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.
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:
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.
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.