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Putting people and place at the centre of transport development

When it comes to transport infrastructure development, it’s easy to think in narrow, asset-only terms.  

06 December 2021 | 1 min read
Emma Tranchina

Asia Pacific

Australia

Melbourne

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For Victoria> Insights

Here in Melbourne, there’s unprecedented investment going on in our transport network. But as we plan, design and build new train stations and other projects, it’s important that we look beyond an asset’s primary purpose, and think beyond what’s physically built.

How will these developments hold up in a generation's time? How can the investments we make in transport improve people's experience of the places they live, work and do business?

Pedestrian walking across empty tram tracks

A train station is not just a train station

Train stations give people the ability to get from A to B. They are an investment in transport possibility. But the benefits of thoughtfully-placed and well-developed stations extend far beyond the capacity they provide for mass movement.

What does the option to travel from A to B faster, more cheaply, or more regularly mean for the people and communities between those two points? What opportunities are opened up for people to access jobs or education? What difference does it make in connecting people with friends or family? Or accessing health and community services?

While social cohesion improvements are harder to quantify than trip numbers, such benefits are just as important to transport infrastructure’s ultimate success, value, and acceptance by communities.

People walking on the concourse at Melbourne train station

Thinking beyond built form

People don’t travel for the sake of travelling. That’s why we need to tap into the ‘why’ of travel when we are developing new transport assets. We also need to think about the experience. Are the train stations we are building accessible? Do they promote equity, both social and financial? Do they support the active transport and sustainability aspirations of communities?

Emma Tranchina, RPS Director of Communications and Engagement stands in front of water fountain in Carlton Gardens in Melbourne CBD.

For example, the Suburban Rail Loop project is doing more than building train stations – every new station is its own community precinct, with place-making benefits integrated right from the beginning of the project’s lifecycle. The value of this infrastructure investment is worth infinitely more than the sum of its parts.

Placed-based questions, people-centred answers

Every community operates in a different context. The people who live there have different wants and needs. A new train station in an inner-urban suburb already well serviced by trams and buses is a different proposition to one in an outer suburb that’s currently public transit poor.

The infrastructure solutions we deliver can’t be the same everywhere. A new train station might have the capacity to accommodate thousands of passengers a day, but failure to think beyond the asset can reduce its accessibility, use, and value.

For example, in outer suburbs we need to talk to residents about how they get to the new station. If the catchment area is low-density and spread out and the only way to get to the station is by car, then additional ‘park and ride’ infrastructure could add significant value and attract users to choose this new transport option. Failure to add it could render the station far less useful to the community it was built for.

In an inner suburb, the conversation might be geared more towards the opportunities a new station might open up to deliver public green space and better active transport connections for walking and cycling. Without consulting about what the community wants and needs, opportunities can be missed.

If we’re not adding value for people and creating great places through transport infrastructure, then communities and projects are both losing out.

Transport infrastructure for people and places

To get the most value from our transport assets, we need people to actually use what we’re building. To do that, we need to make sure our infrastructure is accessible, reliable, equitable, aesthetic, fun... We need to make sure it reflects and enhances life in a particular area.

Finding the right solutions is all about asking questions grounded in place, and listening to answers we get from the people who stand to benefit.