How can we prevent congestion and gridlock?

Yarra’s streets can be better for drivers if there is less congestion. As our resident and commuter population booms, and gridlock looms, congestion can only be reduced by enabling some people to ‘have a go’ at walking, cycling or using public transport, thus freeing up space on the roads for those who need to drive. Because other modes take up less space, the counter-intuitive law of transport design states that if streets are becoming congested, the best outcome for drivers is obtained by giving some street space away to other modes.

Congestion on a shopping street. Image credit: Swan Street Traders

Gridlock is coming

Our population is increasing and congestion is getting worse. Yarra’s residential population is expected to increase by 60% by 2040, and business is also growing, bringing more workers and commuters. Our streets can’t fit 60% more cars – it’s a simple problem of geometry. Even worse, traffic congestion is non-linear, meaning that every 10% increase in the number of cars leads to more than 10% increase in travel time. We can already see severe congestion on some streets. At our existing rate of growth, we’ll have gridlock on many streets in Yarra before 2030. It takes a long time to plan, consult, design, finance and build new transport infrastructure, so we need to start now.

Image credit: Infrastructure Victoria


The solution is to offer alternatives – footpathbicycle and public transport networks – so that people who are willing to ‘have a go’ with other modes are able to, thus freeing up space for those who need to drive. In other words, investing in walking, cycling and public transport will help make Yarra better for drivers.

How other modes can help

Different transport modes require different amounts of space:

Source: City of Melbourne Transport Discussion Paper

If other modes have reasonable space, they can carry more people than a vehicle lane, especially during peak hour:

Source: VicRoads

Clearly, walking, cycling and public transport don’t suit everyone. However, if done well, enough people will choose them so that it will make a difference for those who prefer to drive. Many people are willing to walk 1 km, cycle 5 km or catch a local bus to the train station. The key is to integrate these modes and make them safe & convenient, as described in the Melbourne Rail Plan 2050.

Support from Infrastructure Victoria

People won’t change modes unless the new option is safe, convenient (i.e. fast) and enjoyable. This requires some reallocation of street space, e.g. away from parking and toward protected bicycle lanes or protected public transport stops. In turn, this requires targeted investment, as recommended by Infrastructure Victoria. Note that on-street car parking can still be retained near shopping streets, if it’s relocated to the first 5-10 bays on each side street.

Source: Infrastructure Victoria, Five-Year Focus, Immediate actions to tackle congestion, April 2018

Support from the RACV

Victoria’s motoring organisation, the RACV, supports wider footpaths and separated bicycle lanes for Sydney Road in Brunswick, because they realise that congestion will be reduced. The same logic applies to reducing congestion on any shopping street in Yarra.


Yarra’s streets can only remain usable for drivers if some space is reallocated to more space-efficient modes such as walking, cycling and public transport, supported by car sharing.