As part of my semi-organised quest to visit the edges of metropolitan Melbourne in all directions, the Pines Shopping Centre beckoned as my next destination in eastern Melbourne.
The Pines has always been of both vague interest and frustration. As I have calculated, this seemingly innocuous and relatively minor shopping centre in Doncaster East is better serviced by buses than most major facilities in suburban Melbourne (including Doncaster Shoppingtown). Despite this apparent importance as a transport interchange and local centre, I had never been in the area before.
North Balwyn – Doncaster East
Across the Eastern Freeway from Koonung Creek Reserve in North Balwyn brought me to the little-known section of Koonung Creek path on the northern side. It did not look nearly as well-utilised as the southern path, probably due to the signange directing people travelling east-west to cross the freeway further east.
Speaking of this, the wayfinding on this side needed some improvement. As can be seen on the Strava map above and photo below, poor signage caused me to miss my planned turnoff onto Willow Bend and travel further down the path than was necessary.
After some steep climbs through the side streets of Doncaster, I came to the top at Manningham Road. With its 70 km/h speed limit, 2-3 car lanes and full-time bus lane (yay!), I wasn’t that keen to try cycling along this route. Thankfully, there was a service lane that came to my rescue once again that took me down to George Street.
This is where the bicycle experience began to get seriously bad. I will now have to add Williamsons Road to my list of streets that are the most bicycle-unfriendly. Once again, its 80 km/h speed limit and three lanes made this an extremely unpleasant experience. What makes this more frustrating is that it has plenty of room for a bike lane along much of its length and has few driveways or intersections with which to contend.
Nevertheless, I survived my relatively short but harrowing ride and made my way down to King Street and Ruffey Lake Park. This area is dominated by mid to late 20th century architecture with quite a lot of greenery, low-density and pure residential areas (i.e. textbook dormitory suburbs).
At King Street there was a useful underpass under the road for the Ruffey Creek Trail. However, there was no alternative crossing for when the path presumably floods in wet weather like on many other trails in Melbourne. The shared path along King Street was a livesaver and could be better maintained, but was a welcome break for mixing with speeding cars and buses. Further north along Serpells Road, I came across a series of well-designed speed humps. This allowed for bikes to travel unimpeded to the left of the hump while preventing cars from driving around (which often occurs at many others of similar design). Kudos to Manningham Council for this implementation, there should be more of them.
The Pines Shopping Centre
After even more hills and a quick ride down the unsigned shared path on the western side of Blackburn Road, I finally arrived at the Pines!
No matter which direction you enter from, the first striking thing that you notice is the number of car parking spaces. As is the case with so many shopping centres in Australia, the space required for that much carparking takes up more room than the shopping centre itself.
I had an exploratory ride around these vast carparking areas and discovered the infamous bus interchange. For the number of services that frequent this centre, it seemed remarkably bereft of passenger facilities and infrastructure. There was hardly any shelter or covered seating and also seemed to be seriously lacking in lighting. On the upside, the stops are located right outside the main entrance to the shopping centre which is unfortunately not too common in Melbourne.
After a quick ride up to the rooftop carpark, I needed a spot to park my bike. But where? For a shopping centre with over 1,400 spaces for cars, the entire centre had only three bike hoops. As with the bus interchange, while they are well-located directly outside the front of the main entrance, they are not under shelter nor very secure.
There are five more outdoor bike racks around the western side, but these are technically meant to cater for the library and community centre that live inside the building. In any case, even if you do count them, the total capacity for bicycles is only 16 (two bikes per rack).
My ride home was fairly uneventful, other than noticing the very annoying tendency of pram ramps and driveway crossovers in Manningham to have a small lip at the bottom (about 2-3cm high).
The trip as a whole was pretty illuminating. It struck me that the pattern of suburban development in this area from the 1980s-1990s, particularly in Doncaster East, is very similar to what is currently being built on the urban fringes of Melbourne today. This includes meandering residential streets, large low-density blocks and houses, and almost all commercial activity concentrated in a few large car-dominated shopping centres. On my entire trip north of the Eastern Freeway, I saw a grand total of two cyclists (riding along High Street) and three pedestrians (excluding the Pines). Everyone else was sealed in a metal box on wheels.
Riding through these suburbs felt like travelling forward in time to the 2030s-2040s when many of the contemporary estates and outer suburbs will be of a similar age to Doncaster East and its surrounds today. If this is what we’re in for, then the future ain’t very pretty.