Princes Bridge

800px-Melbourne_Skyline_and_Princes_Bridge_-_Dec_2008

Looking North-East over Princes Bridge
(stock footage, commons)

was designed by John Grainger (1855–1917), the father of the Australian composer Percy Grainger, and built by David Munro using ironwork fabricated by Langlands foundry in Melbourne. It was opened on 4 October 1888. As with many historic Melburnian buildings and bridges, the bridge is built on solid bluestone bulwarks with plenty of cast iron. The bridge was named Princes Bridge after Edward, Prince of Wales.

It is one of Melbourne’s most iconic bridges, and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. The bridge area links Flinders St Station, Federation Square, The Domain gardens, the Concert Hall and National Gallery of Victoria, and Southbank shopping and tourist precinct. It carries bicycles, cars, and pedestrians, and is one of the busiest tram routes in the world.

Until very recently, the inbound (Northbound) side had two lanes for cars and a tiny 60cm lane for bicycles. The pedestrian path which is clearly defined by being raised above the road level was defined as a “shared path” for bikes and pedestrians. This never worked, people walked all over the bike lanes, as the physical structure always implied “pedestrian space”, and the painted lines on the road implied “here is the bike space”. People respond to infrastructure – it “tells them” what to do and what to expect.

The conflict between an ever increasing number of commuter cyclists on the bridge and slow-moving congested car traffic created an increase in crashes, and the Melbourne City Council and Mayor Rob Doyle decided to fix the problem by reducing car traffic to one lane, and giving a full lane over to cyclists, and removing the “shared path” on the pedestrian lane of the bridge.

Needless to say, this move was received with dismay and aggression by the roads lobbyists, the RACV and your average motorist. RACV General manager of Public Policy Brian Negus’ response  was that we should build cantilevered lanes on the outside of the bridge for cyclists!  Philistine does not begin to describe that view. A vox pop on the evening news after the lane had opened had one motorist bleating: “This can’t happen! It just can’t happen!”

Of course the complaints are unfounded. The single factor that controls traffic flow over Princes Bridge is the lights sequence at Flinders St. This allows 20 – 22 cars through, with one lane turning left, and two turning right. This is unchanged from before the bike lane was installed, and the same amount of traffic is proceeding through the intersection as before. It just means there is a longer, one lane queue to cross the bridge instead of a shorter double lane. The crossing frequency for cars is the same.

But the safety for all users has been improved markedly.

Naturally, my view is that the whole Princes Bridge area should be set aside for trams, bikes and pedestrians. This is the logical extension of the Swanston St pedestrian/bike/tram zone from RMIT right through to The National Gallery.

It is a very busy space, with people moving around between Fed Square, Flinders St and the Arts/Southbank Precinct. There’s really no room for individuals in motor vehicles taking up 20-30 sq mtrs of space each just to get into town. I doubt this would make much difference to overall traffic in the area, and would definitely improve traffic flow on Flinders St.

Then you are left with the two main Northbound entries to the City, being Batman Ave – Exhibition St to the East, and Queensbridge to the West. Much simpler, and given that car volumes to town are decreasing steadily we do not need the luxury of three Northbound car access points.

Under pressure from the roads lobby, the Mayor has had to rename this a “trial”, and the Southbound changes are on hold, waiting for Yarra Trams to release their plans for the tram stops. Nonetheless, it is a great step forward in Melbourne’s urban planning and design. I am proud.

Update 19/2/2014

The bicycle lane on Princes Bridge (inbound) has now been made permanent. The results of traffic movement survey found that peak hour AM traffic was slowed by an average of 43 seconds, and the PM peak actually moved quicker (inbound). Also noted was that cars were not filling the full number of possible spaces before Flinders St, possibly due to unfamiliarity with the changes.

 

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Looking North from NGV, new signage and road markings to merge traffic lanes

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Looking South from Southern side of bridge

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The new bike lane also frees up space so that the horse and carriages use. However it is illegal for them to be in the bike lane. I am not sure what the outcome of this will be – on the one hand I don’t mind, but then they shit on the path and are slower than 10kph, so cyclists have to go around them into the traffic.

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Looking South from Flinders St Station

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Looking South from Flinders St Station – this is the “demerge” point, and is the point of most conflict. MCC is working on improving this bit.

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Looking South from Flinders St Station

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