Melbourne transport

Melbourne CBD traffic light ‘upgrade’ – pedestrians lose out again

Excuse the wobbly phone footage, but I spotted this a few days ago and thought it was worth noting. (You’ll miss little by muting the sound.)

This is the corner of Elizabeth Street and Little Collins Street in Central Melbourne, on the eastern side of the intersection.

We are looking south along Elizabeth Street. Cars come one-way from the left of the screen, heading west along Little Collins.

Many of these “Little” streets currently have no red/green man (“pedestrian lantern”) fitted, but there seems to be a program to fit them — I recall mention of it in the City of Melbourne Walking Plan.

It’s the timings I have a problem with:

  • 00:01 Green man and main traffic light green starts
  • 00:09 Red man starts flashing
  • 00:13 Red man stops flashing, stays lit
  • 00:28 Main traffic light goes yellow
  • 00:31 Main traffic light goes red

You only get 8 seconds to start crossing. There’s 15 seconds of the sequence that could be used to allow more pedestrians to cross, which isn’t used.

I can’t see any reason to time it like that. The red man flashing should be at the end of the main traffic green time.

Possibly it’s timed identically as the eastern side of Elizabeth Street in order to prioritise turning cars into Little Collins Street. This is a questionable use of sequence time given pedestrians should have priority over vehicles in the CBD, but it makes no sense to use identical timings on the western side of the street.

Little Collins St and Swanston St, Melbourne CBD

Also notable is that this section of Little Collins Street is closed to traffic for several hours a day over the busy lunchtime period. During that time there is almost no traffic coming out here at Elizabeth Street; only a vehicle that entered before the closure and parked would be here.

The end result is that for a majority of the time, the red man is lit for no good reason.

And assuming the green time for traffic hasn’t changed, the green time for pedestrians has dropped by about three-quarters.

The way this is at present it’s practically inviting people to jaywalk — as shown in the video.

The City of Melbourne and their traffic engineers really should know better.

Update 31/3/2016: I did contact the Council about this. Going past today, I notice the timings have been amended… it looks like the Green man is now there for about 25 seconds every cycle — a vast improvement.

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.

9 replies on “Melbourne CBD traffic light ‘upgrade’ – pedestrians lose out again”

I’ve worked in the city for over 35 years and jaywalk all the time. I was once (2000) fined $12 for doing so. The fine has probably gone up a lot since. If I retire at age 65 I may get one more fine. So I will continue to jaywalk.

I hope you send this to City of Melbourne – I’ve had some good dialogues and outcomes on pedestrian movements. It’s unusual for them to institute something like this.

I think the City of Melbourne will sort this out (by talking with VicRoads). The council is responsible for all but two roads through the CBD, so its staff need to talk to VicRoads. I expect the council has requested, ordered and funded the signals, and VicRoads has supplied them but used a generic phasing plan. They haven’t separated the timing for the two sides of Elizabeth Street. VicRoads should respond favourably to a request for the two pedestrian phases to have different timings so that a proper amount of walking time is provided on the east side of the street.

These sort of light timings are completely counter-productive. We are intelligent creatures – if we see a road is clearly safe to cross, we are generally going to cross it regardless of what signals are shown. Of course, if the light is turning red, we’ll decide accordingly, but if it goes red for a long time when it does not need to be, as in this case, or the light does not go green because it was not pressed, trust in the light is lost. Once people don’t think following the light will help them cross in a reasonable time when safe, they will begin to disregard it, and the ‘safety benefits’ of the light are gone.

Yep. Contrast with the existing situation at Little Collins and King St: on the east side, the flashing red man starts about 5 seconds before the lights change. It’s longer on the west side because the street is wider there. This is of course a Vicroads controlled street, so they’re quite capable of doing it right in some places (including making a distinction between the two sides of the intersection).

Some of the crossings in Docklands are particularly poorly optimised for pedestrians (especially the Footscray/Dudley intersection, and those along Harbour Esplanade). Walking in from North Melbourne, being unlucky with the lights can easily add ten minutes to my journey.

And let’s not get started on vehicles that overshoot and block the pedestrian crossing, or cyclists who try to take you out as they run a red light…

I don’t think anyone is going to take any notice of these lights. Pedestrian signals are almost considered merely advisory by everyone except the police in the CBD, now.

@Paul, it’s that last one that’s the problem, especially since there’s plenty of pedestrian blitzes, but never seems to be any on the drivers, who are the ones that mainly seem to treat traffic lights and other road rules as advisory.

Why can’t Melb. City Vic Roads install ped countdown clocks? $$$? Hmmm. Personally I think they are great and not uncommon in most other cities around the world.
You wouldn’t put them on every ped x-ing but would benefit large intersections or those with heavy foot traffic.

Many SE Asian countries even have them for vehicles. These count up and down and ‘may’ assist in those speeding up to beat the amber light and also you know how long before the green light (for those impatient drivers).

While I’m at it, why not allow pedestrian scrambles in the city? Flinders and Swanston would be ideal – or are trams in issue/impediment here?

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