Expressway traffic flow controls

What are they?

They are a series of measures implemented over the past few years to Melbourne’s freeways and tollways that aim to improve traffic flow during peak periods. They include reduced speed limits, red lights at on-ramps to pace incoming traffic, flashing signs in the Burnley Tunnel encouraging us to “avoid lane change[s]” and solid white lines between lanes to prevent slower inner lane traffic merging into the faster outer lanes.

What do we think?

We think the State Government and Transurban are using a Band-Aid approach to try to stem the arterial bleed that is the state’s expressway network, pun intended. Despite their best efforts, we still witness peak period traffic jams on the Monash Freeway that are kilometres long. Indeed, heading east into the Burnley Tunnel just last week, we were stuck in stop-start traffic all the way from Bolte Bridge (a distance of a little over 5km).

Further, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicting Melbourne’s population to grow by another 2,000,000 inhabitants over the next 40 years, this situation can only become worse.

We could blame the current shortcomings of the expressway network on its designers: perhaps they should have dreamed bigger, should have built 12 lanes instead of 6. Yet we find this hard to credit. The expense in building and maintaining such a gargantuan beast would cripple it. No, the fault is more fundamental than this, stemming directly from the cars themselves. Culturally, the car is a means for freedom – the very idea of car-pooling is anathema to their use, evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of cars on our roads are filled only by their drivers. Yet physically, thanks to human reaction times, cars travelling at expressway speeds take up a lot of room. According to research done by Bjarke Ingels Group as part of their Audi Urban Future project, they require up to 30 times the space required per person in similarly fast-moving trains.

What should we learn?

We suggest that expressways are a priori incapable of addressing peak period usage. Even over-sizing them to account for predicted growth is nothing more than a short-lived solution. Thus it is farcical to see the introduction of puffery like reduced speed limits and traffic lights at on-ramps.

Our government must stop looking towards expressways as the transport solution to our ever-expanding city and instead turn their attention to the rail- and tramways, both measurably less susceptible to peak period congestion, less prone to accidents, cheaper to expand and vastly more environmentally sustainable.

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