‘Trying to cross is just mayhem’: The deadliest roads for pedestrians in Melbourne

Since the day Lucy Cuzzupe was born, two things have grown constantly in her neighbourhood: traffic on Ballarat Road and the number of people killed by it.

“Over the years, we’ve all bugged VicRoads,” says the life-long Braybrook resident, now 53. “It’s a speedway – trying to cross is just mayhem. I keep asking, ‘Why doesn’t the speed limit get reduced?’”

Lucy Cuzzupe is worried there will be more deaths along the dangerous stretch of Ballarat Road, Braybrook.Credit:Jason South

Ten years of road fatality data analysed by The Age reveals that Ballarat Road is the deadliest road in Melbourne for pedestrians. Eleven people have been killed on the stretch through the western suburbs between Footscray and Deer Park since 2013.

Bell Street between Coburg and Ivanhoe was the second-deadliest, claiming six pedestrian lives, in a trend safety experts say reveals a failure to protect Melburnians from high-speed roads that run through their communities.

In Braybrook, three pedestrians have died on Ballarat Road since 2018, and Cuzzupe fears it is only a matter of time before another is killed.

She has been involved in a decade-long push to have traffic lights installed near the corner of Melon Street and to lower the speed limit from 70 km/h to 60 km/h, which is already the limit further east and west along the road.

People frequently cross the six lanes of traffic here to get to the bus stops on either side, or to visit the Maribyrnong River and parkland. The Age witnessed six people making the dash during a visit last week, including three teenage boys from a local high school. Each took refuge on a narrow grass strip in the middle of the road while heavy traffic sped past.

Prakash Dhakal sees this happen all day, every day from his La Porchetta restaurant at the corner of Melon Street. He did the same “stupid” thing when he used to catch the bus to work.

The alternative is a detour by foot of at least 10 minutes to the nearest traffic lights, half a kilometre east, or to the steep pedestrian overpass 360 metres west.

“It is completely unsafe,” Dhakal says. “[But] the bus is never on time, and you’ve got to start your job … so you just cross quickly.”

Locals who visit the Braybrook Maidstone Neighbourhood House on Melon Street for food boxes or other social support sometimes take extraordinary round bus trips because there is no safe crossing.

“People get on a bus to cross the road,” said Vivienne Conn, the centre’s manager, who knows clients who travel all the way to Sunshine or Footscray just to circle back to be on the right side of the traffic.

Coburg was also the location of the most pedestrian deaths of any Melbourne suburb over the past decade: four on Bell Street and two on Nicholson Street. Three more died on Sydney Road in Coburg North.

Ballarat Road and Bell Street are both arterial roads controlled by the state government.

City of Maribyrnong Mayor Sarah Carter said the council, which takes in Braybrook, had advocated for a speed review on Ballarat Road over the years and continued to push the government for a pedestrian crossing at Melon Street.

Merri-bek and Darebin councils are also agitating for safety upgrades on Bell Street Bridge, which is used by hundreds of people a day, including by Coburg High School students, and has only a narrow footpath with a mountable kerb separating them from heavy traffic.

Australasian College of Road Safety chief executive Ingrid Johnston said governments had failed to build infrastructure and manage traffic to ensure people in many parts of Melbourne could live safely around major roads.

“A major arterial road with high-speed limit … doesn’t belong in a suburb where people are just trying to walk to the shops, kids [are] trying to get to school, people are trying to walk their dogs,” Johnston said.

“If you can’t provide the infrastructure that completely separates the vehicles from the pedestrians, then you just have to find ways to slow the vehicles down.”

Australia has relatively high urban speed limits compared to countries that have been more successful in reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries.

The chances a pedestrian will die in a crash increases from 10 per cent at 30 km/h to 40 per cent at 40 km/h and to 80 per cent at 50 km/h.

There have been 275 pedestrian deaths in Melbourne over the past 10 years, including five so far this year, Transport Accident Commission data shows.

Another 5484 people were hospitalised in that period, with 1511 of those injured seriously enough to stay in hospital for longer than 14 days.

On Saturday, two pedestrians were taken to hospital – one with serious injuries – after being hit by a car that had spun out of control during a collision on Lygon Street in Carlton.

Just over half of the pedestrians killed in Melbourne over the past 10 years were people aged 60 or older, and 39 per cent were 70 or older.

A Department of Transport and Planning spokesperson said the government had spent $8 million installing traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Ballarat Road and Hulett Street, in Albion last year.

“We’re continuing to improve our roads right across the state and monitoring safety across the network to assess if any future improvements are needed, including along Ballarat Road,” the spokesperson said.

Next month, the department will also evaluate markings and pedestrian warning signs that were installed on Bell Street last year, and consider whether further upgrades are necessary.

The Victorian Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 aims to halve road deaths by 2030, including pedestrians.

Roads Minister Melissa Horne said the government was working towards that goal by building pedestrian safety infrastructure and reviewing speed limits.

Almost 50 intersections across Melbourne have been upgraded as part of a joint state and federal $457 million road safety program.

“The safety of all road users – particularly pedestrians – is our highest priority, which is why we’re working hard to improve our roads and delivering safer infrastructure right across the state,” Horne said.

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