Monday, 19 June 2017

"IS it about the bunny?" First thoughts on Twin Peaks Season Three

David Lynch is specifically attempting to pioneer a new visual storytelling medium with Twin Peaks season three. You can stop searching for hidden "meanings" right here and now. The headline purpose is writ very large.

Readers familiar with David Lynch's most recent cinematic endurance piece (and I say that fondly) Inland Empire, may already have some sense where this post is going.

Rabbits appear as one of the more central, albeit mystifying of Inland Empire's motifs. The film cuts periodically to a 'sitcom' which features three humans with giant rabbit heads, always filmed in one dingy living room. It is always raining outside.

Inland Empire is either all about the bunnies or not about the bunnies. They may be a total red herring, but if they are, they're the most absurd and over-invested one in cinematic history.

The footage is cribbed from a complete online miniseries Lynch created called "Rabbits". It appears to be a parody of the sitcom form. The episodes all feature a randomly inserted laughter track that appears not to be aligned at all to the dialogue, which contains no punchlines. The characters mostly intone sentences that appear to be part of a narrative, but are all delivered out of sequence, it's all quite disturbing and ultimately quite tedious.

And disturbing and tedious are two places Lynch has been decidedly unashamed to dwell during the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks' return. Nostalgia's a location we've only happened across briefly. This is in absolutely no way whatsoever a re-hash of or hat-tip to the first two seasons.

Crucial I think to the cinematic ontology that Lynch is (re-)creating in Season Three is the scene with Hawk and Lucy attempting to determine "what is missing". The deterministic uncertainty around the term seems crucial to the entire project.

"Everything is here therefore nothing is missing" can be simultaneously true with "object x is not here, therefore something is missing", leading Hawk and Lucy/Andy to different conclusions about the possibility of anything being "missing." The confusion arises not over the status of the object, it derives from the definitional uncertainty of what "missing" means.

And the viewer seeking a vehicle via which to engage their nostalgia will find themselves similarly confused, untethered to enough simple truths or histories or narratives to complete that ontological transaction either.

And that's precisely where David Lynch wants you.

What is Missing?

Are the Rabbits in Inland Empire present or missing from the text, are the characters themselves present in any, none or even multiple texts? Where is their "reality" located? None of these questions are answered.

Is Cooper present in the real world twice, once or not at all? And is he still present in the red room? How has he been tricked? What happened when he was sent to 'non-existence'? Who was the companion woman? Where is "real" Cooper, the hero of the first two seasons? We are yet to see him in that identity.

We've been forced to watch so far seven hours of absolutely pained simulacra from Kyle Maclachlan. The Coop we remember hasn't yet spoken a word. Seven out of eighteen episodes in already. The star has been Naomi Watts (and how, Naomi ... you will win an oscar ... and my proposal still stands). What is missing?  

The status of the chocolate bunny is definitely 'missing'. It's been eaten. But is it significant or is it a red herring? Hawk's moment of real uncertainty reflects our own. In fact he about sums up the viewer's entire experience of Inland Empire. "Is it about the bunny?" And he pauses on the actual cusp of attaining meaning, and we viewers pre-emptively reach for it, but ... "No. It's NOT about the bunny."

What is seems to be about has to date been a surprisingly uncomplicated resolution to the ends Lynch left us hanging with. Good Dale has been in the black lodge 25 years, while Bob has wreaked earthly havoc in his body as bad guy Dougie Jones.

But it appears Bob has laid a trap, and somehow created a second Dougie Jones who was living a mild mannered family existence. Instead of returning to his own body, Coop has been sent back into the body of the other Dougie Jones, and thus Bob has not been returned to the black lodge.

Both Bob and Coop have spewed out their creamed corn garmbanbozia and consequently both appear to have manifestly lost their identities and are operating as automata. Phillip Gerard appears to be trying to trying to help Cooper from the black lodge, and informs him one of them now must die.

The arm, as in past seasons appears to be affiliated with the Bob spirit (when we were informed Gerard severed his own arm to stop Bob's murderous bent). The other spirits, the giant and the Laura Palmer figure appear to be on Coop's side. The "evolved" arm is depicted with a "gash" in it that evokes images of the eviscerated corpses to which we've so far been treated.

Somehow the abortive transmission of Cooer between worlds is linked to his being 'trapped' within the glass box, but it's unleashed a murderous force simultaneously, almost certainly linked to Bob. But why was sexual energy seemingly so central to catalysing the exchange?

And where is Twin Peaks? It's already abundantly clear that Lynch has very little interest in this as a nostalgia vehicle. Ben and Jerry Horne are now a completely literal parody of the Zionism-loving ice cream doyens, but the reality is very little in the first four episodes relies on the previous two seasons even for backstory.

And it's going to disappoint a lot of people in this respect. But we need to be aware that Lynch has very demonstrably moved on from the themes that were his obsession twenty five years ago. Small-town, cherry pie loving America was mythologised and pulled apart by Twin Peaks as much as it was in Blue Velvet.

But this project belongs with Inland Empire, a project at the OTHER end of Lynch's career. Season Three is all about big cities and POSTmodern discourses and how they fragment and ultimately deny any possibility of a finite, concrete self, reality or identity.

What is "Missing"?

What we, the viewer are missing is any semblance of a conventional television narrative.

Lynch is the absolute master of the uncanny. Uncanny meaning recognisable enough to identify ourselves within, but never 100% safely. Something's always, as Gordon Cole sums up, "very wrong". To me the most interesting aspects off the return of Twin Peaks all relate to what they tell us about the Director himself, and the "wrongness" of serving something up in this form as mass-market television.

Remembering this is a man who in recent years has expressed not much more than apathy at the prospect of ever making another film, a man who has probably done more than anyone to blur the distinction between cinematic auteur and more traditional notions of "the artist", whose output in the visual arts and music arenas represents genuine engagement with their proper form and tradition such that he's never remotely an amateur or hobbyist, the guy who it's long struck me must surely be astounded that nobody's noticed he's made the same film three times in a row now, the guy who said he wasn't going to make another film until he came up with a new enough idea, the guy who is credited with creating the space occupied by every critically successful TV series to debut in the last 25 years, the guy who has been convinced to come BACK to all this, who actually walked away from the project because he wasn't offered the screen time he needed to do it properly, the guy whose cinema has basically become depicting the postmodern, fragmented, discursively-determined self-identity.

If that guy says he needs 18 hours to tell a story, and puts his foot down for the right to tell it, and when he's the sort of guy who basically doesn't get dragged back to something like this without it having some kind of headline purpose, the bloke whose last movie was there almost ridiculously slow hours in length, and he, the cinema purist shot it on VIDEO and said he may not go back to film ...

When all those things happen in advance, and when what is served up , even in that context is as perplexing, odd and as disconnected to TV or cinema traditions as to seem to be self-sacrificing, then, well, what I'm building up to is ...

This may well be the crowning moving picture career move by arguably the most important figure in the field. And he isn't trying to change either television or cinema. He's looking to invent a NEW FORM with characteristics of both.

He's said it in interviews this is more like an 18 hour movie than a TV series. This is the pilot episode of a series that a TV executive would be so confounded by they'd reject instinctively. Why can that Netflix guy run around likening this show to heroin and think that's a marketing play to middle America? Because today all he needs is your SUBSCRIPTION. He doesn't care - much - if you never watch a minute.

Think about that. Think about how different an operating environment we are now in. Think like that because I'm pretty sure that's how David lynch this is about it. Think about it because you really ought to be paying attention when modern TV and cinema's great innovators invests two seasons worth of production, writing, directing, sound editing -


And now you know how to read it all. And Lynch has peppered his text with little confirmations.

I was watching a vlog recently from a couple of characters discussing the scene with Michael Cera's character. Their take was that it was incredibly humorous. So, sorry Mr Lynch, but in spite of how obvious you've made it, your goals are being thwarted by the medium you've chosen.

The scene ISN'T humorous. It's weird, it's affectatious, it's PAINFUL to watch, it's BORING, it's self-consciously ham-fisted. The Michael Cera character isn't remotely believable. It shouldn't be able to even exist as television. Why have two of the least erudite characters in the show spawned a Shakespearean Brando? It makes as little narrative sense as it does logical.

The same goes for having your lead character not speak a single word for the first seven hours, when you're expected to do nothing more than rote re-fire the same neurons in your audience from twenty five years ago and collect your cheque.

The same goes for the DEEPLY WEIRD game Lynch seems to be playing of turning Gordon Cole into a semi-disturbing office perve. It's actually a trope that's never been put on screen before. And because it's a character that he himself is playing, and because Michael Anderson (the dwarf from the first two seasons) isn't in this because he went to the media and said Twin Peaks was the story of Lynch's relationship with his own daughter ... Lynch seems to be trying to find a million subtle ways to completely, but quietly, and from within, eat the heart out of conventional TV narratives once and for all.

So pay attention to all the boring, and the tedious, and the affectatious and the downright odd. Through those dimensions a revolution is being wrought. It was ALWAYS about the bunny.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Rethinking Airport Rail in Melbourne - while kicking the most urban goals

Daniel Bowen of the PTUA recently provided an excellent summary of the current scenarios for Melbourne airport rail, based on the existing AECOMM study. I recommend readers check it out HERE.

Daniel concluded that the presently preferred alignment through the Albion freight corridor remains preferred because it kicks the maximal amount of goals for the broader network.

I agree entirely with the basis of Daniel's assessment. Readers here will be aware that we've previously suggested that alignment as a "two stage approach" to airport rail which would also link to an outer urban orbital rail tunnel.

But I do fear Daniel dismisses to easily the new threshold problem we've been presented with. The problem of population growth in the west being so rapid that the new Metro tunnel won't have any capacity to carry any airport services.

Daniel characterises the timeframe for its realisation as being "some time in the future", but it's not. It's a 15 year deadline from today. So without resolving that issue, we can't plan for airport rail to run via the Metro tunnel. We're building a future disaster otherwise.

Melbourne Airport Rail - A New Alternative

So, I've started thinking whether there might be another more blue sky alternative to all this. One that again goes more to the question of actual network needs rather than the feelgood factor of having a train to the airport.

I'll quickly dot point the case again.

The benefits of being able to get a train to the airport will accrue mostly as marginal time savings to business travellers. Building airport rail is going to have negligible impact on road traffic volumes on the Tullamarine.

The Melbourne rail network's biggest issue in urban policy terms is its inability to service and therefore promote realistic suburban employment centers. It is FAR more important to Melbourne that we get heavy rail to the Keilor industrial area south of the airport than it is to the airport itself.

But if we're about bringing public transport opportunities to people who've never had them (and I am very much about specifically that), then whatever solution we derive needs to consider the Albion freight corridor runs through one of Melbourne's largest existing public transport blackspots. Most of the benefits that I would accrue to the Albion corridor option would come from the addition of new commuter stations along the route.

Throwing a couple of other network issues into the mix, we're being continually told 'no' to Doncaster rail based on the existing cost-benefit work. But we're told 'maybe' on the same basis to a Metro Two tunnel Fisherman's Bend - Clifton Hill via either Southern Cross or Flagstaff, which would be stage one of any future Doncaster line.

Coupling all this with the prohibitative cost of the grander Wombat orbital rail plan, can we devise an alternative airport rail scheme to maximise the public benefits to the network? Well strangely enough, I believe I can. Announcing the ...

Northwest Initiative for Transit - Wombat Instigated Transport [NIT-WIT] 

The plan foresees the following key works;

  • A new rail tunnel Airport to Kensington junction
  • A new rail tunnel Spencer St Railyards - Fisherman's Bend via underground platform at Southern Cross
  • A new overground rail link through Webb Dock to Newport?
  • The electrification and duplification of the Albion freight corridor
  • The electrification and duplification of the Upfield-Craigieburn connect
  • Optional later integration with outer orbital rail tunnel

Hyothetical route (all images layered over job density heat map)

And the following new stations;

Airport Line
Tullamarine Airport
Airport South
Airport West (Shoppingtown)
Essendon Fields
Essendon West
South Wharf
Garden City
Albion Spur Line
Sunshine North
Keilor Park
Keilor East
Airport West

Outer Circle/Upfield Lines
Roxburgh Park

Look at that. A new transport corridor straight up the jobs spine that was previously unserviced by public transport. I've just DOUBLED the BCR of airport rail, folks    

Creating TWO new cross-city heavy rail routes;

Airport - Williamstown

Albion - Broadmeadows Shuttle
CBD-bound Passengers from these stations will interchange at Airport West, Broadmeadows or Albion

New Fisherman's Bend stations

A Chance to Get Greenfields Planning REALLY Right 

Assuming the electrification of Upfield to rejoin Craigieburn, and capacity for both to extend to Wallan are accomodated, this would be a long run plan to run DOUBLE FREQUENCY services from the new growth areas in the north. Your choice would be CBD via Broadmeadows or via Upfield.

I still believe we urgently need to look at a meaningful plan for a third track on the Craigieburn line to allow for express services, as service frequency won't just be an issue for people in these greenfields estates. It's going to be a LOOOONG commute. The ideal would be that we are also adequately creating suburban activity centres, so in fact these people are commuting more to Broadmeadows, and the various airport satellite employment centres that we'd be connecting to effective public transport for the first time ever, rather than the long radial trip.

Regular readers know how cynical this observer is as to how serious the actual policy facilitating that is, however it must be said that a lot of excellent forward looking land use planning has been done for the zones around central Broadmeadows. If it's going to work anywhere, it's going to be here.

But the idea would be "here we are planning for greenfields estates with rolled gold public transport services from the very day they arrive, rather than ten years after." And in a fantasy world, there's a simultaneous plan for 10 minute frequency feeder buses first train to last.

Because the evidence from the new RRL stations seems to be very much if the service is good enough, people on greenfields estates have no difficulty with rail as a travel mode per se. But it must be an EFFECTIVE alternative to their cars. And it MUST be systemically planned for.

Sod Flemington, We're Building a Needs-based Network

The route eschews the publicly mooted option of going to Flemington racecourse, because once again, just like prior versions of airport rail, that option put the interests of wealthy people in zone one who read the Age ahead of actual demonstrable network needs. Why? Because it ignores the fact that there's a MASSIVE employment centre just up the road from Flemington in a place you've never heard of called Maidstone.

And I'll make this statement in black and white. IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO MELBOURNE'S FUTURE THAT WE GET RAIL TO MAIDSTONE. And Moorabbin. And Braeside. And Knoxfield.

These are real places, real people work there in large numbers they have real needs, they pay the same taxes as you, but you get practically a one hundred per cent better, as in actually usable by you, public transport.

So the locals will complain new apartment towers are going to make the trams more crowded. But there's an entire other Melbourne out there that doesn't have the option of getting a tram ANYWHERE.

The optional stage three re-works my previous OUTER ORBITAL RAIL proposal. So the orbital route would run to TWO termini in the east  - Airport or Albion, the latter replacing the above "shuttle".

So. A NEEDS based network. One that goes to the maximum amount of workplaces and extends its catchment to the MAXIMAL number of people who've never had it either.

It just happens to get us to the airport as well. And if you consider quieting the irrational clamour of the masses on that front a goal, well we've just kicked them all.

What do folks think?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Suburban Activity Centers in Melbourne - Getting it Right with Rail

Melburnians, it's a GREAT time to be a suburban orbital rail enthusiast.

A number of quite momentous things have come to a head this week that all point in the right direction for that long time hobby-wombat of this commentator.

Firstly, we saw the election of a Labor government in WA who ran a good old fashioned Labor values campaign that spoke a lot about new rail infrastructure, particularly... you guessed it ... a suburban orbital rial line.

Also just published was this new article in Crikey calling for the same for Melbourne

This week also saw the release of the latest Plan Melbourne Refresh, which provided some very interesting new visual data about actual current job centers in Melbourne. 

Plan Melbourne: How Fresh is my Refresh?

There is much to praise in the Refresh from a pure planning/zoning perspective, but it retains I fear some of its predecessor's problems in terms of poor poor linkages between fine words about activity/employment centers and the necessary transport infrastructure and other obvious enabling factors in making these centers work to achieve the policy goals we are asking them to.

Transportation repeatedly appears in the document as an adjunct, rather than giving the impression of being core to the document. The headline transport policy for CADs is Policy 1.2.1 - "Support the development of a network of activity centres linked by transport" and it contains no actual transportation policy whatsoever.

We should already be able to answer the question of exactly how 80,000 people are going to get to work in the Monash NEIC,  and we should already be laying the necessary tracks.

The Refresh suffers for once more designating too few "Metropolitan Activity Centers" and too many "Major Activity Centers". This is a problem because

  1. A "Twenty minute city" concept would entail all residents having access to a Metropolitan Activity Center, but Plan Melbourne designates only 11 (9 current, 2 future) such centers for a city heading for a population of 8 million. This doesn't give adequate geographic coverage to enable the goal.
  2. This creates two enormous "activity center blackspots" across both South-East Melbourne and the Inner North, whereby basically by definition we're never going to be able to offer a "Twenty minute city" to people living in either geography
  3. It fails strategically in that it doesn't draw on or make any policy virtue of existing successes, instead seeking to somewhat reinvent the wheel

Plan Melburne's designated around 120 Major Activity Centers are listed as having variable development potentials, and being subject to local planning provisions. This is too much a "one size fits all" approach, providing little policy support to  facilitate development at a number of sites that actually have significant potential.

The policy and state-level planning are all directed towards the Metropolitan Activity Centers, therefore failing to designate even existing large employment centers as such seems again to be planning to fail.

Furthermore, the designation of the airport as a "transport gateway" seems to subsume its arguably more important function as an employment center.

And once again, the document fails in emphasising the necessity of developing RADIAL and maximally networked transport solutions in maximising those centers' success.

Same Data, Different Plan

Let's see what I mean by that. I find it somewhat bemusing through this entire exercise I'm using wholly Plan Melburne data and imagery to draw dots the authors of the Plan itself appeared unable or unwilling to.

What I've done here is take the employment "heat map" on page 36 of the document and plonk it into Google Earth, to create this ...  I've had to chop Frankston off these maps for display's sake, but it is included in the plan.

Employment density for Melbourne metro region - Plan Melbourne

Overlaying that with the Plan Melbourne designated activity centers in yellow and relevant designated transport gateways - ie the airport and the designated NEICs in red gives us this ...

Employment density with Plan Melbourne-designated Activity Centers

And so the  gaps in Plan Melbuorne appear staggeringly and immediately obvious even using its own data. We know how difficult behaviour change is in planning, so why are we planning to reinvent the wheel with suburban employment centers while ignoring the following already successful regions?

Existing employment centers not designated MACs or NEISs under  Plan Melbourne
Roxburgh Park

So, adding those 9 centers to the plan would look like this, with those in white below. Readers will note the far more even and judicious coverage across the geography here.

We then need a comprehensive transport plan to better enable radial travel in to those destinations. Enter Plan Wombat Refresh.

Employment density with Plan Wombat-designated Activity Centers

Transportation choices shape cities - not the reverse

I refer readers at this point quickly back to the earlier Wombat Plan.

The aim and the point here is all about the primal importance of getting your transport infrastructure right first, and planing around that in order to facilitate modern networked economies. And making that network as network as possible is what exponentially facilitates usage. We can see, for instance, and no, pedants this isn't causality, but it's interesting ... the huge employment mass radiating across inner Melbourne from the CBD correlates pretty neatly with the more "networked" components of the tram system. The "jobs effect" doesn't accrue to the same extent where single lines are extended into suburban setting. See below.

Melbourne Employment Densities and Centres with tram network

One thing I believe we can learn from all human history is that networking complex systems reaps exponential benefits. I believe Paul Mees was right to make networking an important locus of his transport planning work for this reason.

Add the heavy rail network to the picture, and we can begin to use it to identify the biggest gaps between the service the network provides and the actual transport needs Melburnians are expressing. One would like to have seen such a "needs/gap analysis" take far more primacy in all this grand planning from IV and Planning.

Melbourne Employment Densities and Centres with tram/rail networks

Some of my own wombat sniffings:

  • The network terminates just south of the major Roxburgh Park employment hub, with the Cragieburn line essentially missing the actual employment center 
  • The network provides no connectivity to the Knoxfield/Rowville employment hub
  • The network provides no connectivity to the Airport/Keilor employment hub
  • The network provides no connectivity to the Chadstone employment/retail hub
  • The network provides no connectivity to the Doncaster employment/retail hub
  • The network provides no connectivity to the Laverton employment hub
  • The network is poorly geographically optimised to cater for most of the large Monash/Clayton, Moorabbin and to a lesser extent Braeside hubs

It's interesting too that where we think of 'Bradmeadows' as being  the employment hub, the jobs are all actually just north of Broady proper in more like Roxburgh Park.

And of course, the network is as per my broken record, poorly designed to provide radial travel in to most of these employment hubs other than the CBD.

We can do better than this.

Plan Wombat Refresh - Heavy Rail Projects

So to recap from the previous Plan W. we are trying to achieve the following:

MAXIMISE the connectivity of suburban CADs
MAXIMISE the potential of rail catchments to operate radially into those centers
Provide new heavy rail coverage to existing major rail blackspots

And here's how I think that's best done.

1. Upfield-Craigieburn Extension

This is such a no-brainer. Because the rail reservation exists, and it's only 2kms of single track - though this needs duplicating already. Again, this is a massive existing employment center and currently unserviced by rail. So extending the Upfield Line to re-join Craigieburn should actually be the highest cost-benefit network expansion that PTV have on the table right now, and with this week's announcement of further land releases out North along Craigieburn, this element of PTV's existing Network Development Plan (NDP) surely warrants fast-tracking. No pun intended.

But of course this is in the NDP not because we've left a massive employment center unserviced by rail for thirty years, but rather because there will soon be CBD-bound commuters on the other side of it. Melbourne's radial mindset really does seem to have hampered our planning in so many myriad ways. In Sydney, heavy rail exists to get you to work. In Melbourne, it exists to get you to the CBD.

2. Urban Orbital Rail Stage One

This is something like what it should look like. The only dramatic change from what regular readers will have seen before is the doglegs via Roxburgh Park and West Heidelberg.

The other obvious option here is to run Donaster - Box Hill instead. To a large extent that choice would be informed by what choices were made for Stage Two below.

I favour Ringwood as a higher future potential location than Box Hill because of the tremendous rail catchment we'd be creating by doing this. It's  the only hub where we can create the "four spokes" effect by adding just one new spoke. There's very little office or industrial stock around the station already, but oodles of potential. This, I think is where we build our "Parramatta" rather than Box Hill, albeit that BH has similar natural factors favouring it IF we built an option of orbital rail that took us there.

So, the services would run

Airport - Ringwood
Metro style service, ideally smaller capacity, higher frequency, possibly driverless.

Southern Cross - Airport
Probably luggage-capacity modified three car sets of existing rolling stock types.

There would also be the option of creating the triangular junction shown at the airport to allow another less frequent SXS-Ringwood service, but probably less so if you'd be mixing rolling stock, and it's unclear there'd really be a demand or need for it.

The Southern Cross route MUST stop at commuter stations along the electrified Albion freight corridor because that runs through one of the largest existing heavy rail blackspots in Melbourne.

I don't intend to get bogged down here in construction detail. I've given some thought to how much of this could be done with combined tunnel/skyrail, where your skyrail could be plonked say down the middle of an existing traffic sewer like Springvale Rd, but I'd rather save all the issues around that for a future post.

The section Doncaster-Airport is 38.4 kms of what would need to be mostly tunnel. Doncaster-Ringwood is 9.5 kms, Doncaster-Box Hill 3 kms.

Plugging that into our very back of the envelope calculation from the previous plan, this would cost approximately
$14.37bn (Ringwood)/$12.42bn (Box Hill) at Swiss rates $24.45/20.7bn at Sydney Metro rates, and abut three times that at Melbourne Metro rates

The electrification of the Albion corridor was costed by the Liberals at around $2bn.

None of these calculations include expenses for new stations or rolling stock.

3. Urban Orbital Rail Optional Stage Two

So, we have a few options here. One would be not doing a stage two at all. In my next post I will look at alternatives to this entire stage via light rather than heavy rail, so let's set that aside for now.

Option one would run Donaster-Moorabin like this ...
Eastern Outer Orbital - Option A

Or, you could instead take the more suburban via Ringwood to Braeside, or you could do BOTH ...

Eastern Outer Orbital - Option B

Or maybe we think the expense for Dandenong and Braeside is limited, in which case this is another option, although by the  same principle as above, we're creating Melbourne's only "five spoke" employment hub in Dandy by including it ...

Eastern Outer Orbital - Option C

Or if you really were about the maximal network effect, this is building ALL the options ...

Eastern Outer Orbital - Option D

Expense-wise, Doncaster-Moorabbin is 28.2 kms, Ringwood-Braeside 30.5 kms, and Ringwood-Moorabbin 28.5 kms. So the cost would likely be north of $10bn for any of these options.

My inclination would be to build option B above in two stages, with Clayton coming first because of identified need. But all this would be dependent on how much of this you thought could be achieved by a tram/light rail solution. Which just fortunately I've also turned my noggin to recently. But more on that in the next post.

The plan at this stage leaves open the question of how best to deal with the Laverton blackspot. The obvious solution is an extension of the orbital rail to the west, but you then start to have issues with mixed rolling stock as the metro stock is only intended to run to the airport under the plan as I conceive of it.

An important footnote too, to be fair to Plan Melbourne's authors, it is possible that many of the omitted employment hubs were deemed problematic because these heavy industrial areas are quite dispersed in terms of employment destinations, and thus difficult to provide public transport solutions into and to create actual activity centers within. But some data on that, or some indication of the thinking/planning here would have been a bit more reassuring to see.

So to recap our goals again ...

MAXIMISE the connectivity of suburban CADs
MAXIMISE the potential of rail catchments to operate radially into those centers
Provide new heavy rail coverage to existing major rail blackspots

How do you think I did? Could you do it better? I'd love to hear some commentary/discussion here. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Walkable Retail is Winning Retail - Time to Pedestrianise Melbourne's Elizabeth Street

It drives me to utter despair, particularly as someone who's been a lifelong evangelist for the sector,  when retailers perpetually oppose anything to impact traffic flow on their surrounding streets.

It makes me even madder when those same people retail in the CBD. How many drive-through  establishments are there in the CBD?? What proportion of your traffic arrives at your store by foot? And what percentage of that traffic came to the CBD by car?? And for what proportion of that traffic would the location or proximity of the carpark be a factor in their purchase decision?

I'll answer. There are ZERO drive throughs. ONE HUNDRED per cent of your traffic arrives at your store by foot. A MAXIMUM of fifty per cent of them have a car already parked somewhere in the CBD. Approximately NONE of them are in your store because they were able to get a car park out the front.

So, here's the rule. Improve your urban realm for pedestrians, and ALWAYS reap retail rewards. And that of course, is exactly what retailers learned when Swanston was closed. Do we hear any of them calling for its reopening?

Foot traffic on Swanston Street today rivals Oxford Street in London, and the Bourke Street Mall has some of the highest retail rents per square meter in the world.

Car usage is a massively inelastic behaviour. Getting people to change their car usage habits in any direction is REALLY hard. So say all the statistics. And that's why it's perfectly simple to design spaces that significantly improve the urban realm for pedestrian/cycling/public transport without terribly much impacting car usage, and most importantly why doing so will improve overall volume for the critical retail metric - on street foot traffic.

And here's a recent case study from the US that has specifically borne this out. Foot traffic doubled, and retail sales up 9% ... and that's massive in terms of being a factor of a single policy initiative not even specifically directed towards that outcome.

I would make some exceptions for the Queen Victoria Market, which is unique within the CBD in that it does see a lot of car-dependent traffic, and is about the only specific-destination retailer in the CBD. So while it is important that access to the market carpark would be undisturbed, closing Elizabeth Street would in no way impact that. Nobody is not coming to the market because they have to use Queen instead of Elizabeth to get to the carpark.

Yet we can’t afford to continue putting the car at the top of our planning priorities, particularly in Melbourne’s CBD. Nobody who lives anywhere within Zone One has any excuse for driving to the CBD. Ever. Full stop.

So, I am calling today once again for the maximal pedestrianisation of Elizabeth Street its entire length from Victoria to Flinders Street, closing the street to both car and bicycle traffic permanently.

Visions of a pedestrian future for Elizabeth - Swanston Street today

I first mooted this plan at Council elections last year, but it sank into the broader discourse. I did, however get absolutely massive engagement for my sponsored Facebook posts on the topic, with the majority giving it a giant thumbs up.

A smaller number were defending the status quo without much concrete evidence to show how the present is better than my imagined future. Most appeared interested in mounting aggressive defenses of why their special circumstances meant they should have a right to drive to the CBD.

Elizabeth street carries almost no vehicle through traffic today, and as much has already been acknowledged by the RACV's Brian Negus, who already supports closing the street from Flinders to Bourke. Making those who were opposing my plans more troglodytic than the State's peak road lobby group. Ponder that for a minute.

My plan would effectively link most of Melbourne’s biggest drawcard retailers within a “walkable pedestrian core”, making the area bounded by Swanston and Elizabeth streets, and including the Bourke Street Mall one of the world’s largest car-free outdoor shopping destinations.

The plan was also linked in to new retail marketing initiatives, seeking to make the "small scale Victorian" nature of the majority of shopfronts on Elizabeth and Swanston a unique selling point of Melbourne CBD retail. This was also connected policy-wise to new CBD-retail-specific marketing initiatives.

And it’s not just hot air. With the recent arrival of some big international names and the size and concentration of our retail core, Melbourne now has a real claim to being the Asia-Pacific’s premier retail destination, and we should be making this our unique civic selling point within the region. My policy called for specific regional marketing campaigns supporting this.

Melbourne's Proposed "Walkable" Retail Core
-see bottom of article for legend

My plan would have seen footpaths widened, and new street furniture and tree plantings between Victoria and Flinders Streets.

The scheme would also have seen the loss of short term car parks and loading zones compensated for by seeing the City of Melbourne begin strategically buying up long-term car-parks around the CBD for this purpose.

The plan envisaged the creation of market-style kiosks along the redeveloped strip, to attract independent retailers, hawker-style food outlets, local designers and artists, highlighting the diversity and range of Melbourne’s unique retail offering.

The plan did not envisage encouraging cycling along the strip, instead focussing on concentrating cycle traffic on to Swanston Street as the city's designated North-South cycleway.   

It's also an opportunity to create a new plaza entrance for the Queen Victoria Market, something that is sorely lacking from the current redevelopment plans, and more obviously to do something really creative with the "disreputable stretch” of the street at its Flinders Street end.

Have you got any better ideas for pedestrianisation initiatives for Melbourne? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments here.

Retail Core Map (Above) Legend
1. Queen Victoria Market
2. Melbourne Central
3. Emporium
4. H&M
5. Myer
6. Block Arcade
7. David Jones
8. St Collins Lane
9. Collins 234
10. Centreway Arcade
11. Degraves Street

Saturday, 28 January 2017

You didn't punch a Nazi. You punched YOURSELF in the head.

Richard Spencer is laughing right now. Laughing on both sides of his smarmy face. He's had the biggest  propaganda boost of ANY Nazi figure since Hitler, and the 'Moronic Left' is running round claiming this as some kind of grand victory.

Absolute and utter bulldust. You've  handed a real, genuine, scary actual Nazi, the sort of brand promotion that corporations would realistically have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for. You have. Here are the numbers.

Google Trends shows us that Spencer is now trending online at a rate TWENTY TIMES HIGHER than when he was a pre-punched-in-the-face nobody. So, bloody well done. And as you can see, this looks to be settling in to be a long-run and sustained thing.

So. Mr anonymous, gutless coward punch. You've basically CREATED Richard Spencer. Every time you see him being interviewed credibly in the media from now on, that's OF YOUR MAKING. To rephrase that, every time from now on that a NAZI AGENDA is given a soft run  in the media, as voiced through the newly-media-acceptable Richard Spencer, that's YOUR DOING, you specifically paved the way to make all this seem reasonable.

Because how reasonable is violence? How leftist is violence? Doesn't violence ALWAYS ultimately serve the ends of the powerful? Violence is not revolution. Revolution is a condition that can in some ways be facilitated violently, but the end and the purpose of the process isn't violence itself. Nobody  seems to be able to nominate a single actual leftist cause that's been advanced by this.

But what ARE we used to seeing? Violence used to preserve and maintain power and privilege? Quite often. Violence used to advance racist and or sexist power? Homophobia? Transphobia? Yes, we're very accustomed to seeing all that. So, shouldn't genuine leftist thinking give primacy to NONviolence, and completely eschew the desire to advance discourse through force?

That's not to say violence is always rightist or always illegitimate. The Palestinian people, for instance, faced by the daily and systematised violence of an occupying power, for them the discourse of nonviolence is the discourse of antigravity. It's not realistic to ask people trapped in violent circumstances not to respond with violence.

But it is realistic to ask relatively well to do people in advanced western democracies, where to a certain extent your rights to participate in respectful and respectful debate are systemically protected, where you yourself are in no way subject to any form of systematised violence and that again is protected in law, well ... what's YOUR excuse?

You have all these discursive freedoms at your disposal that others in the word would DIE FOR, and your contribution to the political debate is to run round punching people whose discourse you oppose.

This is the most typical case imaginable of the revolutionary left proving it hasn't got the slightest clue  of how to advance its own interests. Look at that graph above. Now tell me what left cause, discourse, agenda, anything has been served by this? Any single solitary tangible actual achievement you can point to that's come out of it? And "all my socialist alternative mates on Facebook are cheering", not only doesn't count, but proves how ultimately redundant to actual real world effective change you truly are.

Cheersquadding is more important than ensuring Nazi discourse isn't walked  all the way up to third base totally scott free. Yes, and we're a mere three shattered Starbucks windows away from the revolution here, yessir.

Go away. You're not merely not wanted, you're doing the enemy's work, and refusing to even be scrutinised in the process. If you're how we're going to respond to Trump, then God help us all. This is  going to be a loooooooong four years. Actually, I mean EIGHT YEARS ...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

How to Fix Melbourne's Docklands - Roofing the Spencer Street Rail Yards

It's so obvious.

What's really missing from Docklands is proper integration with the CBD. Colins Street extends, yes but over a fairly unceremonious and daunting hump, though that will be vastly improved when the south side is fully developed.

It's the Bourke Street steps, even less inviting over which most lunchtime workers trudge, and it really all does feel a bit like the exterior of a football ground rather than a vital connection for people flow.

The DFO building is also an ungodly blight on that end of town and a physical and mental barrier to what's beyond.

At the recent Council elections, The Heritage Agenda proposed that Council take a coordinating role with the State Government/Major Projects to see that a project to roof SPENCER STREET RAIL YARDS between Bourke and Lonsdale Streets is put ahead of plans to roof more of the Jolimont Yards and create a "Federation Square East".

A Spencer Street project would be far more important and worthy of public funding because it actually serves a major urban policy outcome - better integrating Docklands with the existing CBD fabric.

Docklands is also crying out for some sort of major cultural institution or other tourist drawcard to make it more of a destination.

A Tramway Museum? A new NGV?

The Heritage Agenda have already suggested a CBD location for a Melbourne Tramways Museum, and this would be be an ideal showcase location. Similarly, the existing plans for a dedicated NGV Modern or NGV Indigenous gallery at Federation Square East could easily be transplanted here.

Otherwise there have recently been calls for the establishment of a Museum of Australian Architecture that this site would fill perfectly.

As readers can see from the schematic below, the central location of the proposed cultural institution would suggest it be a major architectural work in its own right.


The project could be part-self-funded through potential selling off of the significant private development sites it would unlock.

"The Docklands Steps" - A New Melbourne Institution?

We envisage the creation of a "Steps" area, essentially replacing the abominable DFO building, which let's be honest looked temporary from the moment it was opened. The Steps would run for one and a half city blocks from Bourke to Lt. Lonsdale, which would be gently sloping walkways and landscaping, possibly with sections of moving walkways for the mobility impaired.

This would overcome the urban intimidation that currently greets anyone moving from the CBD to Docklands and draw people into the plaza area.

The AFL has recently purchased Etihad Stadium, and discussions are well underway towards creating a significantly more activated concourse area, which would draw pedestrians through to the waterfront and overcome somewhat the monolithic blocking effect that was created when Jeff Kennett decided a stadium was what the new suburb needed built right on its most prime waterfront.

The opportunity therefore exists to address the much larger pedestrian movements all the way from the established CBD right through to Docklands waterfront, and indeed with the creation of a specific tourist drawcard, to significantly enhance the Docklands experience for tourists who might in future visit the museum, stadium, waterfront and Harbour Town in the one day's movement.

A visitor standing outside the proposed cultural building facing East would have quite the vista, and apologies my artists efforts were somewhat thwarted here, as I needed a photo taken hovering ten meters above the middle of the rail yards. Our visitor would take in firstly the CBD skyline-wall as presented from Spencer Street, which with the addition of Upper West Side, Beyonce, and the new Intercontinental Hotel will be increasingly gobsmacking. And to your right, the undulating roofline of Southern Cross Station -  one of its most impressive aspects.

And to the pedestrian approaching from the Steps, the feature-piece architecture of the new cultural building will largely obscure the industrial oppressiveness of the stadium.

There is no question in this author's mind that roofing the Spencer Street Rail Yards is the priority major project to address some of this city's most glaring urban issues.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Tallying Years of Failed Planning - from Melbourne's Heavy Rail Dark Age into Renaissance

In the years 1930-2017, while Melbourne's population has grown FOURFOLD, the only major rail track expansion projects performed in the city have been the Alamein extension and City Loop.

I came across this map the other day, and was instantly struck by the fact that the Melbourne metropolitan railway network appeared more extensive in 1930 than it does today.

Melbourne Electric and Suburban Railways map, 1930s

And it's an interesting case study of how transport priorities shape a city's development.

Settled in the 1830s, and booming by the 1850s, Melbourne's core was established in the pre-automotive era. The only private transportation option for almost all early Melburnians rich or poor was the horse /and cart/carriage, and horses required stabling and intensive daily "maintenance". So unless you were a business owner who needed to transport heavy goods, or were well enough off to afford servants to take on the chores, chances were you relied on public transport and/or foot to make your way around what was an infinitely more compact city than we know today.

By the time the first automobiles began appearing on Melbourne's streets around the turn of the Twentieth Century, the rail network had been central to the city's development for nearly fifty years, and what was in it's day one of the world's most extensive cable tram networks had been steadily replacing the far slower 'omnibus' network of horse-drawn trams since 1885.

By the 1900s, the driving force for new railway lines were the farmers and loggers beyond the city's core suburbs seeking primarily to get their goods into Melbourne. The growth of settlements beyond the city fringe essentially followed the spread of the railways, and there were no "car commuter" towns as we would know them. The only sensible and efficient way to head in to "town" for most was by train.

Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1930s

Melbourne in the 1930s - Another World

By 1930, Melbourne's population was around 1 million, or 22% of its current size. The metropolitan south-east ended around Moorabbin. Circling round anti-clockwise you'd find not much but bush settlements beyond Camberwell, Heidelberg, Preston, Coburg, Broadmeadows, Essendon, Footscray or Williamstown.    

Even by well into the 1930s, petrol-driven cars were mostly expensive luxuries affordable only by the few. In 1922, a population pushing towards one million people owned just under 45,000 motor vehicles, a rate of ownership well under 5%. Prior to the introduction of the Metropolitan Road Code in 1936 there were no speed limits on Melbourne roads, no requirement to keep left, nor park in any particular place (see picture above), so the city's roads in the 1930s were still rather unruly and dangerous places.

So, at the time this map was made, the vast majority Melburnians remained dependent upon the now extensive public transport system to go about their business.

Many planned extensions of the rail network were interrupted by World War Two, after which time planning modes had begun to give primacy to the private motor vehicle, and investment in rail disappeared from the policy agenda.

Following the completion of the Glen Waverley line in 1930, the Ashburton line was extended to Alamein in 1948, but these were the only non-electrification extensions until the City loop opened in 1980. As a measure of how few votes politicians thought there were in public transport, even as recently as the early 1990s, Jeff Kennett seriously entertained a proposal to completely close the Alamein, Williamstown and Upfield lines and replace most lines with buses after 8pm.

Rail in Melbourne - What We Have Lost

Melbourne's historic rail closures are shown below. The yellow lines are those closed since the turn of the century, the purple are nineteenth century closures. The eastern purple is the outer circle line, partially replaced by Alamein. The northern is the Inner Circle.

The white lines are the modern track additions. The Rosstown Railway is shown by the line running St.Kilda-Malvern, now to be basically replicated by the Metro tunnel. The notoriously disastrous freight only service never turned a profit.

The green line is the current day Urban Growth Boundary, the orange line a guesstimate of the suburban boundary around 1930, the shaded area a guesstimate of the populated core without sparser/satellite regions.

Closed Rail Lines of Melbourne - Inner
Closed Rail Lines of Melbourne - Expanded

Melbourne Rail Closures - 20th Century

Melbourne Rail Closures - 19th Century
ROSSTOWN RAILWAYCLOSED1890s never took passengers

Today Kew, is of course well serviced by light rail, and the Port Melbourne and St. Kilda light rail services both have higher patronage than the heavy rail they replaced. Neither the Whittlesea nor Healesville closures were within the current urban growth boundary, and remain reserved for future growth, with the South Morang-Mernda extension announced only recently. So Melbourne has at least been spared the fate of many US cities who are only now replacing the rail services they ripped out fifty years ago. So far, so good.

Our 1930s rail map doesn't necessarily represent the high water mark for coverage of the suburban railway network, nor is it an apples with apples thing to compare to today, when a large number of these services were still provided by steam in 1930, the map includes services to satellite settlements, so a comparable map should perhaps include today's V/Line network, while the Melton service remains unelectirifed, so is that actually an effective comparable loss? It's actually quite hard to present systematically.

By 1930, Doncaster was already the obvious gap, but most everywhere else the city's development can be seen to have essentially followed the heavy rail corridors, and thus a reasonably comprehensive geographic coverage for rail. It does bear remembering that Doncaster remained largely orchards until the 1950s, and of course had already had the experience of Melbourne's first failed tram route through to Box Hill. These fringe satellite towns in the 1930s were essentially still rural in character and contrasted markedly with transport-enabled inner Melbourne.

The following table probably outlines things best - and it's the net km figure by period that maps it most relevantly. I've obviously not tallied the net kms prior to 1920, when most of the track was laid. So it's not a complete picture, but it's a telling snapshot of the last hundred years. I've assumed a 2020 opening date for Melbourne Metro. See the image below for an illustrations of the regions I've used.

And to reiterate this is measuring actual TRACK expansion, not electrifications of existing track.

Using final electrification as a common metric would make sense, but it just becomes an exercise and a half, and wouldn't provide a much more meaningful picture. The network was mostly electrified by the end of the 1930s, however both the Fawkner line to Upfield and the Reservoir line to Lalor had to wait until 1959. The Belgrave line wasn't electrified until 1962, Epping until 1964, Pakenham 1975, Sydenham 2002, and Melton is still waiting.

Summary of Melbourne's Net Rail Track Loss/Gain by Period
PeriodKms of rail lostKms of passenger rail lostKms of passenger rail lost within Melbourne 1930Kms of rail lost within today's UGBKms gainedNet kms of passenger railNet kms of passenger rail within Melbourne 1930Net kms of rail within today's UGB


*assumes a 2020 date for Melbourne Metro Opening

It does all invite one very stark conclusion. Bar Alamein and the loop, all of the expansion in Melbourne's metropolitan train network since 1930 has occurred as electrification of existing regional track through the city. And if we were to break it up into 20 year blocks, it would essentially show total net stagnation for the past eighty to ninety years. Only Metro rail will tip the ledger back in favour of growth.

From the time it was last extended to Alamein in 1948, Melbourne's heavy rail network has essentially been relying on the same track infrastructure laid mostly one hundred years earlier.



Marvelous Metastasising Modern Melbourne

But as we've seen, the primary mode of rail network expansion in Melbourne has been via electrification, and this HAS enabled Melbourne to grow radially while providing heavy rail access to most new regions, albeit only in sites where the rail network already extended beyond the suburban fringe. The yawning transport black hole beyond the end of the Glen Waverley line looms as one of the city's most obvious historical planning failures.

So, as we've moved from the orange to the green below, the proportional geographic coverage of rail has declined. As the motor car removed the imperative to only create new housing within a finite distance of a rail station, so the sprawling hinterlands away from heavy rail that would have previously been undevelopable soon saw housing estates rising on them as the fifties moved into the sixties.

The arrival of television in 1957 compounded the extent of these external changes a still relatively young Melbourne was facing. Theatres closed all across town. A city which in 1956 saw enough demand from night owls and shift workers to run a twenty four hour tram network, had closed it by the end of 1957. Melbourne's CBD lost its primacy as a shared recreational or shopping destination for the entire city as car-parking enabled suburban malls took over. It took the CBD over thirty years for it to regain something of its former role.

The "green wedges" policy did to some extent force development towards the radial "spokes" of Melbourne's heavy rail network, but because the spokes are necessarily further apart the further one travels from the CBD, and where housing densities in these locations were significantly lower than historic inner Melbourne, huge blackspots emerged particularly in the outer east for anyone not within walking distance of a station.

And with a consequent decentralisation of employment centers - even heavy industrial areas actually have a very low employment density so are difficult to adequately provide public transport to, and frankly with a suburban bus network that has ALWAYS been third world, and which neither properly supports nor adequately integrates with heavy rail, we know what the outcome has been -

public transport in Melbourne now has around a 11% mode share, where in the 1930s this would have been somewhere like 85%, and our roads are permanently clogged with commuters instead of the commercial vehicles they are actually necessary for.

What's worse is the current mode share is only a recovery back to 1975 levels. Public transport mode share continued to plummet all the way to the 1990s. In 1997 it bottomed out at 7.7%, almost half the figure for Sydney, where today that gap is only around 3%. So something about this was a very Melbourne phenomenon. And wombat readers will detect a soapbox when I go on to suggest the less radial nature of Sydney's network, combined with its geography was a key reason why it was better able to cope with the "sprawl" era of planning.

But I don't suggest that era actually covers more than about forty years, around 1955-95. I would in fact suggest Melbourne hasn't planned for any major new housing developments in rail blackspots since about the mid-eighties, and some degree of policy lag is to be expected.



Calculating the Failure

The following map illustrates the current state of Melbourne's "preparedness" to cope with the next phase of its development.

The blue lines are current the heavy rail network with Metro rail. The pink are currently operating V/Line routes. The red are closed routes where the track remains reserved for future development.

Interestingly, the shaded core 1930s component when mapped with today's metropolitan tram system shows you pretty neatly around when we stopped investing in that network. Of course it's to the city's eternal credit that network was retained, minus the radial lines into Footscray, but it has, along with the already noted "spoke effect" of widening a radial rail network, created (or, some might argue merely enhanced) a great disparity in transport options between Melbourne's inner and outer suburbs.

But at a closer look, public transport black spots were already appearing around rapidly growing communities in the south and north east by the 1930s.

The other point worth making is that NONE of the track extensions even as far ahead as a vaguely proposed Metro Two tunnel have added a centimeter of track outside Melbourne's 1930 boundary. We haven't built a single skerrick of extra track for ANY of the multitudes living in the multitude of new suburbs we've built during that time.

However, the rail reservations created in the city's west, particularly those now created by Regional Rail Link ensure that we are unlikely to commit the more egregious mistakes of the past fifty odd years over the next.

The issue for discussion, as far as this commentator is concerned, is how far we can go in undoing the mistakes of the east, particularly as we acknowledge an urgent need to develop suburban CADs in those locations and build a future airport rail.

In case you haven't heard the broken record, readers, please see the link below for the beginnings of my thinking down that path.