The dangerous traffic sewer of Burke Road

Those who know me are well-aware of my less-than-favourable opinion of Burke Road. I have escaped death or serious injury more than once in my attempts to navigate the area in a vehicle other than a car. Last week, I was almost killed or seriously injured three times in less than 200 metres of riding.

For the uninitiated, Burke Road is one of the main north-south arterials running from Heidelburg through Boroondara to the Princes Highway in Caulfield. For much of its length, it is four lanes, has a 60km/h speed limit and carries the route 72 tram.

On Wednesday morning last week, I needed to travel from my home in North Balwyn to Camberwell. This is a trip that I normally take on my bike given that I can ride there and back in relative safety and peace along the Anniversary Trail and quiet side streets. Unfortunately, at least a few hundred metres along Burke Road is unavoidable as the alternative (Canterbury Road/Stanhope Grove) is even worse.

I turned left out of Cookson Street next to Camberwell Station and started riding south. As usual, the traffic was at a crawl or standstill so I rode (carefully for fear of car doors) between the parked vehicles and stationary cars in the right lane.

Riding on Burke Road, Camberwell

Approaching the intersection with Prospect Hill Road, a stationary motorist in the right lane decided to suddenly veer into the left lane while I was riding straight ahead and very nearly wiped me out. Only frantic shouting and evasive manoeuvres on my part saved me from being knocked off my bike or crushed under a tonne of metal.

As I recommenced riding through the intersection, another oblivious moron decided to turn right into my path into Prospect Hill Road from Burke Road. Never mind that I was already in the intersection and that they did not indicate at all. Another scrape with being injured or killed.

(See original photos here)

At this point, I was fairly confident that I was out of the woods. I had less than 50 metres to go until my final destination and was away from the intersection that has caused me so many issues over the years.

But no. It seemed that the idiots were out in force in Camberwell once again. Another motorist decided to fling open her car door right in my path while engaging in the thoroughly useless activity of looking backwards after opening the door. My vigorous bell-ringing will hopefully have dissuaded her from such a pointless exercise in future. It might have even encouraged her to perhaps look before opening a door.

Near-dooring on Burke Road, Camberwell

I should add that the reason photos exist of these incidents is because I was mapping for Mapillary, an open-source organisation for street-level imagery. They supply free mounts for phones on bike handlebars that take photos automatically every three metres – i.e. I wasn’t holding my camera with my hand while riding.


What should be done?

From a transport perspective, Camberwell Shopping Centre is shambolic. Despite a majority of visitors and customers arriving on foot, bike or public transport, the whole area is prioritised for cars.

In 2014, Boroondara Council completed the Camberwell Junction Access and Parking Plans. There were some good recommendations (and some not-so-good ones) which would go a long way to helping make the area more prosperous, pleasant and safe.

Some of the interesting data collected included:

  • The Prospect Hill/Burke Road intersection is the most dangerous point for pedestrians in the entire precinct (see the red dot on the map below);
  • Motorists are a minority;
  • Walking is by far the most popular way for passengers to access Camberwell Station at 57.3% mode share compared to just 24.2% by car; and
  • More people access Camberwell Junction by public or active transport than by car.












You can read more of the specific recommendations and background data in the lengthy but informative report here.

For this intersection in particular, it seems to me that right turns from Burke Road should be banned entirely. They hold up trams, cause motorists to kill or maim crossing pedestrians and result in lots of dangerous weaving between traffic. However, this would not address the root cause of the problem, which is the prioritisation and dominance of cars throughout the entire area. Until this is addressed, traffic management mechanisms for individual locations will be band-aid solutions at best.

In the end, if no or limited actions are taken due to resident opposition or other reasons, Camberwell will stagnate as a shopping destination and Burke Road will continue to kill and injure people through its dangerous design. The status quo is unacceptable. I can’t rely on luck to get me through Camberwell alive – something has to change.

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