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Trapped by design: how a station upgrade created a danger zone

Level crossing removal -- one of the most popular of Dan Andrews' policies - is only half the answer when it comes to better infrastructure. Eilish Cook reports.

On Friday nights, 20-year-old Joshua Runatay would feel the electric anticipation of heading to the footy with friends. But one evening, with footy finals approaching, it turned into a frantic race against the clock.

While enjoying dinner with his family at the south-east restaurant Cucina Dolce in Chelsea, Runatay lost track of time.

He realised that his friends' train was just minutes away from arriving at Chelsea Station, and he faced a dilemma. Another train was scheduled to arrive in 15 minutes, but missing the bounce was not an option.

Standing in his way was Nepean Highway, which separates Cucina Dolce and Chelsea Station. A continuous black steel fence blocks direct access to the station entrance from the restaurant, forcing pedestrians to take an indirect route of about 50 meters to the pedestrian traffic lights, and then another 50 meters on the other side of the road to reach the station entrance.

Frustrated by the time-consuming route dictated by a continuous steel fence, Joshua made the decision to take a direct shortcut, attempting to jump the fence. As a local, he’s seen pedestrians clear the fence after crossing Nepean Highway before, despite the apparent danger.

“Looking back, it was a shocking decision to make but I’ve seen school kids with bags clear that fence before. At the time it felt like a no-brainer,” he says.

However, this risky choice resulted in an ankle injury, leaving him on crutches and missing the end of his football season.

“My back foot got caught in the fence and I fell forward with all my weight on my dodgy ankle.

“At least I made the train, I don’t think I would have otherwise.”

His story is not unique, as many locals have either witnessed or attempted similar fence-jumping antics at Chelsea Station.

Pedestrians must follow the circuitous fence line to access the main entrance of Chelsea Station. Photo: Eilish Cook

The incident shines light on the reality pedestrians face following the completion of the Level Crossing Removal Project at Chelsea Station last year. The Victorian Government’s initiative was part of a $4 billion upgrade of the Frankston Line, involving the removal of 18 level crossings and building 12 new train stations.

While fencing conveys the impression of improved safety, poor design can result in a literal barrier and accessibility issues.

In the two years since the project's completion, the Chelsea community's hopes for a safer, more convenient train station have given way to a frustrating call for change.

Chelsea resident Stacey Piggyoloi recognised the fencing problem before the project was even completed.

“Passengers were breaking into construction areas to cut through Nepean [Highway] instead of walking to the crossing lights.”

“Indirect access has been the issue from the very start,” says Piggyoloi.

The level crossing removal in Chelsea prioritises cars over pedestrian mobility, neglecting the reason for upgrades in the first place, she says.

“The design is not inclusive. This is a long walk for the elderly, for people with a disability, or parents with young children. In inclement weather, it’s a long walk for anyone."

Piggyoloi says the fencing also deters people from visiting shops during their travels.

Located just 400 meters from Chelsea Station, Alice Rebels Café and Bar permanently closed its doors in August after serving the community for eight years.

In a Facebook post announcing the closure, the café cited "woeful level crossing removal" as a contributing factor along with recent cost-of-living pressures.

The level crossing removal works commenced in early 2020 and concluded in November 2022, a prolonged disruption for neighbouring businesses.

Piggyoloi has been working with advocacy Facebook group Chelsea & Bonbeach Train Station Group (CBTSG), to raise the issues with politicians.

Frustrated, she started a petition last month that has over 300 signatures calling for a third, direct pedestrian crossing at Chelsea Station entrance.

The collective efforts of CBTSG pressured local MP Tim Richardson to arrange and complete an inspection of the site by the Roads and Road Safety Minister, Melissa Horne.

Signatories to the petition are concerned about the anticipated heat and high foot traffic during summer at the beachside station, urging Horne to act quickly.

Over summer, parking can be an issue for locals, so many choose to rely on walkable shops to carry goods home.

Piggyoloi says offering shaded pavements around the station is a safety concern for both beachgoers and local pedestrians.

Early last year CBTSG advocates recorded temperatures over 40 degrees on the exposed pavement along Chelsea Station, highlighting the need for shade.

Whitehorse City Council urban planner Jiao Yang says the minister’s inspection is a good sign of things to come but could be government box-ticking.

“Looking at the issue, it is ambitious to assume this will be addressed before summer," Yang says.

“With the [level crossing removal] project completed, it’s likely there’s contention between authorities on whether this is a roads-related or train station-related issue, which impacts the delivery, budget, and maintenance."

Yang has worked in council urban planning for two years and has noticed the revitalisation of public spaces can be treated as a secondary outcome in infrastructure projects.

Yang believes this is the wrong approach, and urban design should be a key part of infrastructure projects because train stations are public spaces too.

When Chelsea Station opened last year, it was promoted for its accessibility with six entrance and exit points connecting it to Nepean Highway and Station Street.

However, this accessibility falls short of being inclusive. Individuals with injuries, disabilities, or medical conditions are forced to take a longer route from the station to reach amenities, including the nearest toilet.

“Investing in public transport is always a great thing for society, but when improving public spaces is an afterthought, opportunities like this are missed and it can have a negative impact on the community” says Yang.

In 2014, the Victorian Government made a commitment that the level crossing removal projects would enhance safety for both road users and pedestrians. However, in the case of the Chelsea Station rebuild, it is evident that pedestrians were not the priority.

Nine years on, residents are hopeful advocacy groups have done the work needed to improve connectivity around Chelsea Station and prevent further incidents related to the fencing.

It is not uncommon to see completed government projects with design issues, and Victorian taxpayers deserve practical and functional infrastructure that serves all members of the community.

“I’m pretty cynical but I don’t think they [the government] will make any changes until someone is seriously hurt,” says Runatay.


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