traffic light

The new kerb extensions narrowing the street would have the existing timing of the pedestrian lights still shorter than the minimum required by Vicroads own design guides. But they applied the same broken logic as previously and set the timing even shorter again. If the edge of the road is taken to be the start of the dropped kerb, the width of the road was reduced almost 10%, but the time given for crossing was reduced 20% from the already inadequate timing! In reality the edge of the road is not as clear and most pedestrians are queuing at the bollards:

pedestrians queuing behind bollards

This makes the reduction in crossing width only 4% against the time reduction of 20%. To break it down into the component parts a crossing has 3 periods: green walk indication, flashing don’t walk (clearance), and then a solid don’t walk until the conflicting traffic is released. Depending on exactly how the designer breaks up the crossing into road and median widths changes the possible timings and produces a range of possible minimum timings.


Considering all variations of timings taking into account the full width of the road as a single crossing produces times longer than implemented, even with the generous assumption that pedestrians queue right at the edge of the road. If pedestrians are assumed to never cross the full width but instead only to/from the tram stops the timing would be close to correct , but that would only be appropriate where the crossing was staggered and not in a single span as it is here.

aerial image of roadway including tram stops and pedestrian crossings

Significant numbers of pedestrians do attempt to cross the full width in a single crossing, yet they are left with inadequate time to do so safely. Such a major pedestrian area should not have to settle for multiple phase crossings adding a 90 second wait for another cycle of the lights. But despite a road diet, private motor vehicle throughput is prioritised above pedestrian safety even further.

5 thoughts on “Pedestrian downgrade at Flinders St Station

  1. The inevitable result of allowing traffic engineers to have the final say on what actually occurs on site. These unempathetic one-trick ponies people ahould never ever be given this power, and instead should be made to deliver on the stated urban planning outcomes ie increased amenity, safety and participation for walking, cycling and public transport, or else “hit the road”. These dolts can’t even figure out why most people won’t stand in front of bollards on a downward-sloping ramp!


    1. Bollards on the western arm of the intersection were placed within the sloping section much closer to the road, and people mostly queue at the bollards despite the angled surface. Seems the bollards are the stronger factor.

      But having talked to people using the intersection, they are not impressed with the need to rush even faster across it now. When the timing is so far out that able bodied people are getting unexpectedly caught in front of moving vehicles, there is something seriously wrong.


      1. Thanks for responding. The line of bollards, wherever they are, probably convey a similar perception of safety for pedestrians as a kerb does (even though errant motor vehicles regularly mount kerbs all over the world and kill/maim pedestrians).
        The timing is of course just the usual comtempt traffic engineers give to non-motorists. Someone recently named this practice as “automobile supremacy” and I know from experience it the No.1 unwritten rule in Australian traffic engineering despite the almost infinite number of times I’ve read and heard that the hierarchy of users on city streets will is peds, cyclists, PT, delivery vehicles and last of all motorists.
        And isn’t it funny that thr mantra that “motorists are the dominant mode so they get the most green time” doesn’t apply in this instance, even when number of motorists are far less than pedestrians and IIRC tram passengers. Supposedly there was a new paradigm in traffic signal engineering that shifted the aim from maximising the throughput of motor vehicles to instead moving the maximum number of people.
        FWIW the City of Adelaide and the SA govt politicians and traffic depts are just as inanely stupid as CoM and the Vic govt eg a right turn for a new tram loop was foregone at the busiest pedestrian intersection in Adelaide (King William St and North Tce) as it would “caused unacceptable delays” for the 60,000 motorists, most of whom are using these two “prestigious boulevards” as through routes to ex-city destinations. In lieu of the nominal city ring road as the travel time is longer.
        In case you were unaware, the City of Adelaide is even more hooked on revenue from city car parks than Melbourne, and there are many more off-street car parking spaces in Adelaide ie by raw number, not per capita.
        Anyway, enough venting from me for one day.
        Once again, it’s good to read your high quality writing. I hope it will eventually add to the call for much-needed changed in Melbourne.


  2. I’d say the city of Melbourne generally make an effort to follow through with pedestrianisation, and priority for public transport and cycling. They are engaging and address issues around their municipality, with rumours of discussion on 30km/h speed limits within the CBD. But local authorities are unable to make all the decisions and are run over by the state road authority Vicroads who are openly hostile to non motorised transport.


    1. I was too harsh on CoM, probably influenced by a carcentric talk I heard given by the former Lord Groper at a transport forum. Whenever I visit Melbourne I find the inner city streets immeasurably better and more pleasant than the CoA’s 50kmh speed limit car free-for-all clusterfuck. CoA has countdown timers for peds at some busy intersections – which don’t actually allocate any extra crossing time but do decrease anxiety and stress levels for peds, but apart from that one would assume that State traffic dept runs the streets, when in fact the exact opposite is true ie the CoA controls all roads within the Park Lands belt. FWIW the CoA has repeatedly opposed a citywide 40kmh speed limit like Melbourne, even though Melbourne is often cited by them as an example to follow on other transport proposals.
      Both cities need to adopt a Traffic Circulation Plan a la Groningen and Ghent, which would still allow motorists access to inner city destinations like car parks, but prevent through trips with no business in the city. Melbourne with all its freeways “bypassing” the city centre really has no excuse not to do this.


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