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What to do with Box Hill interchange?

Comment

Council has been agitating for it and on Monday the Minister for Public Transport announced the establishment of 'passionate local representatives to deliver a redevelopment plan for Box Hill station & bus interchange'.

The Minister's media release reads as follows:

Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan announced the Box Hill Transit Interchange Steering Committee today, which will work towards a business case for the redevelopment.

The committee will build on the work of the Ministerial Advisory Group, which provided options to the Minister for Public Transport to improve the commercial and transport hub in Melbourne’s east.

The group included local community representatives and was chaired by the Member for Eastern Metropolitan Region Shaun Leane.

The Labor Government has already made a range of upgrades to the interchange since being elected, namely adding the Route 201 bus service – a direct link for students and locals between Box Hill Station and Deakin University.

Other upgrades include improving passenger safety in the bus interchange by adding pedestrian crossings and repainting bays, installing better ramps and additional signage to increase accessibility, fixing the roof and downpipes and expanding the presence of staff and security.

By the end of 2017, works will be completed to replace old lighting with brighter LED lamps, improving safety and visibility for passengers.

The Labor Government will continue further service and infrastructure upgrades at the interchange while a business case is developed.

Firstly we should recognise Box Hill interchange for what it is: a good example of how multiple public transport modes can, with the right kind of infrastructure and service frequency, come together to link a rail station with multiple destinations beyond with buses.  Despite the inherent problem in how Box Hill is currently set up.

And that problem is a matter of levels - when it was built, the railway level was sunk below street level with a shopping centre building accounting for the air space above, with  a bus interchange added to the roof of the building.  

It's this transition from Railway to Bus level or vice versa that is the problem - public transport users are unnecessarily forced to enter the shopping centre zone to connect, much like how people were corraled into Melbourne Central shopping centre before getting to the station level when the centre was rebuilt last decade.

The ultimate goal of redeveloping the interchange should be to allow for speedier interchange between modes - and naturally boost bus frequencies to capture even more users through the station - as well as keeping an eye on the very long term.

Like all shopping centres, the car dominates at Box Hill - there are multi-level car parks both to the north and south of the rail corridor connected to the centre, which creates a multitude of blank surfaces facing the surround the streets - including the popular Carrington Road strip.

Given the amount of high-density development occurring in Box Hill, is Box Hill Central really going to need that much car parking in future?  Is the land dedicated to multi-level car parking better used for commercial/office space?

Box Hill also has another advantage: the railway level was built with four platforms (only three have tracks running through them) and platform interchange infrastructure is already in place.  

It's quite possible that this fourth unused platform will be needed in future, albeit on a temporary basis, while any reconfiguration of the shopping centre above is underway. This railway-level space could be used for a bus interchange.

Ramps at Pippard Street (entry) and Thurston Street (exit) would need to be built along with extending the existing rail platform out over the unused track space, so that buses have enough room to stop, as well as have a single lane to allow buses to move in and out of temporary bays.

In what could be a multi-year, multi-phase development - depending on the steering committee's eventual advice to the powers that be - temporarily moving the bus interchange to rail level would allow maximum flexibility to redevelop the entire site (if that is palatable) but more importantly ensure minimised distruption between bus and train modes whilst any development is undertaken.

Long-term, however, a more permanent solution will be required to place buses much closer to the station entrances to maximise interchangeability and this is ultimately what the steering committee will explore.  And as for the very long term? Never say never - Box Hill is a prime candidate for any orbital railway that might come along.

Lead image credit: Marcus Wong

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