Lessons Not Learned

Melbourne’s Swanston Street is undergoing a major upgrade to create a primarily tram and pedestrian precinct. This includes new tram stops, but the new Swanston St. stops are dangerous.

The new tram stop outside of Melbourne Central is probably one of the most dangerous pieces of public architecture produced in the last several years. The design ignores basic building standards established for over 100 years and incorporates a small ‘trip’ line of around 4cm in height in the middle of what is otherwise a flat walking area.

The almost invisible ‘trip line’ before the yellow paint line was added.

Steps and kerbs should be a minimum of 10cm in height (preferably 15cm or 6 inches) so walkers can clearly see the change in level. The shallow trip line incorporated into this design is too low to notice but big enough to catch anyone walking normally. I have no idea how many people will need to fall and then sue the Council for negligent design before this dangerous ‘feature’ is corrected but you can guarantee there will be many accidents and near misses on a daily basis.

Another view of the tripping hazard.

What is tragic is the apparent inability of the designers of this tram stop to learn from similar stops created in other locations in the network or from published design principles. This type of ‘tripping hazard’ was a major consideration in the Bourke St. Mall design a couple of years ago and an elegant solution was developed.

Even without this experience, there is plenty of information available that clearly shows it is dangerous to put a small ‘trip line’ at right angles to the direction of travel of most pedestrians. Good design suggests the ‘trip’ is either eliminated by a small change in level or protected by a hand rail.

This ‘feature’ has apparently been deliberately included in the design to keep the pedestrian footpath and bike lane differentiated by having pedestrians ‘step down’ into another zone. A great idea but the same separation effect could easily have been achieved by using a couple of well placed bollards or even a painted line or change in surface texture – the focus on one aspect of safety without looking at easily learned lessons on another has created a hazard that will cause serious injury to many people if it is not quickly corrected.

Unfortunately a few cents of design effort to review and ‘learn’ appropriate lessons will require $thousands to fix now the stops have been built. The danger has obviously been recognised with a pretty yellow line now painted along the length of the trip line (which it totally useless if you cannot see the ground for people). My guess is nothing further will happen until the council’s insurers force the issue after receiving a barrage of insurance claims. Getting designers, bureaucrats and politicians to admit they have screwed up the design is next to impossible. But until this happens ‘enjoy your trip’ will have a completely different meaning in Swanston St.

Photographs copied from http://treadly.net/2011/12/01/swanston-st-the-upgrade/

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5 responses to “Lessons Not Learned

  1. This topic was picked up in a letter to The Age newspaper on 30th Dec. – hopefully the publicity will drive a quick change.

  2. Harry Varvarigos, PMP

    Hi Pat,
    I don’t think that trip line you refer to is illegal or contravenes any building codes. The Building Code of Australia says that steps should all be uniform, up to 190mm in height for risers. The final step however before the landing CAN be smaller. Since this ‘trip line’ is before the landing (and it appears to be a gradient step – as it inclines to achieve a level), I believe it is within the building code -as I can assure you as an owner builder, on the final building inspection, the building surveyors check the steps in your house or commercial building, so I don’t think they would’ve let this one slip !

    • Standards required for domestic stair cases within dwellings and issues of public safety are not the same – councils are regularly sued for trips on footpaths and paving.

  3. Gosh, you are one of those people who go looking for something to fuss about, arent you? This is so trivial… keep your eyes open when you walk…
    All those intricate frivolous safety requirements are costing money…

    • If you actually bother to read anything Ang, you would realise:
      1 It is nearly impossible to see the ground in a crowd and the location if the trip line is where any normal person would expect a flat pavement.
      2 The trip has been specifically created at ‘great expense’ as a ‘safety feature’

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