driving transport

M1 blocked, sky falls in

M1 blockage, picture from I realise the shutdown of the M1 eastbound on Tuesday was probably misery for those caught up in it, the lengthy article on it in yesterday’s Age I think vastly overstates the impact. The article basically has the road lobby saying that the whole thing doesn’t work (and the $1.4 billion of improvements won’t last long) and so therefore we should build another one.

Because apparently the solution to something that doesn’t work is to have two of them.

”I have consistently said we can’t into the medium and longer term continue our reliance on the M1. It is an unsustainable reliance,” he [Roads Minister Tim Pallas] said yesterday.

I think it would be more accurate to say that we can’t continue to have thousands upon thousands of individuals each driving alone in a car for long distances around Melbourne. It’s in no way an efficient method of doing things. And they’ll continue to do so until they’re given a time-competitive alternative.

While the government quietly starts building the new road tunnel (claimed to be for freight to the port, but their own artwork gives away that it’s really for city access) and tentatively starts early work on the rail tunnel, they’re neglecting basic public transport service frequency improvements (such as linking two rail lines through the CBD to provide a cross-city route, and boosting frequencies across Melbourne) that would get cars off the road more quickly and cheaper.

Up to 160,000 vehicles a day use the road

“…when that corridor is closed it doesn’t just impact people travelling on that road, it shuts down Melbourne.” [Peter Daly, RACV]

Both of these can’t be true at the same time.

160,000 vehicles is a tiny proportion of the vehicles in Melbourne.

And how many were actually affected by this incident? Well, if the road is 3-4 lanes in that section, and freeway capacity is 2000 vehicles per hour, and freeway AM peak vehicle occupancy is 1.13, and it was three hours, that’s a maximum of 21,000 vehicles, or 23,730 people. (Someone will point out of my maths is flawed, I hope.)

Which is a lot, but it’s also less then a medium-sized football crowd, and it is plainly not true that it impacts the whole city.

While I’m sure the talkback lines at 3AW were overheating, myself and many others were completely oblivious to it. Central Melbourne was unaffected. It didn’t affect the trains (which bring the majority of people into the city centre). It didn’t affect road traffic on most other routes around Melbourne.

The State Government is spending $1.4 billion upgrading the vital transport link with extra lanes and ramps, but even Pallas admits there is only so much ”sweating the asset” can achieve.

Ah yes, the M1 upgrade which was going to cost a mere billion, and then blew-out by 40%. So now they’re saying that even that huge expense to taxpayers will provide limited benefits.

Even the RACV admitted this last year:

… the RACV dismissed the upgrade as a quick-fix.

“Its life of providing relief is probably only going to last five to 10 years,” public policy general manager Brian Negus said.

“Traffic on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge slows under heavy load”, Herald Sun, 18/2/2008

In the context they said that, they were asking for yet another freeway to be built, but it appears to be admission that it’s pointless to add road capacity — it attracts more vehicles and fills up again. It’s not like building that capacity on a separate road will magically prevent it filling.

Unless of course they build it, but keep it closed until there’s a blockage elsewhere.

Thankfully in yesterday’s article, Graham Currie of Monash University was there to counter the rev heads:

Ironically, according to Currie, the Government’s massive upgrade of the M1 will not help travel times in the long run because the improved road will be an incentive for more vehicles.

Spot on. Just like, in fact, the previous improvement (known as Citylink) was meant to speed things up, but didn’t.

Trip 1: Oakleigh to the City
Route Travel time
Current [1999] 38 minutes
Future 13 minutes
Save 25 minutes

Trip 2: Gladstone Park to MCG
Route Travel time
Current 46 minutes
Future 26 minutes
Save 20 minutes

Trip 3: Dandenong to Melbourne Airport
Route Travel time
Current 87 minutes
Future 39 minutes
Save 48 minutes

— RACV morning peak predictions for Citylink, then under construction, published in The Age 27/5/1999

Ask a regular motorist if they can drive from Dandenong to the Airport in 39 minutes in peak hour today and they’ll laugh their heads off.

As I post this, about 8am, the VicRoads web site is estimating around 58 minutes for the trip. (Monash inbound 40 + Citylink Western Link outbound 9 + Tullamarine outbound 9). Admittedly there are roadworks going on, but still! And it’s not even the very peak of the peak yet.

It might have been 39 minutes on day one of opening, or perhaps if only those motorists using the road pre-upgrade had been allowed to use it afterwards. But that’s not how things work. New trips are attracted, and it clogs up again.

And I come back to my point: the best way to get the M1 running smoothly is to give as many car drivers as possible a fast, frequent public transport alternative.

(Pic: Herald Sun)

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

11 replies on “M1 blocked, sky falls in”

Great analysis. Now if only your salient points weren’t being ignored for the lure of the dollar by road building lobbies…idjits. But then again, they don’t care…this isn’t about the needs of the public.

Sound arguing. I have seen the rise of traffic on every freeway that has been opened in Melbourne. Worse that people have to pay Citylink for the privilege of sitting in stationary traffic. Monitoring the tram service while the road was closed. Toorak Road extremely heavy. Glenferrie Road, heavier than normal. Malvern Road and High Street, very heavy. Burke Road, heavy congestion. Closure of the M1 certainly has an effect on the tram system. Fortunately many private schools had already started school holidays, and so reduced school traffic.

I have seen an ad on TV promoting the use of the Eastlink expressway. Have you seen it too? The ad loosely compares the quickness and comfort of a trip on Eastlink to airline travel. It seems absurd to promote a roadway as any motorist will always take the quickest or most convenient way to their destination unless they are just out for a Sunday drive. Perhaps they are after more toll revenue? They will really need it to pay for such a slick ad.

They need it- Eastlink is tanking so badly, it isn’t funny! I find it funny that they are pissing money away on ads, rather than paying off the loan with it! I live right next to the Police Road entrance/ exit in Dandenong North, so I drive over it everyday, and the most traffic they get on there is two bob and a dog! They are bleeding money so badly, that the parent company was forced to halt trading shares ages ago! They also had a few stores, in Box Hill, Chadstone, Frankston, I believe, and in Dandenong Plaza! It was always amusing walking past the one at the Plaza- there never seemed to be ANY customers! I probably should have gone in to buy a frisbee, but I think the shock may have killed them! Most of those, if not all, are closed now!
According to numbers that Andrew S has given me, they need, and don’t quote me, something like 150,000 users a day just to generate revenue to pay the INTEREST, let alone the original capital! Even when it was free, they weren’t getting enough users to break even, so when they have to pay, there’s even less! What a disaster it was, tolling it, when it never was meant to be tolled!
By the way Daniel, don’t think this is a complaint against the road itself- it’s great! It has cut the trip time from Dandy North to Doncaster/ North Balwyn by a THIRD (only 20 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes!), which is perfect for me, and Frankston takes nearly Half ( 20 to 10). It is a great road, and has saved enormous time- but it is not sustainable as a toll road! If only ‘Bracksy’ ( Bracks + Brumby) had realised it sooner! I hope Andrew S may elaborate on what I have just said!!

Regarding the comment about the Eastlink ad – they are indeed advertising as they are struggling for traffic and revenue. I live right in the corner of the Monash and Eastlink … err … F14 and F35 freeways (and have no problem with it either by the way, so couldn’t be classed as a NIMBY on the matter). The Wikipedia article has it hidden in the history section that traffic on the road dropped from 270,000 vehicles per day during the four-week toll-free period abruptly down to 135,000 vehicles per day
Since then they have crept up to around 158,000 vehicles per day. Only problem is they need around 172,000 to pay their interest bill on the loan, before actually making a profit (Refer to Page 5 of the document):

The problem with the road is they spent $2.5 billion on its construction, and much of that cost was not only due to the tunnel, but also due to the fact that they expedited construction, squeezing it from a period of seven years down to three – solely a government problem as they kept on delaying the commencement of construction due to issues with tunnelling at Ringwood. (The Eastern and Scoresby freeways were separate projects and should never have been combined – it was a futile attempt to save money at which point it became the Mitcham Frankston Freeway) but alas the decision to toll was made (and considered before the election). Problem with that they didn’t consider a toll road with two divided highways (albeit well used) running parallel to the road – something that not often is the case. The expedition of work has now been highlighted in increasing the cost – all to no benefit:
When Connect East won the contract they backed it up with some heavily inflated traffic estimates which have not come to fruition.

Back to the main topic – indeed it was a mess when the Monash was blocked outbound and traffic flowed back through the Burnley Tunnel and onto the Westgate Freeway. However I wouldn’t romanticise it too much from a PT perspective, given the disasters that happen there too. As a regular train commuter to work when things go wrong it turns to total shit on a regular basis: Points at Caulfield failing, burnt out motor at Yarraman, car stuck on crossing at Clayton, the bloke wanting to do himself in from a signal gantry at Glenhuntly (fortunately I wasn’t going to Frankston!!), several sick passengers, an argument at Westall where someone pressed the emergency button, and how can I forget the storm of Christmas 2005, when the trees blocked the Sandringham, Frankston, Dandenong and Glen Waverley lines and I ended up spending over three hours trying to get home, a mere 20km away.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite seem to be as newsworthy as an image of 10km of traffic from a helicopter!! In all cases trains were left waiting for ages, or the replacement service is completely inadequate and thousands are stranded at the terminating station. Obvious problems are

• Sick passengers at unstaffed stations mean the train (and the next three) have to wait for an ambulance to arrive. Surely the patronage growth they boast about would warrant proper station staffing – something the current government were (rightly) criticising under Kennett but did little on themselves
• Compounding the problem further is the fact that buses are often pulled onto things like school runs meaning they are not available for railway replacement services. Not sure what can be done about that.

Eastlink is being used by a lot of people coming into the city now, my parents used it to get to East Melbourne fairly easily.

I’d gather the RIngwood tunnel is probably getting reasonable traffic. Down my way its quiet, except for peak hours when its ‘busy’ but very much free flowing. I often walk along the famous shared user path there and it is quiet – commercial traffic, people towing boats down Peninsula, etc and only small volumes of cummeter traffic.

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