Yesterday the Grattan Institute released preliminary research from a new report on traffic in Melbourne. One of its findings was that the north-east of Melbourne had the greatest increase in travel times in peak compared to non-peak times. This area primarily consits of suburbs within the Cities of Banyule, Nillumbik and Manningham.
I needed to have a look at some items at Target and Myer, so it seemed like a good time to once again attempt to negotiate the City of Manningham using a mode of transport that is not on four wheels and powered by an engine.
I had attempted to get around various parts of Manningham on foot and on a bicycle before. Suffice to say that none of these have been pleasant experiences. Of course, many of the walkability and cycleability problems in this area are not unique to Manningham. But it does seem strange that an area promoting significant development is so poorly designed for people.
Notes on North Balwyn
As usual, my route to Doncaster Hill took me through Greythorn to the Koonung Creek Trail. I came across a house on Greythorn Road that I had not noticed before. It seemed to be an original single-storey flat roof house from when this area was originally subdivided and developed in the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s. I have since checked and it does not seem to be mentioned in any heritage study or register which seems a little bit odd. Maybe the modifications have disqualified it from being added as an individually significant site.
Just before crossing over the Eastern Freeway there is the little-known but very pleasant Koonung Creek wetland area. There is lots of wildlife here, mainly birds and frogs, all viewable on the wooden walkway that has been specially built. It is also one of the few places where the Koonung Creek can be seen in a reasonably natural environment this close to its confluence with the Yarra River.
Walking around Doncaster
The route to Doncaster Shopping Centre then took me through the back streets of Doncaster. Near Birralee Primary School on Wilson Avenue, I found a ghost pedestrian crossing that has obviously been fairly recently removed. This seemed like quite an odd decision, given that this location is within 200 metres of the school at a fairly major crossing point to continue walking north.
Once I returned home I did a little bit of research, and it seems that Birralee Primary School is also concerned about the terrible pedestrian facilities in the school’s surroundings. Unfortunately, it does not appear that anything will get done.
I also later found another one on Elgar Road. This is a particularly bad decision as this is a dangerous stretch of road given its tight bends, blind corners and 60 km/h speed limit. Removing this crossing leaves no safe way for people to cross for an entire 1.4 kilometre stretch. Many other major roads in Manningham and other parts of Melbourne suffer a similar fate, including the nearby Doncaster Road (between Elgar Road and High Street).
Coming out of the residential streets, I arrived at Doncaster Junction. This is probably one of the most significant barriers to Manningham becoming a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly environment. It is a four-way intersection with slip lanes on all four corners. Its traffic light synchronisation means that it takes a good 4-5 minutes to cross from one diagonal corner to the other.
Despite the high traffic speeds, motorists failing to give way and poor pedestrian signal timing, there were quite a few people attempting to navigate this intersection at the same time. I suspect that most of them lived in the apartments that were recently built nearby.
Once crossing the intersection, there is no signage to the entrance for Doncaster Shopping Centre. Locals and regular visitors know that there are entrances on both Williamsons and Doncaster Road, but there is no indication of this whatsoever if you are on foot.
Buses at Doncaster Hill
I have always maintained that the bus interchange at Doncaster Shopping Centre is among the better-designed stops in Melbourne. Unlike most suburban interchanges at shopping malls in Melbourne, it:
- Is located directly in front of a major entrance
- Contains bus-only street space
- Has shelters at every bus stop
- Logically groups bus routes together at each stop (e.g. the two Smartbus routes are grouped together in each direction)
It is not perfect and has some things that need to be fixed. Mainly the fact that signage within the shopping centre seems non-existent, there is no shelter to get to the bus shelters from the shopping centre entrance and cars regularly drive through the interchange despite the clear signage at the entrance.
Some SmartBus stuff-ups
Soon after this new interchange opened during the shopping centre’s redevelopment in 2007-08, LED signs showing times for Smartbuses were installed as part of the program’s wider rollout. A few years later in 2013, the bus routes were reorganised between the stops and the Smartbus routes were moved. Unfortunately, the totems were not moved with them.
At the time, I expected that the signs would eventually be moved to the new Smartbus stop. But it appears after my visit yesterday that this has still not been done, some five years later.
The only effect that this has is to cause significant confusion and inconvenience for bus passengers. One of the stops where the Smartbus totems are displayed is not even serviced by a bus route any more and is at the opposite end of the interchange from where the 902/903 depart and arrive. Even in the five minutes that I was there, people were sitting in the shelters where the Smartbus totems are installed waiting for a bus that will never arrive.
Stuff-ups like this may seem trivial, but they are easy to fix and can have a significant impact on the comfort and convenience of passengers’ journeys. If we are trying to encourage people to use public transport, little things count.
One final note on public transport at Doncaster Hill. Despite the high volume of buses servicing this interchange, there is precious little bus priority. There are two ‘head start’ bus lanes on Williamsons Road at Doncaster Junction but that is about all. There is no bus priority for routes turning right into Doncaster Road, no other bus lanes and no priority for buses turning into or out of the bus interchange. This creates unnecessary and quite lengthy delays, even during non-peak times.
To illustrate this, I left the Doncaster bus interchange at the same time as a route 207 bus towards the city. By the time it caught up to me, I had reached the Elgar/Doncaster Road intersection.
What this means for Manningham
Doncaster and Manningham has a lot of potential. As the Grattan Institute’s preliminary findings show, a car-based transport system cannot work efficiently or effectively at transporting large numbers of people in an urban environment. Encouraging people to ride, walk and take public transport is one thing, but providing the necessary facilities is another. At the moment, it is not hard to see why public and active transport levels in this area are so low. Infrastructure must be implemented if any meaningful changes in the local transport system are to occur.