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Concept image looking north over the planned Fitzgerald Rd bridge (LXRA)
On Saturday, the government announced that the level crossing removals at Fitzgerald Rd, Ardeer and Robinsons Rd, Deer Park would be fast-tracked, and set to be completed by 2023; while the Mount Derrimut Rd, Deer Park crossing - and rebuild of Deer Park Station - would happen a bit later, slated for completion by 2025. At the same time as this announcement, they released design concepts for Fitzgerald and Robinsons, so let's take a closer look at these.
Fitzgerald Road, Ardeer
Aerial concept image of the Fitzgerald Rd treatment (LXRA)
Fitzgerald Rd is looking a lot more like a big freeway overpass than I anticipated, but broadly seems like not a bad outcome. Cycling north-south along the Ring Road Path will be easier than now; cyclists won't have to cross Forrest St at-grade any more, so no danger from conflict with cars and no inconvenience from having to press the beg button and wait for a light. Cycling east-west along Forrest seems to be about the same; the existing high-quality SUP will be retained, but this path does end abruptly at the Ring Road so it's a bit useless for travelling to Deer Park. It's beyond the scope of this project to build that extension, but the project does nothing that would hinder it.
If you're turning the corner - cycling off the Ring Road Path and onto Forrest Street, or vice-versa - the designs seem to indicate this won't be handled as well as it could. The concept images seem to show the SUP ending very abruptly at the T-intersection, which has slip lanes in both directions - cyclists need to cross to the south side of Forrest to access the SUP, but it seems as though this is likely to be some combination of slow and dangerous, depending on what they do with beg buttons and so on. (1)
The existing pedestrian crossing of the rail corridor (Google Maps)
From a walking perspective, the at-grade pedestrian crossing will be removed, and the direct replacement would be the SUP that curves along the overpass. This would be less than ideal, adding quite a lot of distance for walkers - but thankfully there is another pedestrian crossing of the rail corridor just east of the project area, near West Street. Anyone in the catchment who would likely have used the existing Fitzgerald Rd pedestrian crossing will be able to use the West Street crossing instead, without really adding anything at all to their journey time.
So I'm pretty satisfied with this from a walkability perspective. The main caveat I'd add is that this reduces redundancy and makes the West Street crossing indispensable for the future; I'd hate to see this crossing abolished as part of the future quadding of the line, for example. Another minor caveat is that there needs to be work done to create a safe crossing point out the front of Sirius College (but again, beyond the scope of this project).
Ground-level westbound concept view of the Fitzgerald Rd treatment (LXRA)
On the topic of quadding, I'm pleased to see that the concept images seem to show the overpass leaving sufficient room for a second pair of tracks to be added to the south of the existing pair, which should help future-proof it. Unfortunately the existing Ring Road bridge doesn't have space for this, so that will need rebuilding...but yet again, it's beyond the scope of this project.
Lastly - buses. There are bus stops in both directions between where Fitzgerald Rd currently meets Forrest Street and where it's proposed to; this change would mean Route 427 could no longer stop there, though Route 400 could continue to. Public data indicates that these stops only see an average of 3 daily boardings, and the stops at West Street are only 300m away (and much closer to housing etc) so I don't think this is a huge loss.
Robinsons Road, Deer Park
Diagram of the Robinsons Rd design (LXRA)
In my last post on these level crossings, I made the case for why this crossing shouldn't go road-under, but instead should go rail-over. Unfortunately they have stuck with the road-under option as planned. Setting that decision aside, the actual design they've come up with seems to work fairly well.
Concept image of the southern approach, with non-frontage houses on the right (LXRA)
South of the railway line, the houses don't have frontages on Robinsons Rd - they all front Jonah Parade, and there's no pedestrian connection from Jonah to Robinsons. This is annoying, and bad urban design, but it makes the job of the LXRA easier because there's no connectivity they need to preserve - the SUP just needs to connect at Hatchlands Drive, which is ages away. The design achieves this, with a nice wide SUP along this stretch - essentially maintaining what the existing SUP does. Maintaining connection with Nexus Street for vehicles might have presented a challenge but they've been able to accommodate this too.
Aerial concept image, showing the new service road (LXRA)
North of the railway line, there are houses that front Robinsons so they've had to build a service road for them. This means the people who live in these houses have further to walk or cycle to get to, say, the supermarket on Hatchlands, because they'd need to walk to the corner of Quinn Street then backtrack - which could turn a six-minute walk into a ten-minute walk. It's only a small number of houses and a relatively small increment to travel time, so this isn't the end of the world - and this would have been hard to avoid with the road-under design, so I don't exactly think they've made any huge design blunders. But it's worth pointing out that this would not have been a problem if they'd gone rail-over.
In terms of future-proofing for quadding, it certainly looks as though there's space for a second track pair to the south, though it's debatable as to whether the concrete support pad is wide enough to carry it without being widened at a later date. This is something I plan to query with them. There also seems to be nothing that would detract from the possibility of adding a flyover later, which is good.
Mount Derrimut Road, Deer Park - or the lack thereof
Deer Park Station
Mount Derrimut Road is right next to Deer Park Station, and will not be included in this first tranche - although it seems like it won't be all that far behind, with the government quoting 2023 for the first two and 2025 for this one. So, no concept images yet, but the government has previously indicated they would go rail-over and have a Skyrail station, and as far as we know that's still the case.
Why not do all three at once? It might simply be that they haven't gotten far enough along with the design work yet - doing a complete station rebuild is after all more complex than just removing a stand-alone crossing. But they've also apparently had some issues in the past with traffic when several roads in close proximity are closed for LX works - when only one is closed you can divert traffic to other nearby roads, but when several are closed it presents much more of a barrier. In this case I can definitely see that - the north and south of the railway line are very poorly connected to each other. Robinsons Rd and Mount Derrimut Rd are the only two surface streets to cross the railway in the huge area between the Deer Park Bypass and the Ring Road. Closing them both at once would indeed cause a lot of local traffic issues.
A new pedestrian crossing mid-block would hugely improve connectivity (via Google Maps)
In my last post I talked about wanting to make a continuous section of Skyrail from Mount Derrimut Road to Robinsons Rd, to allow for free movement of pedestrians and cyclists across the middle of the corridor. With the confirmation of Robinsons Rd going road-under, that's clearly not going to happen - so what are our other options?
The Noble Park Station site is probably comparable to the Deer Park Station site (via Google Maps)
Might the Skyrail section holding up Deer Park Station extend far enough west to do the job? Sadly, I think not. A quick accounting of the Skyrail sections between Caulfield and Dandenong indicates that they rarely extend further than 150m beyond the last road crossing before they turn into a solid wall with earthworks supporting the track (as opposed to the open space with pylons, which a path can go under). An illustrative example for Deer Park would be the Noble Park Station area - it's only about 190m from Leonard Avenue to the solid wall, but the whole precinct (from Heatherton Rd, the station, and Leonard Ave, to the wall) is more like 450m. But even this would only really cover about the length of the Deer Park Station Reserve itself - it wouldn't make it the 750m to the Bon Thomas Reserve where a crossing would be most useful.
It's unlikely the Skyrail will extend as far as Bon Thomas Reserve (via Google Maps)
Could there just be an at-grade pedestrian crossing at the Bon Thomas Reserve, with bells and lights and automated gates? There are lots of these around the network - including the ones in Ardeer we discussed earlier - and the government doesn't seem to be in any tearing hurry to get rid of them; there are still some along the famously level-crossing free Caulfield-Dandenong section, for example. But something tells me they represent enough of a safety concern that they won't want to actively add more of them. So my suspicion is, if we're ever going to get a pedestrian crossing here, it's going to need to be an overpass.
Where to from here?
So, what now? I'm keen to confirm with LXRA that my suspicions about provision for an extra track pair at both Fitzgerald and Robinsons are correct - it's never good to make assumptions from these, particularly based on artists' conceptions. Other than that, though, Robinsons looks pretty good and there's no real impetus to get them to change anything.
Fitzgerald is pretty good overall, but the interchange for cyclists at the T-intersection leaves a lot to be desired, so I think it'll be worth trying to have a conversation about that.
Access issues with the current Deer Park Station
And I think it's definitely worth getting in early and making our feelings known to LXRA about what we want the new Deer Park Station to be like, before they finalise their concept designs. Making sure it's accessible from all directions is my highest priority, and trying to get the conversation about a mid-block pedestrian crossing started would be good too.
1. EDIT: @MelbourneWay on Twitter has done a diagram that makes the problem with the T-intersection much clearer:
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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