Melbourne reveals plans for congestion tax and more bike lanes

Calla Wahlquist

Melbourne would have fewer parking spaces, fewer cars, more bike lanes, wider footpaths and possibly a congestion charge under a draft transport strategy intended to get rid of unnecessary traffic in the city.

The draft 10-year plan includes restricting traffic on secondary streets, such as Little Collins and Little Bourke, to make those larger thoroughfares replicate the city’s famous laneways.

It also pushes the idea of a congestion charge, which has been raised and rejected as an option in Melbourne since the London congestion charge was introduced in 2003. Last month, New York City became the first city in the US to introduce such a charge.

The number of bicycle lanes would increase from a total of 6km to more than 50km by 2030. There would also be a rise in the number of bike parking spaces and the use of e-bikes, and trams and buses would run in dedicated lanes to speed up public transport.

Related: New York becomes first city in US to approve congestion pricing

The minimum parking requirements for new residential developments would also be abandoned in an effort to encourage people not to own a car, and the traffic light cycle would be shortened to prevent large numbers of pedestrians overflowing on to the road during peak hours.

The draft plan also rules out any increase to road capacity, because “increasing road capacity attracts more traffic”.

Lord mayor Sally Capp said the strategy was aimed at increasing safety and productivity in the Hoddle Grid, the area between Flinders, Spring, La Trobe and Spencer Streets, and to create space for Melbourne’s forecast population growth.

Capp said the proposal would not ban cars in new areas but would promote other forms of transport.

“We are not proposing in the draft strategy to ban cars in any part of our city except for the existing walking zones like Bourke Street Mall,” she said.

Capp said none of the options set out for increasing pedestrian access to the “little streets” would involve a ban on cars, but they could include restricting car access at certain times of the day, redesigning the street to create more space for pedestrians, or reduced speed limits of 30km/h.

Related: Smart city: using technology to tackle traffic and social isolation in Melbourne

“The sharing of the road and the footpath is often something that creates a lot of safety issues in our little streets,” she said. “We want those streets to be extensions of our laneways.”

Vienna, which snatched the title of world’s most liveable city from Melbourne last year, New York and Barcelona have been cited as the inspiration for the plan.

According to figures compiled by the City of Melbourne, 89% of trips done within the Hoddle Grid are completed on foot.

The number of people who use cars coming into the city has declined 14% since 2014, and 43% of the cars that drive in the grid on any given day represents through traffic, headed for another destination.

“If we can find ways of deterring that through traffic and having it go around our city, for every car, delivery van and ute that needs to come into the city to do business or have fun they will find less congestion on our roads,” Capp said.

A congestion tax was one option under consideration that would also replace the diminishing fuel excise as a source of revenue to fund road maintenance, but it would require agreement from state and federal governments.

“We don’t have that lever within our control but what we are saying to our state government and our federal government on this issue is we think it’s definitely something we think is worth considering,” Capp said.

The draft strategy has been developed over the past 12 months and will be voted on by the council’s Future Melbourne committee on Tuesday, followed by a six-week public consultation period.