Bicycle Network: Better Transport
VicRoads are working towards a new approach to meeting transport demand in metropolitan Melbourne. The Network Operating Plan aims to better manage 'people throughput' on roads. The Plan will give priority to the mode which can best achieve this goal in a given corridor. These new rules will favour bike riders as we are a low cost, high volume, space efficient mode.
Roads for moving people: Smart!
26 February 2010. Victoria is adopting a new system for designing and managing roads which puts the priority on moving people rather than just vehicles.
Efficient people movers, such as public transport and bikes, will benefit most from the new philosophy.
Called SmartRoads, the new system creates a heirachy of road usersâ€”pedestrians, trams and buses, bikes, trucks and carsâ€”which prioritises scarce road space and time to give the best throughput of people for each travel mode in a given location.
For decades road space has been expanded at great taxpayer expense only to be choked off by private vehicles carry one passenger and hardly moving. Trams and buses carrying people by the score were back in the queue. Bikes were squeezed to the edges.
The government has now developed plans covering all of Melbourne which identify where the priorities for road use will be in terms of transport mode, time of day, and locality.
It identifies the routes where cars and trucks will get priorities, where public transport will win, and where pedestrians will be encouraged.
Watch the VicRoads video on YouTube
Bikes get own priority plan
Bikes are to get their own priority plan, a brand new version of the Principal Bicycle Network (PBN).
The PBN was not included in the recent SmartRoads announcement as further consultation is being undertaken to fine-tune the plan before its release, expected soon.
The new PBN will better reflect the preferred routes of riders, and will provide the framework for accelerated investment in high priority routes, including new hard infrastructure and signalling.
For details of the SmartRoads plans (not including bikes) go here.
The detailed bike network will be posted as soon as available.
What is the problem?
Melbourne's transport network is experiencing high demand and, in many areas, extreme levels of congestion. The State Government have previously told us that the AM peak is of major concern, particularly in the inner 10km. Population and therefore demand will continute to grow while the existing road space will stay the same. Looking ahead we can see that Melbourne's roads in their current layout, will not be able to cope with growth in demand from all modes on all roads simultaneously. We will have to get used to using our road space more efficiently and get more people through the same space.
The solution being developed by VicRoads is to nominate winners and losers on each arterial road. At the moment there are no winners - all the modes try to get the best result on all roads at all times. As a result no mode does really well on any route, buses get stuck on freeways, trams get stuck on roads and bike lanes run out at intersections. There are some priorities available today: a driver can buy a quicker trip on a tollway, a tram can run on a car free track and a bike rider can use Swanston Street during the day.
The Network Operating Plan proposes allocating priority to modes by route and or time along a given road. The identified modes being: Public Transport (Bus and Tram in the road context), Pedestrians, Bikes, Private Vehicles and Freight. These priorities are allocated in 'corridors'. Ideally a corridor will contain a winner route for each mode and therefore may be a few kilometres wide and contain a number of routes.
A significant feature of the Network Operating Plan is that it defines success as moving people past a point rather than moving vehicles past a point. In the current concept of 'capacity' or the measure of performance of a road, both a private motor vehicle (1.1 passengers) and a tram (up to 100) counts as 'one'. This is why a tram (one) with three dozen people on it has to wait while six motor vehicles make a turn. The new operational objective will be to maximise the throughput of people. In this approach the people will be counted not the vehicles. The tram with three dozen people on board will get the preference over half a dozen motor vehicles. In fact trams will be the new number one road space user as they can shift around 3 000 people down a travel lane in an hour. Bikes, buses and pedestrians will be rated above 2 000 people per lane per hour. A motor vehicle lane will struggle to move half that. A current example of this is Princes Bridge where the bike lane carries more people than the motor vehicle lane.
All under one roof
Bike riders who have followed our efforts to develop the bike network will be familiar with the 'trading' that this approach entails. In general we have not argued for a bike route on road A, B, C and D but rather one on A and one on C. A more sophisticated version of this approach is now proposed for all roads and all modes including the allocation of second and third, fourth and fifth priority. Up until now our approach has been based on the Principal Bicycle Network (PBN) which identifies the roads on which a bike route will be developed. The PBN is a form of priority allocation for bikes. In practice the PBN line is sometimes on the same route as that identified for another mode. This means that bus routes sometimes threatens bike routes for example.
Currently there are three networks for the greater Melbourne area. These are: the Principal Public Transport Network, the Principal Freight Network and the Principal Bicycle Network (PBN). The PBN is currently under review and we believe a draft will be released soon. The Network Operating Plan aims to integrate these networks into a single Network Plan.
To illustrate a real world example in the bike network let's look at two streets leading into the Melbourne CBD in the morning peak - Brunswick Street and Nicholson Street.
Nicholson Street has a wider road reserve which has been developed with two motor vehicle lanes and a separated tram corridor. Bike riding volumes are low as riders are attracted to the better level of service, connectivity and rideability of parallel routes such as Canning, Rathdowne and Brunswick Streets.
Brunswick Street on the other hand is a route where many users compete and no one mode is given priority. There is a steady stream of private motor vehicles, high pedestrian movements, high tram volumes and high bike numbers. At the southern end the route dog legs in its approach to the CBD. VicRoads have told us that Brunswick St will never be a motor vehicle priority route as more people can be shifted along Brunswick St by prioritising trams, pedestrians and bikes. The future developments on Brunswick will favour bikes and on Nicholson will favour motor vehicles. Trams will be number one on both routes.
Some of these mode priority actions are already being planned and delivered. Brunswick Street will offer advanced green phases for trams and bikes. Buses will get the red carpet treatment on Victoria - bikes will get a top class facility on Albert. The signal phasing in the CBD has recently been adjusted to give a better level of service to pedestrians. The overpass on Footscray Road (which is still unsatisfactory for riders) was constructed to prioritise rail and then truck access to the port.
We may go backwards in some cases
On identified priority routes riders should expect a better level of service as the network is adjusted. However, it will not all be good news. We may lose in the trading of priorities across the network. At the moment the deal we have been offered on the Route 86 Tram priority project is a step backwards and we are working to change this decision. The challenge for State and local governments will be how this plan can be modified or offset provided to provide practical and desirable routes for bikes in this corridor.
The challenge bikes face under the Network Operating Plan is not only which mode gets number one priority but which modes can be combined to achieve the greatest 'People Throughput'. The majority of the identified Bicycle Priority Routes are shared with other modes. Footscray Rd is a Priority Route for both bicycles and freight. This works because they are separated and our space is off the road. Epsom Rd, Flemington has been identified on the Public Transport Network and also the Principle Bicycle Network and yet recent plans for this road show that trams and private motor vehicles will be prioritsed, effectively removing any ability to provide a greater level of service for bikes. The old habits of motor vehicle capacity will be hard to change. VicRoads will need to develop a clear way to calculate the benefits and impacts of their priority decisions and stick by their commitment to the Principal Bicycle Network.
What does this Plan mean for bikes?
The potential opportunities for bike riding with the Network Operating Plan are great, but so are the potential threats to our network. The Victorian Bicycle Strategy provides some reassurance with the outline of the Network in the inner 10km. During the PBN route selection process key Network Operating Plan staff had input to the process.
In summary the Plan is a refreshing new approach to Melbourne's transport network. Vigilance on the part of bike riders will be just as important as ever. Riders will need to strongly support the existing and promised routes to ensure that we get the promised benefits on the agreed routes.