The news that the vital Walmer Street Bridge has received heritage protection has devastated hopes for an acceptable river crossing for the Main Yarra Trail in Abbotsford. But in every crisis there is an opportunity.
For once and for all let the citizens of Melbourne have a decent ridable and walkable bridge across into Kew and the Yarra Parklands and trails beyond.
The answer is a new bridge at the bottom of Church Street in Abbotsford, spanning the river and linking directly to the trails and the boulevard on the east side.
The new structure would be between the compromised Collins and Walmer Street Bridges.
These crossings are much too narrow and induce conflict between bike riders and pedestrians.
Both are ancient, reaching the end of their lives, in need of repair, but critically, now never likely to be widened or improved.
One new decent bridge, wide, well-designed and meeting all contemporary standards, will remove the intense pressure on the two old structures, allowing them both to decline gracefully into old age, but still playing and important role for local connectivity.
But most importantly, a new Church Street Bridge would fit perfectly into the existing long term plans for a new Yarra Trail segment along the west side of the River between Walmer Street and Gipps Street,
The west side trail is to be constructed when the CUB Brewery is relocated and the site is redeveloped. The necessary planning controls are in place.
Even the forthcoming plan for the removal of the Gipps Street steps is expected to make provision for a connection to the future westside trail.
A new bridge across the River at Church Street would also add immeasurably to the value of any redevelopment of the CUB site—already potentially one of the best sites for redevelopment anywhere in Melbourne.
The population of what will be a whole new suburb would be just a stroll from the suburb parklands on the other side of the Yarra.
The economics of such a development would comfortably justify the cost of a new bridge.
Furthermore, plans for metropolitan Melbourne’s future strategic cycling network show a route all the way from St Kilda along Chapel and Church Street all the way to exactly where the bridge would placed, confirming a vital role for transport cycling as well as recreation.
Early assessments show that the project would be technically feasible.
The only barrier is inertia.
No-one knows exactly what the CUB redevelopment schedule is, and even when it happens it won’t be an overnight shift in a van.
But we need to be ready.
The Walmer and Collins Bridges are already a major choke point on the popular Yarra Trail network and riders should not have to use them for one day longer than necessary.
Lets start the planning now.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.