How can we speed up trams?

Yarra’s streets can be better for trams if the number of cars sharing the tram lane are kept below a threshold, and smart traffic lights clear intersections as trams approach.

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


The problem is that our typical 20-metre wide tram-based shopping streets are not wide enough to support a separate lane each for trams, moving cars, parked cars, cycling and walking, let alone adding level access tram stops.

Typically, our tram-based shopping streets have an inner lane shared between trams and cars, with an outer lane for car parking. During peak hour, the parking lane changes to a clearway lane, cars can overtake trams, and trams are blocked by a street full of cars.

The outcome is that trams fail to offer a journey that is safer, faster and more convenient than driving, so many people choose to keep driving. Unfortunately, this slows down the whole street for everyone.


The solution is to redesign our streets, including:

  • reducing the number of cars on the road to a level that allows trams to run at acceptable speeds, by introducing demand responsive driving charges,
  • using smart traffic light sequences to help clear intersections as trams approach, and
  • preventing cars from overtaking (and then blocking) trams.

In summary, the solution is to upgrade our 20-metre wide tram-based shopping streets to the ‘Melbourne Shopping Street’ reference design, which includes level access tram stops. The key point is that we don’t need to have separate lanes for cars and trams (which takes up more street space), instead we need to keep the number of cars on the road below a threshold, whereupon trams can travel at acceptable speeds.

Melbourne Shopping Street reference design. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra and Streetmix.

Moving more people

By clearing intersections, limiting the number of cars on the street, and converting the parking lane to a protected bicycle lane; we can not only speed up trams, we can move more people in total. This is because faster trams carry more people than a lane of cars, and because a permanent protected bicycle lane can carry more people per hour than a clearway lane for cars.

The key learning is that if people are offered modes of transport (trams, cycling) that are safe, convenient and faster than driving, then many more people are willing to switch. Even better, traffic counts from other countries show that if people change from driving to public transport and cycling, then there is less congestion for those who need to drive.

Image credit: Infrastructure Victoria, 5 Year Focus, Immediate Actions to Tackle Congestion

Increasing access & safety at tram stops

Also, if the parking/clearway lane is replaced with a protected bicycle lane, then level access tram stops can be built that eliminate the hazard of tram passengers being being struck by a motor vehicle as they embark or disembark, thus eliminating the risk of serious injury or death. The only remaining hazard would be being struck by a person on a bicycle, which under Safe System, is not classed as imposing a risk of serious injury or death, because the kinetic energy of a person on a bicycle is below the critical threshold.

Level access tram stop protected from cars. Image credit: TO Transportation on Twitter.


Yarra’s streets can be better for trams if we convert our tram-based shopping streets to the ‘Melbourne Shopping Street’ reference design.