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With its white road markings and 50m wide pedestrian tunnel, it might look like a picture perfect photo opportunity.
What looks like a timely gap — the only one on the street — narrows dramatically as we turn into it. This short, so-called “butterfly stairs” seems like a perfect place to get a jumpstart for your commute to work.
But as you walk past them, you might see something a little different.
Look hard enough and you’ll quickly spot a lack of safety barriers and platforms. That’s because while Grafton Street’s pathway, in Melbourne, Australia, is street-level, only eight years have passed since the incidence of pedestrian injuries more than doubled along this one stretch.
Since 2008, there have been six fatalities and 29 serious injuries along Grafton Street. Some of those were bad, but some were worse.
One fatal pedestrian fatality happened in 2011, when a 24-year-old woman was hit by a truck as she crossed the road to catch the No. 4 bus. She was pinned under the truck for more than 30 minutes before emergency workers could free her.
The City of Melbourne’s Health Strategy 2014-2023 includes “pedestrian friendly design” as a key objective, according to the document. While the number of serious injuries and deaths each year has declined by 26% since 2008 — the city’s population has more than doubled in the last decade — there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Of the 299 pedestrians across Melbourne injured in 2013, the majority (59%) were hit on the bike lane and footpath on Grafton Street,” the city states.
That’s why the city has just started work on an upgraded pedestrian scheme along Grafton Street. Meanwhile, Grafton Street’s only other safety measure, a series of bollards along the edge of the street, are due to be removed later this year.
A bygone style
Standing where you do, is a real tribute to a unique historic feature that has never really gone away.
Part of the world’s longest paved public walkway — four million meters long — the road was built in 1929 as part of the city’s renaissance after World War I. From the outside, it looks and feels just like the days of old. In this century, the street has undergone a complete transformation, thanks to its tree-lined lanes, elegant architecture and a parade of European and local cafes and bars.
Removing these structures will be a significant loss to the streetscape, said Northcote City Council chief executive Adam Choon, who added: “Restoring a street’s traditional character can be difficult because of commercial interests but we’re making a strong effort to improve the look and feel of Grafton Street.
“We know that Grafton Street is one of the key walking areas around Northcote and our staff will be doing their best to ensure residents and visitors enjoy the street for generations to come.”
With ambitious plans to extend the road, project director Joseph Giacamo said the council is keen to “continue to enhance pedestrian safety” and look at making road safety a city priority.
Click here to watch CNN iReport’s feature on Grafton Street
But there is a bigger problem here than just the problem of alleys. There are more than 1,000 “side-street” entrances to Melbourne with little regard for pedestrian safety — and who gets to decide?