Opinion

Freight must be prioritised in reworked intersection

The intersection of Power Street and City Road in Melbourne’s inner-city Southbank precinct has been the focus of significant public and media attention in recent weeks, following an incident involving a heavy vehicle.

As one of Melbourne’s busiest thoroughfares for all modes of transport, the intersection, and associated issue of how freight interfaces with the community, is useful to examine because every major city around Australia is experiencing similar issues as they grow and become denser.

This intersection is unique because most of the volume of freight traffic that traverses it is there by design, not choice.

Dangerous goods, livestock and other heavy vehicles that are banned from using the adjacent CityLink tunnels have no choice other than to use this intersection to cross the Yarra River and continue their journey on the M1 and West Gate Freeway.

In fact, it could be argued that most of the heavy vehicle traffic was there first, with a significant amount of the new car, pedestrian and bicycle traffic emerging from a spike in residential construction in a part of the city that has enormous appeal to townhouse and apartment dwellers.

The intersection is a timely case study of how compromise must be achieved between various stakeholders and interest groups so that the growing freight task can continue to have safe and uninterrupted access to road infrastructure to keep supply chains moving and functional.

It also demonstrates the necessity for planners to prioritise freight over pedestrians and cyclists – especially when there are alternative roads and paths these cohorts can use to safely complete their journeys.

The VTA is pleased to be part of a working group tasked with examining this important intersection and set of thoroughfares to make it safer for all users. We will thoughtfully be making the case that in re-engineering the intersection, freight movements must be prioritised to generate the safest outcomes for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of all persuasion.

As a gazetted freight route, and the only road infrastructure trucks are diverted to away from the CityLink tunnels, it is essential that cyclists and pedestrians be quarantined away from the intersection as much as possible.

When there are plenty of adjacent roads that are much better suited to cyclists, it makes no sense whatsoever to encourage or facilitate a direct interface between bicycles and heavy vehicles.

As for pedestrians, attenuated concrete corners with rigid barriers must be a part of solutions to separate pedestrians, along with offset pedestrian crossings to keep them as safe as possible from motorised transport.

As part of the re-engineering of this crucial intersection, it is incumbent on the Melbourne City Council – the local government authority that has much responsibility for this road infrastructure – to do away with the isolationist mentality they have adopted when it comes to considering the needs of the freight industry.

The MCC must acknowledge that heavy vehicle operators are starved for choice when it comes to crossing the Yarra River, and support a reworking of the road infrastructure in the precinct that favours the transport industry. The irony here is that by supporting the needs of freight, Council will be supporting safer outcomes for the more vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians.

The VTA’s door remains open to the Melbourne City Council when they want to engage in serious dialogue about the needs of the freight industry as we go about servicing communities in our city and across the state.

We are genuine in our desire to educate Council about the importance of productivity and efficiency to operators as they go about their business, something that isn’t factored into decisions that make it harder for operators to service CBD customers.

Done properly, transport policy and associated roads and infrastructure can achieve higher levels of road safety, whilst attaining greater productivity measures as well. Safety and productivity are not mutually exclusive.

Drivers working in the transport industry are ultimately the ones tasked with using the roads. What we don’t want is these drivers being victimised by bureaucrats and other road users because of poorly designed transport infrastructure and traffic management policies that are incongruous with the needs of freight.

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