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What Would High-Speed Rail Do to Sub­urb­an Sprawl? It’s often impli­citly assumed that rail travel is bene­fi­cial in and of itself, but this New York Times blog post argues that the con­struc­tion of high-speed rail in the US — mooted as part of the stim­u­lus pro­gramme — could actu­ally foster urb­an sprawl.

19 Aug 2009 | No comments

Min­im­al funds to fix Sydney con­ges­tion: no sur­prises here, but what will Sydney do? We can’t just sit here while Mel­bourne steams ahead. And what needs fix­ing about the Perth-Fre­mantle rail­way? When I was over there, I thought Transperth was almost a mod­el of per­fec­tion…

13 May 2009 | No comments

I don't think it's time for me to give up my day job yet.

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I prom­ised to write a little more thought­fully about my trip down in Mel­bourne, but I’ve been a little lazy and it’s been over a week. Appar­ently, the longer you leave it, the rosi­er your memor­ies become, so I may very well be extolling non-exist­ent vir­tues of Mel­bourne.

So, the hard ques­tion first up: is Mel­bourne bet­ter than Sydney? In some respects, yes. Just like this Heck­ler heckles, Sydney’s CBD is becom­ing increas­ingly hol­lowed out by the dearth of things to do in the heart of the busi­ness dis­trict — this is none more evid­ent than in the area just south of Cir­cu­lar Quay. (For those of you who don’t know me well, the ample abund­ance of club­bing does not count.) Mel­bourne, on the oth­er hand, lives up to its repu­ta­tion as being a “net­work of vil­lages” — pock­ets of life are sewn togeth­er by a car­pet of res­taur­ants and cafés that spill out into the street, odd pieces of street fur­niture, often slightly eccent­ric, and the well-designed pub­lic spaces that make you want to appre­ci­ate the city’s beauty at night. Clearly, it hasn’t worked every­where though; the Dock­lands was some­thing I was look­ing for­ward to see, but although the sleek, mod­ern build­ings com­ple­men­ted the smooth tran­quil­ity of the water­front, it was devoid of life — but per­haps it was just the wrong night for that. Dur­ing the day, Melbourne’s full of the hustle and bustle that you’d expect to find in a city that’s con­fid­ent of itself and how it can make its own way without blandly copy­ing what oth­ers have done before — it’s easy to get lost just wan­der­ing around the shop­ping centres (Mel­bourne makes shop­ping centres sexy) and the alley­ways that the city is fam­ous for.

The oth­er thing that I’ll com­ment on is the trans­port, and for this I’ll drop the rosy lan­guage and get a little more object­ive. Trams are a fant­ast­ic idea, but I can see why it might not work so well in Sydney. Trams steam ahead without being forced to start and stop and start and stop by the rest of the traffic on the road (buses in Sydney make me think of pri­or­ity inver­sion), but in order to achieve this, you need ded­ic­ated tram lanes — Melbourne’s main streets are notice­ably wider than than those in Sydney (say, com­pared with George, Pitt and Cast­lereigh Streets) and thus you can afford to give an entire lane to trams. If you’re hop­ping around the CBD, you don’t really have to walk a lot because of how the lines are set up — which is how pub­lic trans­port should be — hop on, hop off at will. Trains were bewil­der­ing though. I don’t under­stand how you can run a train sys­tem where you can get from A to B by train, but there’s no way to get from B to A without tak­ing a tor­tu­ous route (the sta­tion staff just told us to catch a tram instead). Seem­ingly obvi­ous (to tour­ists at least) routes between pop­u­lar sta­tions just don’t exist, and if you’re just hop­ping around the CBD, you’re best off pre­tend­ing the trains don’t exist. South­ern Cross sta­tion, how­ever, is one impress­ive piece of archi­tec­ture, and it just shows how Sydney has fallen too far in favour­ing util­it­ari­an func­tion over form.

Will I be vis­it­ing again? Yes, def­in­itely, if I’m after a break in civil­isa­tion (as opposed to a break with rocks and trees and things), Mel­bourne is the place to be. As you prob­ably noticed, we spent the entire trip basic­ally in the CBD — next time, I’d be sure to have a look a little fur­ther out, and see what gems lie out­side the (attract­ive) stain­less steel and glass jungle.

Lots of pho­tos: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

P.S. Wikitravel is quite use­ful and clearly con­tains tips from every­day loc­als who know best: see, for example, the Mel­bourne entry.

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I’m try­ing to get to sleep as I lie on the bed at the hotel but the insist­ent pat­ter­ing on the air-con­di­tion­er is keep­ing me awake… and Daniel (Tse) has the light on play­ing with his Zaur­us with the light on, so I might as well blog from afar!

Mel­bourne has been an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence so far — very mod­ern and styl­ish, and ooz­ing with pride. We had lunch at a delight­ful little bakery called Laurent Bakery; we then went to see the Pix­ar exhib­i­tion at Fed­er­a­tion Square. We had a look at Mel­bourne Cent­ral fol­lowed by an hour of pub­lic trans­port con­fu­sion. We popped by the Dock­lands and it was pos­it­ively unex­cit­ing… we’ll check it out again later cos we might not be look­ing at the right things. We had din­ner at a French res­taur­ant (called Aux Bati­folle — excel­lent wine and creme bru­lee) and we decided to call that a day.

Two things I don’t like about this place so far: the trains and trams sure run on time but they don’t seem to ever go where you want them to go. Secondly, I swear we chose the worst few days weath­er-wise for a hol­i­day.

Sign­ing off…

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