Wyndham Vale, Melbourne

Yesterday I made the point that despite the rhetoric about active transport in Plan Melbourne, the defining limit for the “20-minute city” must be the distance that can be covered by walking (see Is the “20-minute city” mostly spin?).  The maximum range from each dwelling can’t be defined by cycling because not everybody can or wants to cycle; even in the Netherlands only 27% of trips are made by bicycle.

But suppose we take Plan Melbourne at its word and accept that cycling, not walking, defines the maximum distance residents should have to travel to meet their “everyday needs”. Wouldn’t that make the 20-minute city a more realistic idea?

To test that proposition, I used Google Maps to measure what a resident of the farthest outpost of fringe development – where the lags in services and infrastructure are commonly assumed to be worst – could access by bicycle. I looked at houses at the top of Ison Rd Wydham Vale, on the extreme edge of development in Melbourne’s west as shown by Google Maps. This side of the city is important because it’s where a large proportion of future fringe growth will be directed.

Here’s what I found cycling provides access to:

  • Anarkali Boutique, 2 mins
  • Stylehunter Network, 2 mins
  • Bluebells Family Day Care Centre, 3 mins
  • Coco Mane Hair Studio, 3 mins
  • Smudge Dog Grooming, 4 mins
  • Wyndham Taxtalk, 4 mins
  • Manor Lakes P-12 College, 5 mins
  • Cockatoo Café, 6 mins
  • Wyndhamvale Railway Station, 6 mins
  • Manor Lakes Community Centre, 7 mins
  • Wyndham Vale Christian Centre, 7 mins
  • Our Lady of the Southern Cross Primary School, 7 mins
  • Wyndham Vale Library, 8 mins
  • Wyndham Vale Community Centre, 8 mins
  • Manor Lakes Shopping Centre (supermarket, bank, restaurants, etc), 8 mins
  • Manor Lakes Medical Centre, 8 mins
  • McDonalds Manor Lakes, 8 mins
  • Future Kids Child Care, 8 mins
  • Manor Lakes Linear Park, 8 mins
  • Dux Apparel 9 mins
  • Manor Lakes Dental Centre, 9 mins

I stopped at 9 minutes because according to Google’s algorithm all the “everyday needs”, and more, were already covered (remember that Plan Melbourne‘s definition of the 20-minute city excludes access to jobs). A resident near the top of Ison Rd could even get to the Werribee Race Course if they cycle for 20 minutes. Another three minutes and they’re at the western end of the Werribee National Employment and Innovation Cluster designated in Plan Melbourne. I did a comparable exercise for Tarneit with similar results.

So Wyndham Vale and Tarneit residents already live in the 20-minute city! Given the high level of accessibility by bicycle in these fringe growth areas, there’s prima facie reason to expect it should be much better in the established suburbs where the great bulk of Melburnians live. There’re more traffic lights and in some suburbs more hills than in Wyndham Vale or Tarneit, but the density of services is higher.

The message is clear; if cycling is an appropriate measure of the 20-minute city as Plan Melbourne insists it is, then Melburnians can already “meet most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute…cycle…trip of their home”. It shouldn’t surprise; cycling is a very efficient way of travelling to local services because a dense network of streets already exists.

The cynical observer might conclude Plan Melbourne is a blatant attempt to con us; it promises to give us what we’ve already got! I take a more charitable view; it’s the result of woolly thinking because those responsible for it were more concerned with appearances than with substance. They didn’t bother to examine (or ignored) the data on accessibility; and they didn’t see the obvious problem that citing three modes presents.

Hence my conclusion that if it’s to make any sort of sense, the 20-minute city must be understood as defined by how far a resident can walk. Of course that makes it a lot harder to achieve, as I explained last time (see Is the “20-minute city” mostly spin?). And an aside: 20 minutes makes sense as a maximum for walking, but why is it necessary for cycling?

It’s a pity taking real action to make cycling safer isn’t given the same level of prominence by Daniel Andrews and Malcolm Turnbull as they insist on giving to marketing fluff like “the 20/30 minute city”. It’s a shame they don’t give the same priority to keeping the journey to work manageable e.g. reforming federal and state taxation of housing so workers can more easily live closer to their workplace.