The next destination in my expeditions to the edges of urban Melbourne was out west. More specifically, to the very fringes of the western suburbs – Taylors Hill and Plumpton.
Docklands – Kealba
Getting to the Maribyrnong Creek Trail from the city seems much harder than it needs to be. There are some signs directing people to follow bicycle routes, but I didn’t see a single one that specifically mentioned the Trail until crossing the river itself at Footscray Road. This seems a bit of an oversight given its importance as a recreational and commuter trail for the north-western suburbs.
Having never cycled along this part of the Trail, it was an interesting experience, but the path quality around Footscray and Maribyrnong leaves much to be desired. Multiple blind corners, overhanging branches and poor path surfaces were mixed in with well-designed and pleasant sections. It seems a bit of a hodgepodge that should be standardised and rectified.
Nevertheless, the river was nice (if a little smelly) and scenery interesting. The climb up to the hill overlooking the old explosives factory near Highpoint Shopping Centre was well worth the effort for the view looking back towards the city.
Up to this point, the paths had been almost entirely paved and relatively well-built. From here until Deer Park, there was little good quality infrastructure to be found. In other words, prepare for extensive complaining…
The next section of unsealed path from Avondale Heights to Brimbank Park was, quite frankly, atrocious. There were so many instances of dangerous washed-up gravel, steep slopes and sharp rocks on the path that we couldn’t stop to take photos of most of them (otherwise we would not have had much time left in the day).
(You can see the rest of the photos in this Flickr album here).
I won’t labour the point too much, but there were many instances where the path was simply too dangerous and we dismounted to walk our bikes around the hazards. Not being lit, I can only imagine how much more dangerous this section would be at night. Put simply, this is not fit for purpose at all and is quite an indictment on whichever authority is responsible for this piece of infrastructure.
Moving on from safety issues for the moment, the only redeeming feature of this section was the pleasant scenery. The Maribyrnong River at this point is well-forested and situated in a deep valley. It feels very secluded and quiet, apart from the occasional road bridge or bushwalker.
One of the more interesting features was the rail bridge at Keilor East. It looks pretty spectacular when seen from the river level and is definitely one of the more impressive feats of historical engineering in Victoria.
After the bridge, the path enters Brimbank Park, which had a similar feel to Banksia Park in Heidelburg. Two of the three bicycle options for leaving the park to head north ford the Maribyrnong River at two different points which I can imagine being a serious problem after significant rainfall.
Kealba – Taylors Hill
We had lunch at Bonfield Reserve in Kealba, the site of the old Keilor Primary School, before heading down towards Keilor.
Once we reached the Old Chandler Highway, it felt like a very different part of Melbourne to what we had just left behind. The houses in this area were lower density and cars were definitely kings of the road. There was no signage to help direct bikes along the patchy shared path on the southern side of the road, other than this gem just next to the intersection with Green Gully Road.
After getting leaves and dust blown in our face by some inconsiderate and spatially-unaware moron, we had a little detour through the side streets of Keilor. This only happened when we became a bit disoriented trying to find a crossing over Taylors Creek (which are few and far between), but it was a useful experience.
All of the stereotypes of suburban sprawl were present. Cars everywhere, wide streets and homogenous residential zoning. To be fair, this older development wasn’t as bad as what we found further out in Taylors Hill, but more of that later.
We made our way further down and joined the Taylors Creek Trail, arriving at the intersection of the Old Calder Highway and Sunshine Avenue after yet another confusing decision point without any signage whatsoever. There was, of course, no pedestrian crossing whatsoever at the roundabout. With large volumes of traffic driving at speed through the intersection, it was very dicey getting across without dying.
This part of the Trail was surprisingly good. The path was sealed and relatively wide as it meandered westward through linear parkland. But just as we were getting our hopes up, one of the worst pieces of infrastructure that I have seen loomed ahead.
At this point, there was a bridge carrying Parmelia Drive north-south across Taylors Creek. The Trail continued east-west under the bridge. Just before the bridge, there is a branch of the path that continued north. For some reason, whoever designed this area decided to build a bridge only for cars and leave the shared path to dip down and cross the creek over a spillway.
But the worst was yet to come. To continue under the bridge, the height clearance was about one metre. There is no lighting, reflective tape or any other warning of this hazard. To add insult to injury, the ‘path’ was a hastily-laid pile of unstable concrete that emerged onto a goat track.
The path ended abruptly at Kings Road. Again, there was no signage to help cyclists navigate their way around, but there was a shared path on the western side of the road which we found on our maps. Watergardens Shopping Centre, from this point at least, did not seem accessible on foot or by bike. There also seemed to be a lot of empty space surrounding the shops – not entirely sure why.
A short time later we found the turnoff that would take us to Taylors Hill. Hume Drive has some good shared paths that take users along this arterial and into the side streets. I suspect that these would be far more utilised if crossing facilities, wayfinding signage and connections to key destinations were significantly improved. As it was, the crossings at the many roundabouts were quite dangerous and involved a lot of blind corners and uncontrolled infrastructure with nothing to calm traffic.
Despite a bizarre path diversion off Hume Drive near the Taylors Hill Shopping Centre, the quality of this path was overall very good. It was direct, wide and well-surfaced. It was also quite new, so only time will tell if it retains these qualities over its lifetime.
We finally arrived at the very fringe of Melbourne’s west. The end of suburbia was much more abrupt than in the east where houses melt away into bushland very gradually. Here, the houses suddenly stop and the landscape returns to open fields.
It feels quite strange standing there with all of these houses behind you and only farmland in front with such a clear boundary. It is quite an unceremonious end to the city, which you know will just continue its incessant march through the countryside in a couple of weeks.
Taylors Hill – Sunshine
Finding our way to Sunshine Station was an interesting navigation experience. There was not a single sign directing bikes at any point until the Kororoit Creek Trail in Deer Park, and even then it was quite patchy until the Regional Rail Link Trail in Albion.
The paths to get to the Kororoit Creek Trail, as well as the path itself, are disjointed but relatively well-maintained. There is a large gap at Burnside where the Trail ends and restarts about one kilometre south-east without any connecting infrastructure. This could be rectified with a decent alternative route around the large hill that stands in the way of a direct connection.
It could also do without this stupid gate that isn’t even wide enough for a bike to get through (let alone a pram, wheelchair or walker).
Another contender for the Not My Job Award also presented itself in Deer Park on the Trail, spoiling an otherwise decent route.
The Regional Rail Trail was a welcome relief by comparison to most of what we had encountered on this trip. However, one last bit of stupidity awaited us on this relatively new path. Where the route crosses Kororoit Creek on Forrest Street, the path does not continue straight across the bridge. Instead, you have to dismount, cross the road (uncontrolled), walk along the opposite footpath, cross again and then resume riding. I neglected to get a photo because I was so exasperated at this entirely unnecessary diversion but I can assure you that it exists and should be avoided.
This was definitely one of more interesting trips that I have done. The single most striking thing was the diversity across every aspect of the suburbs that we visited. The bike infrastructure would be good in one suburb and then suddenly fall to an atrocious standard in the next. Housing typologies also varied from medium density around Caroline Springs and Footscray to low-density suburbia round Keilor and Caroline Springs.
For those who haven’t done so, I would strongly recommend a trip to at least one of the urban fringes of Melbourne, particularly people who have grown up and lived in the inner/middle suburbs their whole lives (like me). It is very illuminating and allows you to connect abstract discussion about urban planning to something tangible.