The Lord Mayor has done a back flip on one of our iconic streets. What has been approved and will it work?

The redevelopment of Swanston Street, officially endorsed by City of Melbourne (Council) on Tuesday 2 February 2010, is due to get underway in July 2010 with a new platform tram stop installed between La Trobe and Little Lonsdale streets representing the first stage of the Swanston Street makeover. The tram track will be lowered and white granite and bluestone pavement extended to the edge of the platform.

The Swanston Street proposals have generated much debate with many agreeing on the vision if not the method in reaching the goal. The approach however has been firmly endorsed by the public following the City of Melbourne’s extensive community engagement program conducted in April and May 2009. The result saw the majority of people supporting ‘Option Six’, decreased motor
vehicle access, from seven original design options.

Swanston Street provides direct access to iconic buildings, such as, Federation Square, City Square, Town Hall, the State Library and RMIT. Council’s objective is to develop Swanston Street as the pre-eminent civic space for all Melburnians, providing enhanced experiences and access for shoppers, visitors, workers, cyclists and tram

Key aspects of the $25.6 million plan include:

  • private cars and taxis to be banned;
  • a seamless civic space with dedicated bike lanes and the construction of four new public spaces incorporating tram stops;
  • new street furniture including public seating, ceremonial lighting, additional trees and planter boxes and public artworks;
  • service delivery vehicles continue to have restricted access, with a further review in 2012.

Three stages of development have been identified and although the proposal will see private vehicles and taxis banned from the City’s major thoroughfare, complete traffic changes will not be operational until stage three is completed in June 2013. The three stages of development are as follows.

  • Stage 1 (July 2010 – June 2011) Latrobe Street Tram Platform ($7m).
  • Stage 2 (July 2011 – June 2012) Bourke Street, Collins Street and Franklin Street Tram Platforms ($18.6m).
  • Stage 3 (July 2012 – June 2013) Enhancement of Swanston Street at non platform locations (TBC).

The role of Lord Mayor Robert Doyle throughout the initial stages of the Swanston redevelopment project saw the politician turn full circle. His election manifesto was to return cars to Swanston Street. This year he has declared that the Council did not want people driving into the City. Such a dramatic turnaround may raise questions in some quarters however one has to commend Cr Doyle for having the pluck to reverse his thinking and address the failings of Swanston Street as a true useable open space precinct, implementing an expensive plan to create ‘the renaissance of one of the great streets in world’. Bravo to Rob Adams, Melbourne City Council Director of City Design, for persisting with a vision without political diversion.

But will it work? The artist impressions tell us it can. A lively, green enjoyable thoroughfare right through the heart of Melbourne without the swish of late night yellow cabs streaming through or service vehicles completing a late afternoon goods drop. History also lends support to Council who should also be commended for the majority of recent street scene changes made within the City that, as urban design initiatives have delivered aesthetically better city spaces to support a coordinated pattern of movement across the City. The true test of creating a grand city boulevard however may be better judged by the land uses that are attracted to Swanston Street after the last cab passes the four new city squares rather than the artist impressions which identify the replacement of tarmac with white granite and bluestone pavements.