Last minute negotiations could result in safety improvements to the hazardous Swan Street underpass on the Main Yarra Trail.
VicRoads is considering limited modifications to underpass approaches that could mitigate some of the problems that have emerged in the wake of the project to widen the bridge.
Bicycle Network has held on-site discussions with VicRoads and the contractors to review the issues that are resulting in a negative experience for riders, especially with the underpass on the city side of the river.
We understand the City of Melbourne has similarly raised concerns about the current state of the underpass treatment.
As previously communicated, the massive bridge widening project, while delivering a number of welcome benefits for riders and pedestrians, failed to address the most critically important deficiency – the capacity and safety of the underpass.
The trail is an extremely busy route, but is badly compromised by the narrow and poorly aligned underpass.
Typically, under Victorian Government policy, this would have been a priority for rectification as part of the project to add additional lanes to the bridge. For reasons that remain opaque, the proper process was not followed.
Fixing this error will be difficult and expensive.
In the meantime, there are opportunities to modify the alignment and marking of the approaches to address the pinch points.
It is likely that the section of pathway adjacent to the Glass House Landing, where there bluestone retaining wall creates an awkward kink in the path, can be widened as far as the existing post and rail fence.
This will make a more comfortable approach with better sight lines for inbound riders.
It is also possible for line marking to be used to better position riders in relation to the retaining walls, especially for the acutely angled retaining wall that will face outbound riders entering the underpass.
Risk will be higher in low light conditions, and the contractors are working on lighting that should help delineate the pathway and illuminate retaining walls on both sides of the river.
Bicycle Network has learned that preliminary feasibility investigations have indicated that the best fix for the narrow path under the bridge is to implement a short section of pontoon path, similar to that used further along the river.
Simply widening the existing path with rock and earth is not advised because of the soft, silty riverbed in that location.
However a pontoon floating on the river under the Swan Street span, with a ramp to the bank at both ends, would be a great solution for bikes and people on foot.
This solution clearly can’t be delivered during the remaining days of this project, which is a costly tragedy.
But with an election coming up this year, Bicycle Network, with the help of our members, will ensure that political parties realise the strong feelings bike riders have on this issue.
Bridge bungle makes the news
The Herald Sun have picked up on the issue and published a story on 25 July.
Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards told the Herald Sun that the trail under the Swan St Bridge had been made worse and more money was now needed to fix the hazard.
“This is one of Melbourne’s busiest paths. It’s the equivalent of closing Hoddle St for a year and reopening it with fewer traffic lanes,” he said.
A pontoon would increase the path width and improve safety for riders and walkers, Mr Richards said.
“It’s only a matter of time before there’s a head-on crash or a bike rider ends up in the Yarra — this needs to be fixed right now.”
The response in the Herald Sun story from the Major Road Projects Authority (who are linked to VicRoads) spruiked improvements to the path on the other side of the river but didn't address the real issue.
The City of Melbourne said that they are in active discussions with VicRoads about the issue.
As contractors install lights under the bridge and continue other works there will be some off-peak closures of the Main Yarra Trail under the Swan Street bridge on the Batman Avenue side.
People riding and walking will be asked to use the pedestrian crossing over Swan Street and then continue on the trail.