Today I decided to ride a trail which I have never been on before.
The Main Yarra Trail is one of Melbourne's major trails, and one of the most popular.
Starting from Docklands/Port Melbourne and sneaking it's way past the CUB brewery, the Fairfield Boathouse, along the Eastern Freeway and through Westerfolds Park before ending in Templestowe at an unsigned intersection with the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail. I have always felt that the trail should be named in align with other trails, as the "Yarra River Trail", but I guess the "main" name is suitable for it, as it provides connections for a number of trails including the Capital City Trail, Sandridge Rail Trail, Gardiners Creek Trail, Merri Creek Trail, Outer Circle Rail Trail, Koonung Creek Trail, River Gum Walk Trail, Plenty River Trail, Ruffey Creek Trail, Diamond Creek Trail before finally ending at the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail.
For a trail with so many connections, the trail is currently insufficient in many ways including alignments, signage, line marking and surfaces. A trail of this importance should have high priority over what works should be done to it. It is simply not good enough at the moment.
I tried to navigate the trail today by simply following whatever signage had been installed over the trail and I was lucky I brough my iPhone 3G with the built-in GPS, which saved me having to go down a trail only to find out that it did not take me to where I wanted to go.
I rode from the very end of the trail at the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail to the turnoff under the Eastern Freeway today, and I will highlight the major issues I have with this trail.
- Signage: The signage along the trail is very sub-standard. Signs are very rare to find along this section of trail, especially between Westerfolds Park and Heidelberg, in which there were some very confusing intersections which can easily lead a casual rider astray, especially at a couple of locations where there is a Y fork in front of you with the option of taking a sealed path or a gravel path. Naturally, you would follow the sealed path you were already riding on, while the path you were susposed to go down was the gravel one. I'm also amazed I could get myself through Westerfolds Park via the 2 or 3 "Main Yarra Trail" signs which I encountered.
- Alignments: There are a couple of sections where the entire trail needs to be re-routed to give a more direct path and a couple of spots where the alignment should be re-constructed altogether. In Banyule Flats Reserve is the major headache. You can either follow the official trail, which is 1.56km long, or take the fairly level (hardly any hills) goat track shortcut which is only 0.76km long, less than half the official trail. There is also the underpass under Banksia Street in Heidelberg, which is shockingly designed on the northern side of the bridge. Not only is the path in a shocking condition, going south under the bridge was a nightmare, with my brakes on, I felt like i was going to flip over the handlebars. This needs to be fixed quick smart.
- Surfaces: The ideal shared path surface has always been asphalt, which is nice to ride on, but sometimes cracks can very easily surface, and grass gets in the cracks therefore damaging the trail. Concrete is the way of the future for all trails, despite some trails still being built with asphalt. For the best example of a fantastic trail with a concrete surface, ride the EastLink Trail if you haven't already. One gripe I have about some sections of a trail is the unnecessary gradients. Some spare dirt can easily be piled on top of an existing trail, then concreted on the top to avoid high inclines. This can easily be a great incentive to get more users on the trail. Remember that research done by Bicycle Victoria shows that sealed paths generate much more usage than gravel or natural earth paths.
- Line Marking: On all sealed routes, line marking is very important. It establishes where the trail should go. No line marking can easily lead to riders going on the wrong trail. People who go out riding without looking at cycle maps (look at the OpenCycleMap for Melbourne (you can help build it, it uses the OpenStreetMap database) http://www.opencyclemap.org/?zoom=11&lat=-37.85185&lon=145.0334&layers=B000), can easily get lost. Brilliant intersection signage along with road-style line markings give the rider much more confidence that they are going the right way.
Thats all for now! I let alot off my chest with this post and how the Main Yarra Trail really needs to live up to it's name. Feel free to comment on any of the points in what I have written.