Most streets in the municipality have been designed and optimised for motor vehicles. Yet the majority of trips within the city are on foot and by public transport. Since 2001, the share of car trips to work has decreased by 28 per cent while jobs have increased by 43 per cent. The use of cars in the municipality is declining. The number of people in the municipality is expected to grow from 914,000 per day to 1.4 million per day by 2036.

The central city will not be able to cater for this growth without major changes to the priority given to cars. The question is not whether this should change, but how much, when and where.

Reducing traffic volumes will improve conditions for emergency vehicles, servicing, freight, construction, bikes, public transport and accessibility. Traffic reduction policies will also improve health, road safety and air quality. These policies will reduce emissions and noise, create more space for other uses such as walking, dining, trees and bike lanes, improving the liveability of our city.

Vehicle congestion, delays and through traffic

Congestion undermines economic growth and productivity. Traffic that passes through the municipality exacerbates this issue, with about one in three vehicles on streets such as Flinders, King and Spring using the central city as a through route. Private vehicles cause significant delay for people walking and riding bikes. Buses and trams stuck in traffic or blocked at intersections undermine the efficiency and reliability of public transport. Traffic lights in Melbourne are configured to favour motor vehicles, despite cars being significantly outnumbered by people using other modes. As a result of these delays, unsafe crowding of people at intersections presents a major road safety risk.

Emissions and air quality

Current transport emissions in the City of Melbourne exceed the levels required to meet Australia’s obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. Private cars account for around 52 per cent of land transport emissions in the municipality. Electric cars have the potential to reduce emissions if they are powered by renewables. Victoria’s coal fired power means that the CO2 emissions of today’s electric cars are no cleaner than conventional cars.

Vehicle priority increases wait times and pedestrian crowding

Motor vehicle emissions also affect air quality. In particular, diesel engines create dangerous particulate matter which includes carcinogens. Six of the top 10 most popular cars in Australia run on diesel fuel, as does Melbourne’s current bus fleet. Many countries are moving to ban diesel vehicles due to the impacts on human health.


People on incomes above $156,000 are more likely to drive to the city for work (ABS 2016). People on higher incomes tend to live in areas well served by public transport. Driving to the central city, especially in peak periods, can have a significant negative impact on other city users.

Safety and security

The City of Melbourne has the highest rate of pedestrian road trauma in Victoria. Vehicle attacks on people walking also highlight the threat cars can pose. Security measures such as bollards are being installed. More car free places and less vehicles in the city will further reduce risk.

Converting road space into people space

Many cities around the world are converting inefficient vehicle space into other, more productive uses. For example, both London and New York have removed road space to create iconic people spaces as well as movement corridors for other modes. In London, a section of road was removed to create a seamless connection for pedestrians between the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Also in London, significant numbers of motor vehicle lanes have converted to cycle superhighways. Cyclists are now the single largest mode of transport on central London streets in the morning peak hours. Road lanes converted to cycle use now carry many more people than they did in cars.

In New York, sections of Broadway have been closed to traffic creating popular new public spaces at Times Square and also improving traffic flow on nearby streets. The Ninth Avenue protected bicycle lane in New York, built on space previously used by traffic, resulted in significant pedestrian and road safety improvements, more cycling and an increase in retail sales.

In Sydney’s George Street, sections have been closed to cars to improve the public realm and walking environment, with more space for people and trees. A new light rail line has replaced a large number of diesel buses with a smaller number of trams.

Provide high quality alternatives

Melbourne needs to significantly increase its transport capacity to serve a 65 per cent increase of people in the city. The expansion needs to be based on space efficient modes better suited to city movement: public transport, cycling and walking. First steps include commencing detailed planning of Melbourne Metro 2, supercharging tram and bus performance and improving the network of high-quality separated bicycle lanes which will attract everyday riders. This will make it easier for those who need to use private vehicles.

More space for non-car uses

Unsafe pedestrian crowding occurs at several places around the city including at train station entries and tram stops. Continued population growth will make crowding worse. There is an urgent need to relieve pressure by expanding the space available for people and allow pedestrians to disperse more comfortably by reducing delays at traffic signals. In the long term, continued intensification will mean parts of the central city will need to be largely free of private cars to operate effectively.

Prevent through-traffic

Motor vehicle traffic which travels through the central city imposes costs including delays to others, pollution, noise, physical separation and road trauma. Through-traffic benefits individuals but places an economic burden on the city. More can be done to reduce through-traffic by reconfiguring traffic signals, redesigning streets and making better use of other more appropriate routes around the central city.

More efficient driving

There may be opportunities to make driving more efficient by providing incentives for vehicles with higher occupancy or supporting other ways of sharing vehicles such as car share and car pooling. Shared mobility businesses need to integrate and support public transport and not compete with it.

City Freight and Delivery

Goods delivery to shops, cafes, restaurants, offices and homes is at the heart of how our city works. Efficient freight movement improves liveability, prosperity and sustainability. ‘Last kilometre freight’ should take priority over private vehicle traffic. As in Bourke Street Mall and Swanston Street, time managed access for deliveries can work well in pedestrianised areas. The freight sector needs to be more efficient and innovative. Footpath delivery drones are currently being tested in other cities.

Car share

Car share has the potential to significantly reduce car ownership and use. Car share should be supported to deliver greater benefits to the city. This means that more on-street space needs to be provided for car share vehicles in the future.


Dedicated on-street motorcycle parking is limited. The majority of motorcycle parking occurs on the footpath, where conflicts with people walking and deliveries occur. As demand for footpath space grows there will be more and more places where motorcycle parking on the footpath is not appropriate. More dedicated motorcycle parking will be needed. While the amount of on-street car parking will reduce, a greater proportion of what remains will need to be allocated to motorcycles.

Car share

Changes to the approach towards car share are needed to increase the benefits for Melbourne. The growth of the fleet has not been enough to prevent the number of privately owned vehicles increasing. More people and businesses would use the service if it was easier to access.

Increasing car share will require more spaces to be provided in the municipality. There is an excess of off-street parking which could store car share vehicles and help to manage the demand for kerb space. Equally, revenue from on-street parking is not sustainable in the long term. Car share policy may provide opportunities to transition to a new era of mobility technology, secure new revenue sources and support more efficient management of street space.

Electric cars

Some cities provide on-street electric vehicle charging. Generally this happens in older cities where limited off-street parking is available. In Melbourne, an excess off-street parking already exists. Local government has not in the past played a role in providing for the fueling of private vehicles.

Urban freight

Dynamic management of loading zones will be required. This may include use of time restrictions and charges to manage demand for delivery access. New regulations may be needed to ensure that on-demand delivery services do not impact on urban amenity. More efficient, low-impact delivery models should be promoted.

Future scenarios

Scenario one - movement of motor vehicles is prioritised

Without allocated parking, increasing numbers of motorcycles clog up the footpath as ridership increases. Cars stop trams after entering already blocked intersections, pedestrian crowding builds up at corners due to lengthy traffic signal delays, speed limits are set above a safe level for busy pedestrian city centres.

Scenario two - movement of people is prioritised

Motorcycles are provided with allocated parking, freeing up footpath space for pedestrians and street improvements. Trams are given higher priority at traffic signals, through enforcement of existing rules and separated from cars. Traffic signal timing changes have also reduced pedestrian delay and overcrowding. Through traffic is deprioritised and extra roadspace is reallocated. Separated bike lanes are provided to the intersection. Loading zones are provided for deliveries and accessible parking spaces are prioritised at the kerbside.
Scenario one: Scenario one Scenario two: Scenario two

Illustrations: Elena Strelnikova