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Sky Rail: a missed opportunity?

The Victorian Government’s level crossing removal program will significantly enhance the public transport experience and the efficiency of the road network in the vicinity of each project. It will also provide valuable improvements to local connectivity, including much more convenient access to shops and community services for residents on the opposite side of the rail line.

But what about transit-oriented development?

Denser development is needed around stations (particularly those in activity centres) to offer more places to live or work close to high quality public transport, shops and services.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) is exploring ‘value capture’ development opportunities at the new stations. Yet opportunities immediately alongside stations and along the corridors between them are going begging. In many cases, current zonings do not facilitate more intensive redevelopment.

Taxes that capture land value uplift do not appear to be politically palatable — at least in established urban areas (e.g. Fishermans Bend). So, as it stands, there don’t appear to be any efforts being made to realise a direct financial return from the substantial investment made by the Victorian community in the level crossing removal program. In the meantime, the potential to capitalise on the uplift in land value created by improved accessibility is left to private landowners.

Since the days of the first railway lines, new rail infrastructure has been paid for by developing the land alongside. Why are we missing out on this opportunity to get a return on our massive transport investment?

The plan to build three sections of elevated rail line between Caulfield and Dandenong has created the opportunity to rethink the use of the rail reserve at ground level. The LXRA proposes to use the land to create new connections across the rail corridor, a new shared pedestrian/cycle path along it, and new public open space, community facilities and car parking.

The new connections will provide valuable improvements in local connectivity, including more convenient links to the activity centres and other facilities along the corridor, potentially lessening congestion on the few roads that currently cross the line (although, at this stage, it appears that only pedestrian and cycle links are being considered).

New open space sounds good in principle. But will it be valuable open space?

Much of the rail corridor either side of the Carnegie Activity Centre is narrow and lined with high back fences. This will result in an uninviting and potentially unsafe shared path and open space.

Carnegie 'Sky Rail' corridor

However, the adjoining properties are presumably included in those subject to the Government’s ‘voluntary purchase scheme’. This presents an opportunity to rethink the broader corridor, including residential land abutting the rail reserve, with the twin aims of creating a consolidated, strategic redevelopment site and a much safer open space corridor through building frontages and more regular access points.

Potential development alongside Carnegie corridor

Developing land adjacent to the rail line would provide a return on the infrastructure investment, and create more opportunities for people to live close to public transport, shops and services. It would also address concerns raised about impacts on residential properties immediately adjoining the elevated rail line.

Elsewhere along the line, such as between Corrigan Road and the Noble Park Activity Centre, the rail corridor runs alongside a large park, so its use as open space will add little in the way of local access to recreation opportunities. Here, the rail reserve is broad and the proposed viaduct runs along the northern edge, leaving a swathe of land approximately 30 metres wide without a purpose and with little value as open space.

Why not develop this space with new townhouses facing Lightwood Road? This would not only provide more homes close to public transport and other facilities, but it would also lessen the visual impact of the viaduct in views from the south.

Gaps could be left between the townhouses opposite James and George Streets, to provide connections to Ross Reserve. The shared path could be run along Lightwood Road or the park edge.

Potential development alongside Noble Park corridor

The townhouses along Canterbury Road in St Kilda West, backing onto the former St Kilda rail line, demonstrate the viability of such an approach.

Townhouses along former St Kilda railway line in Canterbury Road, St Kilda West

This particular opportunity may be ruled out by the need for more rail lines in the future. But it serves to illustrate how a more holistic approach to public infrastructure projects based on integrated land use and transport planning could make a significant contribution to urban consolidation while also improving the public balance sheet.

Mark Sheppard is an urban designer and principal of David Lock Associates.

2 comments

Ian Woodcock's picture

I agree with the principle that elevated rail opens up the opportunities for redevelopment of adjacent property by turning backs into fronts - this is why property values are most likely to increase once the project is complete.

There is already a smattering of medium-density infill between Caulfield and Murrumbeena, away from the station precincts. Many of these could be opened up to the new parkland to enhance permeability for minimal cost - assuming residents and Body Corps can see the benefit.

While part of the section north of Carnegie is zoned NRZ, most of the land south of there is GRZ, RGZ, MUZ and C1 in the retail precincts.

Most of these zones already allow redevelopment at higher densities that would provide stamp duty for the State, more rates for Councils, perhaps payroll and other tax associated with enhanced economic activity, etc, when sale and redevelopment occurs. These are already forms of value capture related to the rising value of the land itself. They're not explicitly tied to streams of infrastructure funding, but go into the consolidated revenue from which public funding for level crossing removals comes.

The level at which development of these corridor-adjacent parcels would be needed to make a significant contribution to the costs of infrastructure, over and above existing value capture mechanisms, is one of the bigger issues that proposals like this need to tease out.

Also, there is the creation of new access networks through what is private land that will really enhance the connectivity offered by these new public spaces. Perhaps some of the properties that may be acquired through the voluntary purchase scheme will be in the right location to become new pieces of the open space network. It's just possible that incrementalism may produce the same sorts of outcomes advocated above.

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Richard's picture

I agree - this is a bad outcome for the corridor.
Ultra narrow, concrete-roofed, dingy strip-parks are in no way going to add to the amenity of the area.
Particularly if the 'urban designers' get their way and the corridor gets developed it's going to end up a concrete canyon.
Not as lovely as we're being led to believe.

This has / is causing real angst in our communities as families that have often put decades of effort into the area they've happily lived in are being forced away by this project.
Having read "Intensifying Melbourne" Ian, that seems to be the point of elevated rail - it's so horrible people move away, opening the door for developers to buy cheapened real estate to build apartments for students - often from overseas.
Great outcome if you're a developer, a rich student or an urban designer with an overblown sense of self-importance hoping to stamp your 'vision' on the future of our City. Not a good outcome for the world's most livable City.

We chose to live near the station for increased amenity - it's near the shops, public transport and major roads yet isn't impacted by them. It's a pretty pocket nestled comfortably in the heart of things, but with trees and piece all around - the occasional comfortable rumble of a train in the distance. But not for much longer thanks - soon where there was sky there will be freight trains, and whilst you're keen to point out it's going to be quieter Ian - the fact is your mates, the LXRA, haven't done any sound studies on freight trains. And their comparisons are with the current old, noisy tracks - not with putting in new, less noisy tracks in a cutting, which is the actual other option.

We were told we would be consulted on multiple designs (just like the Frankston line is currently being told), but it was a done deal before we were shown the one design option (it's not an option if there's only one BTW), and asked how many car-parks we'd like. Apparently "loads!" was the feedback because that's what's going to be taking up most of the new "open space" under the massive concrete freight tracks.

Speaking of feedback, the government 'survey' says 82% are in favour, but the LXRA feedback tells the real story - 67% opposed to elevated rail, and lots of other negative feedback on other aspects - check it out, see for yourself .

Why do you 'urban designers' want to develop high density living right next to these things?
It seems like some 'rule' you learned in uni and have never had the wit or originality to question.
The people who live in medium / high density apartments are able-bodied and and quite able to walk or ride a block so why not build up a block or so away?

There are a large number of elderly people and retirees near us who appreciate the amenity of their chosen place in the sun. They're now having that sun taken from them, and are now facing the prospect of relocating - probably not within their chosen community (the compensation isn't enough to buy a similar property away from the line), probably to somewhere with lower amenity - certainly something that is very distressing that they were not expecting to have to deal with in their last years.
If the line was lowered it would be out of sight and the same public transport and crossing removal outcomes would be realised. People wouldn't be forced out. Development would still happen - just in a less impactful way.

The 'permeability' issue is also an urban design idealistic fantasy here, sounds great though doesn't it Ian? As indicated in the article, there are an unbroken line of residences on both sides for much of the line with only a few places that would allow community crossover. The pedestrian and vehicular costings could be put over the tracks in those places for a similar outcome.

Ian Woodcock - can't you just play Sim City instead of trying to play God with real people? I believe you're a government crony in the pay of the LXRA - your report extolling the virtues of elevated rail (mostly from the age of steam - why no modern examples? Because they're all failures and don't back up the LXRA's chosen position?) criticizes, in many cases, the execution not the methodology of non-elevated options - a very shonky piece of work indeed.

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