How can we speed up trams?

Our streets can be better for trams if trams are able to travel faster between stops, and if the street can support level access tram stops.

The problem

The problem is that our typical 20-metre wide shopping streets are not wide enough to support a separate lane each for trams, cars, parking, cycling and walking. Either some modes have to share the same lane, or a mode has to be relocated to a nearby street. Typically, our tram-based shopping streets have a shared lane for trams and cars, with another lane for car parking. During peak hour, a clearway lane replaces the parking lane, cars can overtake trams, and trams are slowed down by cars.

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

The solution

The solution is to:

  • prevent vehicles from overtaking trams,
  • use traffic light sequences (triggered by the arrival of trams) to help clear intersections in front of trams, and
  • reduce overall traffic (which slows down trams) by introducing demand responsive driving charges.

To prevent cars from overtaking trams during peak hour, the parking lane should be replaced by a permanent protected bicycle lane. Metered parking for shoppers is relocated to the first 5-10 bays on each side street. If cars can’t overtake trams, then every time a tram pauses for a stop, the cars in front can keep driving and an open space can build up in front of the tram, in turn enabling it to travel faster.

Image credit: Streetmix and Streets Alive Yarra

Maximising travel speed

If trams can travel at full speed between stops, then the vehicles behind the tram will also travel at this same higher speed. The many people in the tram will define the optimum street speed, and the fewer people in the trailing vehicles will match this speed. This maximises travel speed for the most number of people.

Maximising people carrying capacity

In addition, the permanent protected bicycle lane can carry more people per hour than a clearway lane for cars. If people are offered a bicycle lane that is safe, convenient and enjoyable, then up to 40% of the population is willing to use it. Traffic counts from other countries show that the people using the bicycle lane reduce the congestion for the people in the shared tram/car lane, who need to drive. Overall, this street layout delivers the highest ‘people moving’ capacity.

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 permanent protected bicycle lane, then protected level access tram stops can be built. These stops would eliminate the hazard of tram passengers being being struck by a motor vehicle as they embark or disembark, with the accompanying risk of serious injury or death.

Protected level access tram stop. Image credit: Yarra Trams