A proposal to close sections of one of Melbourne's main roads to cars has reignited the debate over the future of Australia's most livable city as a car-free zone.
The Melbourne city council voted unanimously on Tuesday evening in favor of a plan to close down two blocks of Elizabeth Street to all traffic, aside from trams, bicycles and pedestrians, and convert two more blocks into one-way one-way streets.
Work should not start for at least two years and should go through a separate public consultation and approval process to move forward.
The council states that the proposal, contained in the Elizabeth Street strategic opportunity plan, will improve road safety and comfort, as well as increase retail traffic.
But he was criticized by the Andrews state government for contributing to the existing interruptions at a time when the city is undergoing the construction of the Metro Tunnel underground metro project.
It has also been criticized as "fragmentary" and "unambitious" by urban planning experts who say that Melbourne should follow the example of a city like Vienna, which is car-free in its historic center. Vienna overthrew Melbourne from first place in the index of liveable cities last year.
"It must get to the point where it is carless," says Kate Shaw, a future urban geography and planning partner at the Australian Research Council.
Shaw says the change is "inevitable", driven by growth that will push Melbourne to a population of over six million by 2027, surpassing Sydney as Australia's largest city by 2050. The central grid in Melbourne, which was written in 1837, it was "not designed to cope" with the volume of traffic associated with that level of growth, says Shaw.
"We are approaching the idea of the city without cars in a very fragmented way, trying to keep everyone happy and welcome to anyone in practice," he says. "At some point, Melbourne designers just have to bite the bullet and close entire sections of the city towards the cars."
The deputy mayor, Arron Wood, says the proposed changes are a compromise between greater access to pedestrians and people using public transport and those who need access to vehicles.
"There is no farsighted city in the world that aims to bring more cars to its central city," he says.
According to the new plan, Elizabeth Street would be closed to cars between Bourke and Little Bourke Street and between Little Lonsdale and Latrobe streets.
Both sections have hosted super-tram wheelchair-accessible stops along the length of the block since 2013.
The updated road space, including bike paths, would resemble the parallel sections of Swanston Street, which is closed to cars apart from vehicles authorized for deliveries within certain hours.
Three more blocks would have been converted into one-way streets with the lane running south. This includes the southern end of Elizabeth Street, near Flinders Street, which has already received full approval from the council and which will begin work next year.
Wood says the proposal, which is part of a broader project transportation strategy launched this month, is about creating an efficient and "not to say no to cars" transport network.
"If you look at Swanston Street, it carries around 200,000 people a day (on trams) and that's the equivalent of over the handle of the West Gate Bridge every day," says Wood. "So it's not about moving people, it's just agnostic transport in the sense that you want to get the most efficient way of moving people."
The draft transport strategy proposes closing east-west secondary roads such as Little Bourke and Little Collins and states that 43% of cars traveling through the city pass through traffic trying to avoid the use of bypass routes, many of which charge a toll.
Polls conducted by the city of Melbourne found that 90% of people traveling along Elizabeth Street either walk or take a tram. There are 14 times more pedestrians and tram users than those traveling by car.
The paths, only six meters wide compared to the 14 meters of Swanston Street, are not able to cope.
"It's a real grip in terms of pedestrian access," says Wood.
Outdoor dining, parking for motorcyclists and buskers interspersed at regular intervals reduce the real space along sections of Elizabeth Street by about a third.
David Beanham, a shop owner on Elizabeth Street and says his family has been operating in the area for 70 years, told the council on Tuesday that it should focus on removing those obstacles and "let pedestrians stay on the left" before taking considering the possibility of blocking sections of the road, which he said would hinder his activity by making deliveries more difficult.
Beanham also rejected the council's argument that the proposed works would improve Elizabeth Street's amenities, including planting more street trees.
"People come to the city to shop, to work, to meet, not to sit and admire opinions," he told the council.
Not everyone shares his concern. At a table open on Elizabeth Street, pushed against the sidewalk for an unparalleled view of the car lane and tram stop, dressed as Bryce and Dev.
I support the council's plan and mention the nearby Bourke Street Mall – which is closed to all traffic except for trams and emergency vehicles – as a model to follow.
"This is actually my favorite place in town because there's no traffic," says Bryce. "Often when you go through here there are a lot of people who line up with the lights and it's a little crazy sometimes."
On the other side of the street, on the steps of the GPO, Ruby says she is worried that traffic to certain parts of the road will restrict access for disabled people and those unable to take public transport .
"This would limit the work options for people if they were unable to enter the city," he says.
According to Wood, according to the proposal, the city would retain the same number of disabled parking lots and delivery bays that it currently houses along Elizabeth Street, but would be moved to different blocks.
Shaw says the proposal could confuse drivers by allowing access to only certain sections, which could cause conflicts with bicycles that require a clear ride.
He says the Melbourne tram network and grid provide an "incremental approach" ready to get cars out of the city, because it means that certain roads can be completely closed to cars while alternate roads remain open.
"You can actually alternate so that you have completely separated traffic movements, which is ideal and very safe for all concerned," he says.
Professor Michael Buxton, a former Victorian government planner and current member of the Center for Urban Research at RMIT University, says that Melbourne should seek "radical solutions" to become a viable and viable global city.
"The thing is, you don't need a car to get around the city," he says.
Like Shaw, he says that the approach was fragmented. He says projects like the West Gate tunnel, which will bring cars into the city, directly undermine existing attempts to reduce the number of cars.
"What we are dealing with in this state is a lot of unique and often contradictory transport projects that actually have no global strategic basis," he says. "We have this project-by-project approach … And if you do it often you end up with contrary goals."
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