Could plans London didn’t use be put to work in Melbourne?

This tweet came up in my feed a couple of days ago, with the accompanying pictures.

bridges london ramps londonThe man who tweeted them, Brent Toderian, is a big name in urbanism, based in Vancouver. Of course he is horrified by the way roads and cars dominate the skylines.

But I saw something in these pictures that redeemed them. I think they are possibly quite smart.

The use of apartment buildings as props for very high freeways was the main aspect that caught my eye. It would not be feasible to drop a road on top of existing buildings. But it may work where you take an existing road, build apartment buildings in its space, and then put the road on top of them.

In talking about this plan, I’m especially thinking of Hoddle Street, which is Melbourne’s Achille’s heel. A north-south road near the city that is choked with traffic almost all the time, it has been the subject of countless studies into how to improve it, with little permanent improvement..


What might work is an idea from left-field, like that illustrated by Sir Charles above.

Here are the upsides I see.

1. Urban infill.

If you take Hoddle Street and fill it with high rises that support a freeway, you get a quick bump in inner city density. Furthermore, the land belongs to the government, so they ought to be able to actually make profit on the property development.

2. Better street level traffic.

The street level near Hoddle Street is a horror story. It’s very unpleasant to walk on because of the traffic – noise, fumes, and on the occasional place where they can build up a bit of speed, the fear you’re going to be killed. The houses along Hoddle Street look cheap and poorly maintained – there is obviously a price discount for being on the road. There is very little retail and not a single cafe or shop with outdoor seating on its whole length.

If the roadway was way up in the air, (and a couple of the many many traffic lanes were retained for a more normal scale street), the street level might be a bit more comfortable for actual use. Cyclists could use Hoddle Street again. Shops might open up.

3. Better amenity because the elevation is so high.

The complaint about elevated roads is the same as the complaint about freeway overpasses. They leave dark empty spaces that are a blight on the urban environment. But if you put the road high enough up in the air, the sense of being closed in will disappear. Even better, if the supports for the freeway are not just concrete pillars but actual apartment buildings, the passive surveillance of these areas would be much better.

I would imagine that top-floor apartments, right under the roadway, would be less attractive as they would get less sun and more rumbles from above. But if they had balconies on the sides the road does not extend, there is no reason they could not be full of light.

The shadow from the entire structure will be vast over a wider area than a smaller freeway, but by having it so high, there will be no single space that is permanently shadowed and unattractive for licit activity.

The obvious downside is the ramping. The illustration shows a six storey building, which would be about 20 metres tall. To descend 20 vertical metres a car needs 120 metres of ramp,( the preferred gradient for public car park ramps is 1:6.)

That would probably have to circle around the building to descend, as per the pictures.. And I’m not convinced the value of the apartments encircled by those exits would be so high. Still, not every building would be an exit, and some exits could ramp away from the buildings.

A more complete set of things being proposed by Sir Charles Bressey 80 years ago can be found here. Nb. I do not agree with turning Trafalgar Square into a multi-storey parking garage. 

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

5 thoughts on “Could plans London didn’t use be put to work in Melbourne?”

  1. It’s worth entertaining ideas from left field since transport problems in Melbourne seem set to get much worse – presuming of course nothing in the current trends changes. But this idea doesn’t look workable. Box Hill central has a bus depot on it’s roof and this means that in quite a few parts of the building you can feel disconcerting vibrations when the buses are moving. This isn’t a big problem for shoppers but I’m not sure you would want to live with it in a residential building.
    Trucks are heavy and I would imagine that the extra strength required to support the road on the roof might get expensive – but I’m not an engineer so it’s only a wild guess.
    Singapore has a few train lines built to run above existing roads. They must have been cheaper than tunnels but I’m not sure what the economics of it are. Given there is a train line running close to Hoddle st for some of it’s distance maybe running the train above the road would free up quite a bit of pricy real-estate and it would be a good visual reminder to the cars stuck in traffic that there are alternatives.


  2. Just fill in Hoddle St with apartments and forget about putting the freeway on top. People’s travel patterns and modes will adjust quickly enough.


  3. It’s either roads on top of buildings or flying cars. Both are great ideas we’ll never see.

    By clicking on your link to Hoddle St countless studies, it opens a VicRoads website and all the links on that page are broken and send you to a phantom Hoddle St has Internet problem traffic. That says it all.

    On a local note, who decided to build Hoddle St starting with 5 lanes at the north end and finishing with 1 lane at the south end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But even when you drive Hoddle St the other way – from the end with one lane to the end with 5 lanes – it still manages to be a bottleneck. It really is an amazing piece of engineering.


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