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The current spate of level crossing removals means that more stations are being rebuilt around Melbourne than at any time in living memory. These stations, by virtue of the selection process, are generally adjacent to roads - and often those roads are major public transport corridors, whether for trams or buses. Perhaps because we've gone from zero to 100 so quickly, and therefore don't have a ton of station design experience in our local public service, some of these new stations haven't been ideal from an urban design perspective - in fact in some cases they are worse than the ground-level stations they're replacing. The Dutch, however, are very good at this, so I thought I'd go through a case study to see what lessons Melbourne can learn from it.
Amsterdam Lelylaan station is an elevated station (think SkyRail) with four platforms, which was built in 1986. One pair of platforms serves GVB lines 50 and 51 (think Metro) and the other pair serves NS trains to a number of destinations (think V/Line). Probably the closest comparison I can draw with a Melbourne station is therefore Sunshine.
Lelylaan Station is in the New West part of Amsterdam (via OpenStreetMap)
It's in the New West part of the city - it's a little beyond the A10 ring road that sort of marks the border between the old-style urban core and the more modern 20th-century suburbs. Although it's a very well-designed suburb by world standards, it's not the most vibrant part of Amsterdam by any stretch (I only visited because I needed to pick up my student residency permit from Immigration). So definitely don't go thinking this is a station that got special treatment because of its location - it really is a fairly bog-standard suburban metro station. It is admittedly one of the larger ones due to the metro-regional interchange, but even then it's dwarfed by other big interchanges like Sloterdijk or Duivendrecht - so it's definitely applicable to the kinds of stations LXRA are building at the moment.
It's a short walk from the bus bays to the station entrance
At the southern end, adjacent to Schipluidenlaan, there is a decent-sized bus interchange, with three bays for the three routes that terminate there. Because the routes terminate here, it makes sense for them to come right into the precinct rather than just pausing on the street, so that's exactly what they do. Bus passengers can walk straight off the bus and over to the station entrance, without needing to cross any roads or anything like that (though the walk is slightly further than would be ideal).
Bike and scooter parking among the pylons that support the tracks
As you'd expect, there is a huge amount of bike parking - there's a big tranche to the east of the station (part of which is shown in the header image of this post), but there's also a bunch of it among the support pylons at either end of the station. Cycling and walking infrastructure leading up to the station is, of course, excellent.
The tram lines heading into Amsterdam
But the really impressive aspect is the integration with trams. Tram Routes 1 and 17 travel along Cornelis Lelylaan, the arterial road for which the station is named. The station straddles the road, with entrances for pedestrians on either side of the road - meaning nobody has to cross the busy road to get into the station. But in the central median of the road there is also a tram stop, with its own escalators up to the train platform. This means that passengers can step off the tram, and a few steps later be on the escalator up to catch their train - also without having to cross the road.
The ticket barriers to enter the station are right on the tram platform
It's also worth noting that this arrangement is very efficient for the trams themselves, and therefore through-passengers - which is important, because Routes 1 and 17 head into central Amsterdam and many tram passengers will be staying on them, not getting off at Lelylaan. Trams pull in at their stop underneath the train platforms, pause to let passengers on and off, then continue on their merry way - with basically no delay. This is a good model for through-routed buses as well; if you get this aspect right, you don't need to choose between prioritising transferring passengers or through-passengers, because the best design will create a good experience for everyone.
You really can step directly off the tram and onto the escalators for the trains
This makes the train-catching experience absolutely seamless, no matter whether you're interchanging from a tram or just walking or cycling up to the station directly. Not only does this make things much more pleasant for passengers, it makes things considerably more efficient - large numbers can get in and out of the station quickly at peak times. For one thing, passenger loads are spread out over multiple entrances, rather than all trying to go for the same entrance at the same time. For another, passengers don't build up waiting for the pedestrian light to cross the road.
The fact that pedestrians don't need to cross the road also means that traffic on the road can flow more freely - whether it's trams, buses or cars, they're not held up by pedestrians crossing at the light anywhere near as often.
This kind of elegant design is exactly what we should be aiming for in Victoria.
The CD9 project was a key part of the incoming Andrews government's signature Level Crossing Removal Project, to remove all nine crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong stations - and in the process, rebuild Carnegie, Murrumbeena, Hughesdale, Clayton, and Noble Park stations. Despite some amount of controversy, the so-called SkyRail has been pretty successful on most measures - the amount of open, green, public space it creates is a big win in my view - and it certainly didn't result in the electoral backlash the Liberals were hoping it would in 2018.
Murrumbeena SkyRail station (via Adrian Tritschler)
There is definitely room for improvement, though. All of them are firmly on one side of the road, rather than straddling it; most are right next to major roads for buses, but Noble Park is quite some distance from Heatherton Rd (though admittedly a bit closer than the old station was). For all of them, pedestrians coming from the opposite side of the road must cross at the lights - and it's generally quite a busy road. So no points there.
Most of them have buses running along the adjacent road, with southbound passengers being able to walk straight off the bus to the station entrance, but northbound passengers needing to cross the road at a signalled intersection to get in (or vice-versa, depending on which side of the road the station's on). Clayton is the exception to this - they have clearly recognised the importance of clean interchanges here, but probably haven't implemented it in the best way. Southbound buses stop on Clayton Rd, passengers can walk directly into the station, and the buses can continue on their way. People travelling on northbound buses can also access the station without having to cross a road, but it requires the bus itself to take a massive deviation.
Northbound buses make a big diversion at Clayton Station (via Google Maps)
Northbound buses turn right onto Haughton Rd, then left onto a little bus-only sliplane to get under the tracks, then left onto Carinish Rd. They drop off their passengers next to the station, then need to make a right-hand turn back onto Clayton Rd to continue north. This required quite a lot of effort and money to implement - they had to install a bus-only light at the Dunstan St intersection, and then a right-turn arrow to allow the bus to override the "no right turn onto Haughton Rd" signs, as well as building the bus slip lane. And for all that effort and money, it's a pretty clumsy solution - northbound buses need to spend several minutes on this diversion, which for interchanging passengers is slower than waiting for a walk signal to cross the road would have been, and for through-passengers (those heading to, say, the hospital or the university) it is a complete waste of time. Simply building the station so that it had entrances on both sides of Clayton Rd would have avoided all of this - and provided a quick, safe experience for all passengers.
Looking through some other recent level crossing removals, we find a similarly mixed bag.
A bus out the front of Ormond Station (LXRA)
Ormond, McKinnon and Bentleigh stations on the Frankston line were all done as a group as well, but with varying levels of success. McKinnon and Bentleigh both only have entrances to the north of their roads, and have their bus stops 30-40m from those entrances. But Ormond has entrances on both the north and south sides of North Road, so it's much more accessible to pedestrians from both sides. Its westbound bus stop is about 35m from the southern entrance, but the eastbound bus stop is literally right out the front of the northern entrance. One suspects that Ormond got a different treatment because North Rd is bigger than the other two roads, but nonetheless it's a much better outcome than the other two stations.
The buses are a bit chaotic around Mentone (cropped from PTV)
If we look at Mentone, its layout was always pretty woeful, requiring buses to do quite a bit of running around in order to stop adjacent to the line rather than perpendicular to it; by building the new station considerably south of the old one (and leaving the bus interchanges in the old spot) it's been made even worse. It's around 120m further away from the buses, further away from the arterial road, and further away from the shops; not a particularly good outcome.
The main, western entrance to Nunawading Station (via Thebusofdoom)
Nunawading Station is an interesting case in that it slightly pre-dates the Andrews LXRA blitz, having been built in the last days of the Bracks/Brumby government in 2010. But it's a really good example as well - with entrances on both sides of Springvale Rd, and bus stops fairly close to each entrance, it's quite accessible from all angles. The downside of Nunawading is that the actual platforms themselves don't extend to the eastern entrance, there's just a slightly dingy passageway under the road which takes you to the platform; a design flaw which seems to have been corrected for Ormond.
Artist impression of the new Hallam Station (LXRA)
I know many people have given feedback to LXRA about many of their station designs, wanting these kinds of principles to be given more weight - and thankfully, there do seem to be some positive signs. LXRA just released the designs for the new Hallam Station, and it looks like they've done a lot of things right. The station will straddle the road, with lifts, stairs and entrances on both sides of the road. The northbound bus stop will be directly under the station, while the southbound bus stop seems to be only a bus length or so away from it. This will make for very easy and safe interchange between modes - following the same principles as Lelylaan.
Moreland and Coburg station designs were released not all that long ago - they're elevated designs as well, and unfortunately they represent a lot of the same issues as the CD9 stations. Coming up in the near future, we have Bell and Preston stations, which are still in the early planning stages - they've announced they'll be rail-over, but haven't released any detailed drafts as yet. Hopefully they can take these design principles into account when they do.
Also, shortly before posting this I was alerted to
https://youtu.be/NoNtHF655vs from the late great Paul Mees, filmed just prior to the 2010 Victorian election. In it he mentions the easy interchange between train and bus at Perth's Murdoch station; clearly being in the middle of a freeway median makes the active transport access pretty average, but it is indeed a good example when it comes to train-bus interchange.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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