Melbourne is renowned for its high quality public places, spaces and streets. The way that people use, interact with and experience our streets and spaces is linked to the city’s reputation as a desirable place to live, work and visit.

A key principle of the Transport Integration Act 2010 relates to enhancing the transport system from a user perspective. The city’s streets and spaces form a critical component of people’s transport journeys and poor experiences affect their perceptions of the city and of the transport system.

The City of Melbourne plays an important role in the allocation, design, management and use of public space in the city. Given the pressure of population and job growth, a faster and bolder approach to the reallocation of city space will be required over the next 30 years.

Space for people

Space in the city is limited and under increasing pressure.

  • A disproportionate amount of space is allocated for private vehicles in the central city, relative to the transport role these vehicles serve.
  • Residential, worker and visitor populations in the central city continue to grow and are placing increasing pressure on the limited public space in the city.
  • Pedestrian overcrowding leads to poor experiences of our city and particularly impacts more vulnerable users.
  • Negotiating crowds in a wheelchair or with a pram can be especially difficult.

Competing demands

There is frequently conflict between the different functions of our footpath space (movement functions such as walking and place functions such as cafe seating).

  • Different users of footpath space may also come into conflict, as their needs and desires vary (for example residents, tourists, parents with prams, people with disabilities).
  • Road space is also contested between different modes including private motor vehicles, delivery trucks, trams, buses, cyclists, motorbikes and pedestrians.

Prioritising the allocation of city space

Space in the city is limited and we can’t create more space to separate modes everywhere.

  • Traditionally the approach to allocating transport space has been fragmented, with a focus on the individual modes of transport rather than an integrated approach which maximises access and mobility for people.
  • Most of the street space in the city is allocated to private vehicles, yet cars are the most inefficient way to transport large numbers of people present in busy city centres.
  • Efficient modes need to be prioritised to enable the creation of high quality city streets and places for people to enjoy the city.
  • The economic contribution of different uses must be considered to increase street level productivity.

Cities around the world are facing challenges similar to Melbourne. These global best practice ideas can help to inform the right approach for Melbourne.

Car-free Oslo

  • Oslo has the fastest rate of population growth in Europe and this has been identified as the biggest threat to quality of life in the city.
  • Access to and within the central area will be primarily by walking, cycling and public transport.
  • To mitigate this pressure, the city plans to make its central area car-free by 2019.
  • Access for important motor vehicles such as emergency vehicles critical to the function of the city will be maintained as well as for deliveries, people with disabilities and taxis.
  • Access to and within the central area will be primarily by walking, cycling and public transport.

New car-free areas would help to maintain the amenity and liveability of the central city.

Barcelona Superblocks

  • Barcelona has a uniform street grid similar to Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid. The city has recently introduced the concept of ‘Superblocks’ where streets that form a 3 x 3 group of nine city blocks are being redesigned to prioritise people over cars.The streets within each Superblock are transformed to shared spaces and prioritised for walking, cycling, resident’s cars and deliveries. The streets that form the perimeter of each Superblock are designated for cars and public transport.
  • Speed limits are reduced to 10 km/h to create people-friendly environments where children can play freely. Vehicle throughput is not a priority.
  • In the areas where previously almost 75% of all space was allocated for cars, 75% is now given to pedestrians.

Image: Superblocks Model, City of Barcelona (2013)

‘Superblocks’ could be applied in Melbourne to make streets in the central city greener, more inclusive and more vibrant

  • Declutter pedestrian spaces:
    Remove unnecessary objects from the footpath to improve pedestrian conditions, particularly for those with a disability and parents with prams. This includes considering how bicycle and motorcycle parking is accommodated, and where objects such as street furniture is positioned.
  • Reallocate inefficient transport space to more productive uses:
    Remove on-street parking and traffic lanes for more economically, socially and environmentally productive uses. Build wider footpaths to accommodate pedestrian movements and activities such as outdoor dining, street trading, seating and spaces for civic activities, tree planting and rain water management.
  • Create more shared spaces:
    Designate new areas that are shared by different modes of transport. In the short term this involves classification of identified streets as ‘shared zones’. Medium term design changes to streets into ‘shared spaces’ could include level surfaces from building to building to change behaviour on the street. Long-term, precinct wide changes similar to a ‘superblocks’ model transform our streets.
  • Improve our understanding of ‘user experience’ in the city:
    Regular user experience research helps to understand how different people experience the transport system and better inform policy and the design of spaces. Transport services need to be user centred in their design, rather than simply complying with minimum service standards.

Discussion paper

Background paper