Changing Melbourne Transport #2: Syndal Station Car Park

2015 has seen a renewed focus and investment by the State Government in public transport infrastructure. The Glen Waverley railway line has seen two projects, one of which, as at January 2016, remains work-in-progress in the Burke Rd/Gardiner level crossing removal. The other was the Syndal Station multi-deck car park.

The official Public Transport Victoria website/page for this project states the cost as $10.8M and the duration as being approximately one year, commencing from late 2014 and completed 26 October 2015. It should be noted that the construction of the car park had no impact on the normal operation of railway services through the station. This article acknowledges the reality that was the project of 2015, but also takes into account my alternate vision, as once articulated in 2010 and updated in 2013. In this way, the following is my attempt to reconcile the two positions into another scenario of what could have been.

Pre-Project Analysis

According to the 2014 Public Transport Victoria data on train station patronage, the Glen Waverley line has been experiencing a trend of decreasing annual patronage. The average weekly change over the five-year period of 2008 – 2013 was a decrease of 11.7%. For the two-year period 2011 – 2013, the decrease was a slower rate of 9.3%. In the financial year 2013-2014 the line had 8.377M passenger boardings. With an average weekly weekday boarding in 2013 of under 28,000, this makes the line one of the busier lines, although the average may be higher because it is also a shorter line with fewer stations.

Analysis of the Glen Waverley line station details revealed that for the financial year 2013-2014, Syndal was ranked the third busiest station in terms of annual patronage (688,164) after Burnley and Glen Waverley itself. Two years earlier, Syndal was ranked sixth busiest, which was a slight drop from it consistently being ranked fifth busiest for all years of data prior. To better understand the entire line dynamics, a quick comparison against the other stations was performed. Glen Waverley as the terminus, has 327 official spaces of car park designated for train commuters. That is, along the southern side of the railway platform, the parking along Coleman Parade plus the car park to the immediate north/north-west of the station and bus interchange are all zones marked as unrestricted all-day parking, whereas all other spaces have signage to clearly demarcate two-hour parking restrictions apply. The other station well-known for ample car park spaces is East Malvern, which has 676 spaces, twice that of Glen Waverley. Arguably, this is the largest railway station car park in the Melbourne network – a quick check of other stations with known sizeable car parks indicates that Dandenong has 404. 400 seems to be the upper average bounds for a car park size. Prior to the multi-storey car park construction, Syndal would have had 90 official car park spaces. The reason why East Malvern’s car park was so big was that it attracted commuters from the region who were eager to catch a train from the previous inner Zone 1 designation; the station location lay at the boundary of the two zones. This characteristic will be discussed more soon.

It is important to note that all these official statistics of car park spaces exclude the side-street parking practice that many stations experience; whenever the official car parks are full commuters tend to utilise the near-by side streets which have unrestricted spaces along the curbside. It is because of this practice and behaviour that many councils introduced signage to control, manage and limit the side-street parking. Over time, some residents have complained, and it is these drivers that have ultimately contributed to the need for additional parking at Syndal station.

Prior to 2014, Glen Waverley station had received the main attention from construction and development – in 2012 private developers constructed the residential apartment block known as Ikon. As part of that construction, minor cosmetic works were undertaken to redevelop the forecourt of the station. Actual work to the station and platforms itself was all out of scope and off-limits at the time, and the forecourt work was completed by mid 2014 to the cost of $1.8M which was a fraction of the total $70M investment. Also in 2012, the Monash Council pursued the development of a multi-storey car park at Euneva Avenue which resulted in 350 spaces made available. However, things have not exactly played out according to plan and that car park remains largely unused and empty, partially because of the five-hour time limits that are enforced… According to Herald Sun reporting, $17.3M was spent by the City of Monash council and in spite of tweaks to relax the restrictions, occupancy remained under 30% as at early 2015, now some twelve months ago as at the time of writing (January 2016).

Syndal station has been well located in south-east Melbourne, with Blackburn Rd at the station’s west boundary and Coleman Parade, a busy local thoroughfare at the south boundary. Connectivity to the Smart Bus network has also meant over the years that a good proportion of public transport commuters would access the station from all directions. Indeed, from my personal experience, Syndal station is the nearest and within a reasonable 20-minute walking distance. My excuse for not walking more is that the hilly contour of the route makes the journey a little more physically demanding, something which I would not be keen on particularly in the evening after a long day at work, or worse in bad/winter weather. Also, through personal knowledge, I know friends who drive from other suburbs, mainly outer east, to locations like Syndal to catch the train. This profile of commuter is common to south-east Melbourne because the railway line ends at Glen Waverley and citizens living further east in areas like Wantirna, Scoresby and Rowville all have to drive (or bus) to their nearest train station. Driving and parking at Glen Waverley is the first preference, but Syndal offers a good back-up given it’s proximity and availability of parking.

I have, myself, followed the pattern of behaviour here. If I get up early enough, parking will be available at Glen Waverley. It is interesting to observe that as the morning progresses, station car parks reach capacity in order of Glen Waverley first and then station by station, up the line towards the city. Therefore, if Glen Waverley is full and it is 7:30am, try Syndal. If Syndal is full, head to Mount Waverley, Jordanville and finally East Malvern. This parking behaviour has probably eventuated in more recent times since the network was simplified to a single suburban zone area; this decision negating a lot of the previous benefit for East Malvern and its large car park. It is also interesting to observe how that one decision has resulted in the East Malvern car park now appearing to be oversized and an oversupply for the resultant lower demand for car park spaces.

When considering the consequential impact of the simplified zones decision, it does give credence and greater focus on stations further away from the city; previously commuters would have perceived a benefit in parking at East Malvern/Huntingdale stations that were located at the zone boundary, whereas now, that differentiating factor was negated. In this way, the proposed project benefits for the Syndal multi-storey parking were articulated as:

  • Extending the Syndal Station car park will increase convenience for public transport users as it will reduce the amount of time customers currently spend searching for car parking.
  • A larger car park will reduce demand and congestion on the local road network and decrease the number of cars using on-street parking, providing more parking options for local residents and visitors to local businesses.

PTV Project Summary

Beginning on Saturday 6 December 2014, initial works focused on the safe removal and transportation of two palm trees that had been planted and located at the head of the pedestrian pathway entrance leading off Coleman Parade. All trees and foliage along the south embankment of the raised railway station/tracks were removed, preparing the way for the sloping earth to be dug out and removed. Through December and January, the activity focused on removing debris and laying bare the construction zone. Fencing was introduced to cordon off the entire area stretching from Blackburn Road up to the station south entrance.

Whilst the previous bitumen/asphalt surface of the car park was torn up and removed, I took notice that no effort was made to create a level surface for any foundation. It appeared that the ground floor would remain unchanged in gradient and instead have a higher ceiling which would be level. In comparison, my Alternate Melbourne Public Transport Design vision had always assumed creating a level car park, where the lowest floors/decks would have been underground basement at the far east end of the car park complex… Naturally, the cost constraints applied here dictated a minimal viable product design; this reuse of ground gradient for the lowest car park level is acceptable anyway, just grates with my idealistic wishes…

Concrete piling work started in earnest in 2015, with the steel and concrete pillars providing shape and form to the overall complex. Once I got over the previous issue of not having a level ground foundation, I started to wonder how far west towards Blackburn Road the car park decking would reach. In all the marketing imagery where a view fro Blackburn Road was provided, they never gave enough detail to indicate whether the upper floors of car park would stretch right up to the intersection of Coleman Parade with Blackburn Road. As it emerged, the western limit of the car park was to be aligned with the far west extent of where the railway tracks became an overhead bridge and where the original car park stretched to the north under the railway track bridge columns.

Over the months of construction, the accessibility of Syndal station platforms via the underpass was limited at various stages such that the southern entrance was closed off for several weeks. Initially, when this was done, it became apparent that part of the car park complex was to extend further east across the underpass entrance. After the first period of entrance closure had completed, and us commuters were able to start using the entrance / access point again, we were able to see that this eastern-most structure was to house the wheelchair ramps. As this steel structure took form and the inner flooring became clear, it also became clear that this design choice also meant that no elevator/lift facilities were part of the final car park… Now, I would love to understand what reasons beside cost there are to have made the decision to implement the ramps in place of a lift. One thought that I dismissed was safety – thinking that a lift would be less safe since it is an enclosed space, but then realising that other car park facilities include lifts. The best example to negate this concern would be down the road at Bogong Avenue, Glen Waverley where the original multi-storey car park was constructed behind the Kingsway shops – it features quite clearly a simple lift for the four levels, and with the glass-based walls/doors, the decade of so operation has never once had any security/safety incidents.

Towards the end of the construction, I realised that the exposed gap between the roofing of the underpass (which was really the bottom of the city-bound railway track) and the edge of the car park concrete wall was never going to be bridged and covered over. To me, this kind of result is quite absurd and symptomatic of the overall lack of vision and short-comings that is the final Syndal multi-deck car park. Why $10M+ had to be spent on this car park but leave things like this remaining only reinforces my view that our public transport designers and planners are really short-sighted in their plans, designs and implementation. Surely, it would not cost much to create a roof for that one-metre gap between the car park and station underpass? In the future, every time it rains heavily, I will be reminded of this incompetence and design flaw.

Review & Consideration of Alternate Futuristic Designs

Of course, the whole design philosophy and scope was limited to “let’s build a car park” only, so any holistic integration in terms of public transport interchanges, or even with the station itself were simply ideas beyond the mandate of this project, never mind the $10M budget. That is probably one of the key differences between my thoughts for how Syndal station and car park – as a single public transportation complex – were developed. As part of finding a compromised design, I would have used the space between the current car park building and Blackburn Road as the site for a new under-cover bus stop. This bus stop would cater for both directions of the 703 Smart Bus route along Blackburn Road as well as the 737 route which utilises Coleman Parade. A second traffic light intersection north of the train bridge on Blackburn Road would provide one entry point to the bus stop area while the existing traffic light intersection of Blackburn Road with Coleman Parade would need to be adapted to include the other access/entry point for the bus stops.

  • Northbound 703 buses to Blackburn:
    • Enter via the reconfigured Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection
    • Exit via the new Blackburn Rd/Price Avenue intersection
  • Southbound 703 buses to Middle Brighton:
    • Enter via the new Blackburn Rd/Price Avenue intersection
    • Exit via the reconfigured Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection and proceed south on Blackburn Rd
  • 737 buses to Glen Waverley:
    • Slight detour to original route by heading past the Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection
    • Enter via the new Blackburn Rd/Price Avenue intersection (new dedicated far-left lane)
    • Exit via the reconfigured Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection and proceed east on Coleman Parade
  • 737 buses to Monash University:
    • Slight detour to original route by turning right at the Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection
    • Enter via the new Blackburn Rd/Price Avenue intersection (new dedicated far-left lane)
    • Exit via the reconfigured Blackburn Rd/Coleman Parade intersection and proceed south on Blackburn Rd

In this way, bus traffic would flow as naturally as possible and in one sense the new bus stops would form an island around these traffic movements. With the exception of northbound 703 buses heading to Blackburn, all buses would approach the stops from the north and exit south. The following photo shows the area that would be converted; the view direction is southward, so the new Blackburn Rd/Price Avenue intersection would be slightly behind this photo to the right.


Any bottom-up redevelopment of the complex would serious consider relocating the station concourse and platforms further west from their present location, such that the station itself may end up as part of the Blackburn Rd overpass bridge concourse. Images of the metro style above ground platforms & stations in Singapore come to mind. Quite likely, in this scenario, sufficient height would need to allow the station concourse to fit between the railway track level and allow for vehicular traffic to pass under on Blackburn Road. When you consider the height shown in the photo, a covered bus stop complex would fit quite neatly into this space, under the bridge. Given the distance between the bridge supports, it could be quite feasible to convert that space into a dedicated bus stop, away from the road traffic. However, this photo also suggests that in order to accommodate a multi-level station concourse with upper level platform & tracks, the entire bridge would need to be raised…

However, in this dreamed-up design, the proximity of my bus stop interchange would be maximised such that direct escalator/stair based pedestrian traffic could flow directly between buses and trains, plus pedestrian traffic could navigate both east and west sides of Blackburn Road. Further, an overhead concourse/walkway could extend over Coleman Parade on the east side of Blackburn Road to allow pedestrians grade-separated access to the south-east block of shops, gymnasium and apartments. Somehow I cannot see this ever becoming a reality…