Steven Burgess, Principal, MRCagney


What’s the difference between Roads and Streets?

You need to understand there is no ‘street’ design guidelines for Victoria, there is only a ‘road’ design manual. Where would you go then to learn it? You might go and grab a good urban designer, even an architect or a place manager, but their thinking often only goes up to the kerb line and no one seems to think about what happens in between the two kerb lines of the street. Everyone thinks that the roads have to be design and managed by road designers. Now road designers and street designers are completely different beasts. The things that need to be considered in a ‘street’ are about height/space relationships, trees, shade, where you walk, how these shops are going to make money. What happens between the kerb has a big impact on that. When I was educated no one ever told me these were the things I had to think about. Encouraging walking wasn’t considered as part of improving people’s health…it wasn’t important what level of obesity was happening in our suburbs.

What isn’t working with our current street design?

We have lost the art of making streets. Hobart is a perfect example where beautiful streets have deteriorated into roads. There are big wide streets and with the extra space they had for the tram they just gave to the car, creating miserable streets which changed from quality mainstreets where people used to gather. For the last 40-50 years these streets have slowly changed from mainstreets to places you drop in with the car, race in, grab whatever and then leave again. So the quality of the retail has slowly diminished. There are limited real places left to go. The routine shopping is now done in an artificial place, like the indoor shopping centre.

We got a chance before anything changed to ask the traders what they would do to fix up their street. Some of them still say ‘we need more parking’. This makes it worse because the more parking you have the shorter amount of time people spend on the street.

The locals complain that there is not much shop variety, but that’s wrong, it’s just people don’t spend any time on the street, they zip in and zip out. It’s nearly like a freeway, it looks like a freeway and it doesn’t matter that they put up a 50km/h sign people still treat it like a freeway.

To break the ice when speaking at a conference, often I ask people what’s their favourite street? They say they like Hardware Lane, Crown Street in Sydney, Chapel Street Toorak. Two people who I have asked that question have nominated a post war street. So all the ones we build now no one likes. Part of that is new generation verses old generation.

That’s half the problem with Docklands, it is not worn in yet. Docklands is a typical new example of urban streets. They made them too big and too wide because they have got the room. Bike person, you can have your own bit, parking can have their bit with plenty of room to open a door safely and before you know it your reserve is 35m wide and you can’t even see the other side of the street. You automatically cut your retail in half, the shop owner on this side is only going to make half as much money because he can’t drag the customers across the wide street. Whatever effort that shop owner makes to advertise and have a beautiful window isn’t going to work…and that’s not in the road design manual. Fisherman Bend risks going the same way.

What’s the difference between Roads and Streets?

You need to understand there is no ‘street’ design guidelines for Victoria, there is only a ‘road’ design manual. Where would you go then to learn it? You might go and grab a good urban designer, even an architect or a place manager, but they often only go up to the kerb line and no one seems to think about what happens in between the two kerb lines of the street. Everyone thinks that the roads have to be design and managed by road designers. Now road designers and street designers are completely different beasts. The things that need to be considered in a ‘street’ are about height/space relationships, trees, shade, where you walk, how these shops are going to make money. What happens between the kerb has a big impact on that. When I was educated no one ever told me that was something I had to think about. Walking wasn’t considered as part of improving health…it wasn’t important what level of obesity was happening in our suburbs.

We are working on a greenfield project at the moment and they are looking at a road reserve of 42m boundary to boundary because they decided it needs 8m footpaths, provision for a light rail if that ever comes down here one day, you’ve got bike lanes and big wide parking lanes. It looks like a highway; people are going to be desperate to get away from this place. It takes way less traffic than Chapel Street does. Chapel Street has tiny lanes, it doesn’t conform to any road standards at all. I keep saying the only thing good about this is that it is magnificent. But if you take a look at it from each element, you wouldn’t be allowed to build a street like that now.

So how do you get around that?

There are two things. Firstly everyone must be conscious of what they are giving up. There are good reasons why buses, trams and service vehicles should get good access. But you have to understand that every centimetre you give over to the machine is one centimetre less the people have. If it turns out that you do away with all the people space and give it to the machines, then it’s not a street. It’s just a way people can get from one place to another, a through corridor. This sacrifices quality retail strips as well as further risk kids health because they are not wanting to walk anywhere and get driven everywhere. All of this so that guy can get from here to there in a car. You must ask yourself is that a fair balance?

The second thing is you must have quality street making guidelines, not road making guidelines, actual street making guidelines that aren’t intimidating rules. Guidelines for for new towns and rural towns. Guidelines that allow and promote interesting things. What it needs to say is if we are building a road to Bendigo, then how does it return its value? Does it return value by getting me and goods to Bendigo? That’s how roads return their value to a community. Streets return their value to the community only if the shop across there is making money, if the land use is allowed to prosper.

That’s a mainstreet though?

A residential street too.

Isn’t a residential returning value through people and interactions and wellbeing?

Either way it still returns its prosperity through the value of the land use. If it’s purely residential and you can live on it then those properties are worth a lot more but also those people are living a happy life. Their health care costs are down, they are less stressed, not spending as much on travel and transport, spending more of their income on other stuff not just transport. The fact is that good streets are going to take you an five extra minutes or more to get you to the arterial road in your car. But that is the price you pay to get all that good stuff back. The outer suburbs, before we had car focused designs, were more like Brighton or Williamstown, you didn’t have to own a car and their streets weren’t dominated by cars…their local villages were much more successful. You might get the tram into town once every now and then but everything was local. Football practice was local, ballet class was local, and you would just walk there.

How do you think we could make our streets better?

Try and get the message across that if you’re making a main street then you need to know people can’t cross it if you make it too wide. You need to get your street shape right based on making the surrounding land use prosper. Stick that in your traffic model and see what happens! It will say 20,000 cars want to go down there every day and now they can’t…. Normally the traffic model is our master and we are the slave. We don’t go there for information we just do what we are told. So if it says 30,000 cars we think we better make something wide enough for 30,000 cars. But if we don’t, nothing bad is going to happen, they will just go a different way or even better you’ll push them onto the train. What harm could possibly come from that?

How do cars effect retail?

Shopping centres with less parking trade better because people stay longer and walk more which is why a Melbourne CBD has more action than Geelong CBD. In Geelong CBD it is easier to get a park, cheaper to get a park so people simply think, I’ll drive in because I know I can do my stuff, get in and get out. Whereas in Melbourne CBD I’m catching a train, bus, tram. We can’t zip from spot to spot in the CBD therefore we will stay longer as it’s harder to get in and out. Then I’ll bump into you and linger longer, up to 15-20% of the money that gets spent in urban centres is money that you didn’t expect to spend when you left home. It’s all about the quality of the street, all this effort this guy is putting into his shop front doesn’t mean anything if I am driving past.

How do you measure this spending increase?

We know that you generate more profit when you have more people space than car space. We are only just getting into some projects now where we use data counts along with using bulk purchasing information such as credit card receipts to see trends.

What about new growth areas, how do you capture this when you don’t have a train for next 10-20 years?

The mix of uses becomes more important. If you’re going to send someone out there who is going to have to buy at least one if not two cars to get by, its wrong. What if you said well we can’t build houses out there until we think of a better way of doing things? Cars are fine if you like them, BUT you shouldn’t be bullied into having one. My kids should be able to get to footy practice, get to school, I should be able to buy fresh food, get to work without a car. If that’s not true then someone has put that place together incorrectly.

So how would you address that in new areas?

We need to question what are we doing putting all of those people there in the first place. We know we are selling them a cheap house. Well, cheap is a very relative word isn’t it. In their mind they are going to get more affordable housing if they move out of the city, even if the transport costs are going to make it way more expensive to live there. But they will be more exposed to obesity, mental health issues, and all sorts of stuff. The question should be, should we be putting new communities out here? Can they all get a job out there? We are not seeing developers build an office park first, and you’re not going to build your supermarket, your train station and your bus network first, because the market is not set up for that. You will never get that money back, so you build the houses first. So the only way they are going to survive is owning cars, so then all the streets have to be big wide roads because everyone is forced to drive  on them, they’re not designed for doing anything else, there’s nowhere to walk.

The City of Springfield is an interesting example, they started from the outside and worked in. They used all the stuff around the edge to pay for the centre (?) so they’re fully capitalised now. They’ve got a big railway station built, bus infrastructure ready to go, they have got a good network of streets. Now they’re getting office space, jobs, and apartments in the middle. And because they’ve built it up slowly and gradually, the next generation of people moving in there could be the first generation of people in that Ipswich western area that could get accommodation where they work and socialise without government intervening in the market to artificially move jobs there.. There’s jobs, there’s shopping, there’s entertainment, all stuff within walking distance of the village and they can get on the train and go in to Brisbane, pretty good service. You know most of them at the moment have one or two cars, the bit around the edges is suburbia, but they’re working their way in and building up to a dense urban centre. The next generation that buy there will need maximum one car, and can then use the car share systems. It’s always a good sign you’ve got enough density when a car share system will consider establishing there.

The other thing they’ve done is retirement, that’s a big money spinner for land developers is to get retirement villages, but theirs is vertical. They’re not spread everywhere, they are a group of medium rise that are near the medical facilities and the hospital, shopping and entertainment that means residents can walk locally to everything. One of the things we often get accused of is ‘Oh Steve you’re making it hard for old people because they won’t walk.’ Old people love to walk as much as anyone.



What about public transport?

Rail is handy but it’s really expensive infrastructure. Whereas, you know buses nearly carry as many passengers as rail around Melbourne. I know people might say, well I like catching the train better because it doesn’t get interrupted by traffic and all that sort of stuff. But cities like Bogota in Columbia for example, places that just couldn’t afford rail, have some really good bus initiatives and their bus works like a train.

The Brisbane bus way is the best Australian example, your literally taking hundreds and thousands of cars off that south east freeway. The bus can be a cheap flexible alternative to rail, and people say we will have a bit of a bus corridor here and replace it with rail in the future, but you never do, if anything you add to it. So buses work pretty well. The thing that sort of ruins it for buses is we’ve got memories of it going everywhere and it taking 10 times as long, but that’s part of  bad subdivision design. Our bus networks should be leaning towards what gives the best patronage, rather than what gives the broadest coverage, because then they’ve got a chance. The distribution should be more on density not on coverage, then the places where you can catch the bus, we can put more buses there, and then places where no one is going to, just don’t waste the diesel.

People chase the train. You know, if you want to catch the train you’ve got to live closer. It’s better if you want to catch the bus if you live closer to the bus. It’s expensive for the bus to chase the people.

Like the park and rides, they’re sacrificing patronage and amenity I think. In our heads we thought, ‘if people catch public transport, it’s better, there’s less traffic congestion, but for all the communities that live around a big park and ride, traffic is still going past your house whether they drive to the station, carpark or get on the motorway and go in to town. It makes no difference, you’ve got no local traffic reduction at all, and the public transport in that situation doesn’t help you at all.

What do you think is the alternative?

Instead of huge car parks around the stations, if we instead had high quality family homes at 40 dwellings per hectare, going up to 80 as you got closer to the city, then more people would walk. Would you rather a community like that or to live near a carpark? In San Francisco they’re slowly converting all the train station surrounds from carparks, into people focused spaces, and the one saving grace about existing at-grade carpark is that it doesn’t preclude any other use.

We know Park & Rides are ugly and expensive and we know they don’t necessarily induce as much patronage as other land uses. Let’s compare South Yarra to say Sunshine. South Yarra’s got no parking anywhere near it, but it’s got people, more people use South Yarra Station even though it has less parking than Sunshine.

We need to get away from that thought process that they’re (The Growth Areas) just a dormitory place and no one really cares about them, that life doesn’t start until you get to the city. It shouldn’t be…’I wake up, I don’t’ know any of my neighbours, I get on the bus and then I get on the train, come to town and my life starts’. We need to return some of the local amenity in the meantime. Then once the people are together and they’ve got a sense of community, they won’t let anyone knock them about after that. Whereas if you just build houses and wait until it reaches 10,000 homes before that induces the need for a library, its going to be very difficult for residents

We should say this is going to be our main street, there’s nothing really here yet but we’ve just bought 30 mature trees, their going up first, as a gesture to you to come and share this space, and then a temporary village green. This is what we actually are going to give you, it’s just that we can’t afford to do it all properly yet, there has to be some gesture that you‘re allowed to be here as a human, not just some place that you drive through on the way to the city. Once they do know each other and they do form a community then it will get its own gravity.

How do we encourage people away from cars within their own neighbourhoods?

You’ve got to put something in place straight away. And things have to be walkable. The good thing about Springfield’s clusters is you can walk between them, it is still all walkable. If the traffic capacity argument wins and you’ve got to widen all the roads then people won’t walk that far because it’s an unpleasant walk.

So how do we make more walkable environments?

Going back to the initial design principles. Be generous and luxurious about the space you give to the people, and be stingy and mean about the space you give to the car. It’s not what we do at the moment, it’s currently the other way round. People want to be in those streets where it’s leafy and green and intimate, with short shopfronts. That’s the other mistake we make in the streets of Greenfield suburbs – allowing big box retailers that create one big long blank wall, it causes the street to be sort of dead already. We have lost before we begin.

Is split modes actually better?

I think that a good Main Street doesn’t have to be a shared street, it should be intimate enough that cyclists and cars can get on, but I don’t think you should necessarily push bikes on to the footpath to do it well. I think there’s a bit of a problem of ‘ oh look we’re a bit stuck for room, let’s make it a shared path and stick the bikes on the footpath’, but it has the opposite effect to what you think as people don’t walk on those paths then…and some people are dependent walkers with no other way to get around, they specifically moved to that building so they can walk around, but now they’re intimidated to use the walking space because its a shared path and it makes them feel vulnerable…yet we just make a shared path at the drop of a hat without thinking of the impact it has on walking dependent people. That results in those residents either staying home, or getting someone to drive them because they’re intimidated by their own footpath, that’s a really bad outcome.

Bikes are important and the integration of bikes paths need to be considered, but the bit through your main street shouldn’t be a shared path, throw it all in the street, make all modes share and get along, make eye contact, make decisions and play nice.

I also think the same about the tram car mix, all the modern light rail drivers will tell you, in a modern city, the light rail has got to have its own corridor, you can’t mix it as it slows it down too much. Whereas I think the sacrifice you make for that might be too much, as in you’ve got to have little spaces of variation along a street, so for two blocks trough a main street, it’s got to share. Then you go back to a less commercially important bit of street, and the tram can have its own right of way again.

In new growth communities, what densities would we need to make car share viable?

They say 40, which is 3 or 4 storeys type of thing with a few shops around. Some of the new ones where they’re starting some consistent infill, Elsternwick and the like, I think they would nearly be there, 30 or 40 with a bit of mixed use so you can get an office crowd and a weekend crowd. I think it’s not just about density but the mix of land uses and the type of building that’s quite important too.

Do you buy in to the peak driving concept?

Not necessarily. There are two sectors of the market that are having an impact on driving demand. The time rich people, the baby boomers, so they’ve made a bit of cash in their time, they’ve had a good run, they’re at a time when they are relatively young and fit and they’re walking everywhere. Sold their big house out on the fringe, moved in to Collingwood, North Melbourne, and Southbank somewhere, they’re having the time of their lives, so it’s dropping off there. And then the creative class. They’re too smart to own a car, ‘It’s bad for this, it’s bad for that’, plus it’s more money to spend on fixed wheel bikes, skinny jeans and blue desert boots. They’re not the highest earners but they’re the highest spenders and they don’t want to waste their money on a machine.

If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?


We should develop a culture of street makers that really learn to design streets. Let’s make beautiful places, and if there is room leftover to put a car in the middle so be it, but if there’s not then there’s not. This is our vision of what will prosper on the edge. I think we’ve got to rethink our approach to equity in planning places… we can’t keep planning assuming that ‘you can’t live here unless you’ve got a car’, it’s not equal.


Hard Elements

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