Anyone can grumble; the challenge for most people though, is coming up with alternative ideas and solutions.
Residents in West Melbourne formed Western Connection in 2013 not to protest, but to promote smarter outcomes for the E-Gate site, the 20-hectare package of land directly between West Melbourne and Docklands. We took our ideas to various organisations including Major Projects Victoria, The City of Melbourne, various businesses in Docklands and the State Planning Minister, Richard Wynne.
Overall there was broad agreement for our proposal, but then Transurban started putting designs on the E-Gate site for the Western Distributor. Now it seems clear Transurban want to put two new roads across E-Gate. We see this as a tragic misuse of this land that longterm will cost the City of Melbourne dearly.
We believe there are better ways of developing the E-Gate site that can still accommodate Transurban's Western Distributor project and the Victorian State Government's original vision for developing the E-Gate site.
Below is our step-by-step outline of our vision for the E-Gate site.
Transurban want to bring traffic from the Western Distributor project across the E-Gate site; this includes bringing traffic from Footscray Rd across to Spencer Street (the orange dotted lines) and bringing traffic from Dynon Rd across the E-Gate site to Wurundjeri Way (the yellow dotted line).
This crossover of traffic is unlikely to help travellers get into or across the city; most experts already admit that traffic in the Melbourne CBD is already reaching capacity. These new roads might get traffic to the threshold of the city faster, but one is reminded of the old army quote either - hurry up and wait. Until such time as traffic within the actual CBD is improved (which is very unlikley), there seems little point in rushing to deliver more vehicles to the edges of the CBD
...which raises the question - is it really worth carving up 20-hectares of prime land on the edge of the CBD for the sake of minimal traffic gains?
Western Connection believes a better outcome for city bound traffic would be to realign Footscray Road across the south-east corner of the E-Gate site and give this traffic free turns - left into Dudley Street and and right into Wurundjeri Way, as in the illustration to the right.
This would eliminate two sets of traffic lights on the intersections of Footscray Road and Dudley Street, and Dudley and Wurundjeri Ways. Realigning Footscray Road across the lower corner of the E-Gate site would also help to seperate CBD bound traffic from Dockland's traffic, in part making Docklands a more pedestrian and cycle friendly environment.
Traffic from Harbour Esplanade in Docklands and E-Gate could still be easily integrated into Footscray Road traffic via slip lanes.
As for traffic to the north of the E-Gate site, traffic on Dynon Road would still travel into Spencer Street as normal, although the potential is there to take traffic from Dynon Road across onto Laurens Street, thereby providing traffic access into the new Macauley-Arden Precinct.
Keeping Transurban's roads out of the central area of E-Gate will minimise the impact on the site, and providing better opportunities to develop E-Gate.
The second stage of our plan involves relocating the North Melbourne Train Flyover closer towards Southern Cross Train Station. This was part of the original plan for the Regional Rail Link but it was ditched in an effort to save money on the project.
Shifting the flyover is an expensive ask, but the longterm cost benefits to everyone significantly outweigh the initial costs of the undertaking.
One immediate benefit is to VicRail and the Regional Rail Link, with the immediate reduction in wear to tracks and train wheels caused by the tight turns on the exisiting flyover. This is a cost that would be ongoing without a redesign of the flyover. Building a new flyover with smoother turns wouldn't only reduce wear but it would also permit faster access times for trains entering and exiting Southern Cross Train Station (trains currently have to slow down as they cross the old flyover).
Building a new flyover would also create the opportunity to add a third line onto the flyover which would be useful for increasing train access into Southern Cross Train Station and also providing a level of redundancy in the event of damage to one of the lines, or a failure of a train on the network. A third line fouls all
Aside from the benefits to VicRail and the Regional Rail Link, building a new flyover would also create the opportunity to realign the Regional Rail Link back into North Melbourne Train Station. This would give VicRail the opportunity to reconnect trains with North Melbourne Train Station and give regional commuters the chance to access businesses in West and North Melbourne, the new E-Gate site and businesses in at the north end of Docklands. Stopping at North Melbourne station also gives regional commuters the chance to catch the 401 bus services on their short journey to the university and hospital precincts.
The most important reason for us in shifting the train flyover though, is to improve the opportunities for developing the E-Gate site.
For now, diesel trains using the Regional Rail Link pass at street-level next to West Melbourne, and this creates a direct physical barrier. By moving the flyover closer to Southern Cross Train Station, trains can be put at the same level as the Metro trains, and provide easier access options between West Melbourne to Docklands.
To quote Joni Mitchell - "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot". Putting a large parking lot in the middle of the E-Gate development though, is exactly what we want to do. Despite the push to embrace public transport, cars will continues to be a huge part of our culture and we need to park these cars somewhere. A large parking lot directly across the E-Gate site will provide parking to residents and workers at the E-Gate site, as well as casual parking to shoppers at E-Gate and Harbour Town Melbourne Shopping Mall. This parking can also be used by people attending sporting events and concerts at Etihad Stadium and Festival Hall.
The big reason why we want a car park built directly across the E-Gate site though, is to provide structure for connecting West Melbourne to Docklands.
In as much as we believe there is a need for car parking, we also need the structure to support the final part of our vision - green space. This is not a unique idea; two of the main green spaces at Melbourne University are built above car park buildings, and new developments about Melbourne are also starting to make use of parkland on top of structures.
The final stage of our vision is to build a large green-space atop of the car-park building. This green-space would span from the edge North Melbourne Train Station across the E-Gate site and through to Harbour Town in Docklands.
This green-space would not only provide much needed parkland to the inner west but it would also provide pedestrian friendly access between North Melbourne Train Station, West Melbourne, E-Gate and Docklands. This easy access between the suburbs and precincts would be good for businesses, retailers and restaurants and it would also provide a sense of community to an otherwise isolated corner of the city.
When finished, we want E-Gate to be an elegant solution to resolve many of the inner wests problems. We encourage the development of the site with new apartment buildings, office and retail space but we also see the opportunity for parkland to create an important link between Docklands, North Melbourne Train Station and the northern end of the CBD. This green space will not only provide easier access for commuters across this end of the city, but it will also provide a gateway on multiple levels for visitors to the city. People arriving from the airport or by train will pass through the site, and tourists exploring the CBD will have the opportunity to travel from Queen Victoria Market, along Victoria Street and then across the E-Gate site into Docklands.
Our vision is to create an important piece of infrastructure that ties this corner of Melbourne together, and creates opportunities for everyone.
Here is a vision of the parkland as seen by architect and Western Connection team member Angus McNichol.
"The focus of the proposal is a Flagstaff Gardens size collection of connected public green spaces. Great parks should significantly provide variety and the proposal thus far imagines what this variety is in terms of mixed soft green and hard landscaped.
- Large tree colonnades planted over earth (no car parking below) as the main connecting axis
- Small group gathering space flanked by medium and small trees
- Open grassed areas for community sports
- Hardscaped activity spaces and public performance spaces in high traffic zones
- Quiet vegetated places for reflection with winter sun and summer shade
- Small business pods and temporary market place (above car-parking for servicing)
- Restaurant and cafe edge activation along E-Gate development with significant site lines throughout park for safety
These spaces together form the greater East West Connection Parkland and serve both sides of the city currently divided by the rail lines. Visually interesting, open and easily traversable entry to the parklands seamlessly marries to the North Melbourne Train Station and Footscray road and invites pedestrians and cyclists through. It’s not trying to emulate the hard urban nature of federation square, but as this part of the city grows can strive to compete with it to be as culturally significant space, albeit a green one."
- Angus McNichol, Architect.