I was about to leave the Buckley Street ‘sneak peek’, at which residents were allowed to walk-through the new tunnel, with a sense that there were more attendees who supported the under-pass than not, when I saw Patrick.
He was standing precariously on a concrete ledge, surrounded by officials in hi-vis orange vests imploring him to step down.
“I know. I know. It’s my fault if I fall,” he yelled.
“Look at what you’ve done! I’ve been asking and asking for plans and never got any. And now look at that! You’ve taken away the bus spaces. Where am I supposed to park the buses?”
Patrick owns Ryans Bus Service. He said that, before the works, he could park five buses in Buckley St outside St Columba’s College. Now there is one space – and some five minute drop-off car spaces indented between power poles.
“They wouldn’t move the poles,” he explained – or yelled. He was furious.
Other residents have pointed out that the single bus space doesn’t seem to fit a bus. They predict cars will be banked up in the single-lane slip road. It’s hard to tell, without seeing how closely a bus can hug the kerb, whether cars will fit past. A brave driver without rear-view mirrors might squeeze through.
Patrick’s frustration at the loss of bus-parking added to his concern about how buses will merge from the slip-road into west-bound Buckley St traffic.
Traffic exiting the slip-road will need to wait patiently, for a break in the single-lane of traffic heading west from the tunnel, to make the tight turn. Let’s see how that works.
It is concerns about details like these that have plagued this LXRA infrastructure project – as well as the lack of detailed plans, non-disclosure of the traffic assessment report, and changes to the placement of traffic signals.
Nevertheless, the sun shone on the several hundred residents who took the opportunity to walk through the new tunnel.
Many residents seemed impressed and pleased with the changes.
“How good is this?” said a parent from St Columba’s College. She said the geography of the land wouldn’t have allowed for the rail-under-road option. And that properties would have had to have been acquired.
She didn’t know how the buses and the kids would access the school via the slip-road. She avoids coming near the school, and says her children generally catch the bus.
Another couple who have lived in Buckley St “forever” said it “was the best thing to ever happen to Buckley St”.
“People won’t dodge the crossing and use the side-streets anymore … it was the quickest and easiest option … Anyone who knows anything about engineering knew the rail-under couldn’t be done logistically,” they said.
Another couple from McPhail Street also thought it was “fantastic,” but acknowledged that “it doesn’t solve every problem”. “The only disadvantage is not being able to access Buckley St from every street,” they said.
But for every positive response to the massive project, there was a concern about detail. One resident pointed out that, for some distance, Buckley St reduces to one lane heading East.
Several residents were concerned about the width of the single westward lane through the tunnel.
One resident pointed to the narrow walkway for people crossing Buckley St from Sherbourne St to Rose St.
“The school kids won’t be able to hold umbrellas. They’ll all get wet.”
Another resident commented on the light sequence that will be needed at Mt Alexander Rd to accommodate cars turning right from the left-hand slip-road.
And several people took the only opportunity they would have to ride their bikes, without sharing lanes with cars, on the new stretch of Buckley St.
The opportunity to meander casually across the road and through the tunnel masked the reality that, when open, the road will be completely inaccessible to pedestrians.
Concerns about accessibility were highlighted by one woman accompanying a gentleman using his mobility scooter.
There are no cycling lanes on the new road, and the only access across the train line for anyone on a bike, scooter, or with mobility issues, is through the tunnel under the station – which was closed today.
The principal access from Russell St to the station has been converted to stairs, and the ramps to the train platforms remain non-complaint for disability access.
The gentleman in the mobility scooter laughed, however, as he said, “Look, I don’t use Essendon Station anyway. I can’t get on the train at Essendon!”
The platform at Essendon Station has not been fixed during these works and still has a gap of about 20mm from the door of trains making it difficult for anyone with mobility issues.
“They could have fixed the track when they stopped the trains,” the resident shook his head.
“You’re hilarious,” shouted a young man in a smart suit striding past the woman holding her sign championing disability access.
“I was told to ‘go home’ before,” she said. “There I was standing next to a doctor with a disability, and told to ‘go home’.”
There is still heat in this community issue. Buses, pedestrians, people with disabilities and local residents in nearby streets appear to be the losers. Commuters travelling to the city in their cars appear to be prioritised.
It’s hard to know how well the road will work with cars, not people, populating it. The picturesque scene of people strolling in the evening sun was a once off. Let’s see how it all stacks up on Monday 8 October when school-buses and cars return.
Ironically, on my way home, I waited for one minute at the Park St level crossing while not one, but two, trains intersected my journey home. To be honest, I didn’t mind waiting.