Providing services in town and regional planning, traffic engineering, sustainable transportation planning, urban design and waste management.

Micro Plaza Design Principles

Urban Design

Micro Plaza Design Principles

Melbourne, Australia
ratio microplaza image c sml
  • Client

    Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

  • Competition

    Micromobility Sandbox Challenge

  • Location


  • Contact

    Ben Thomson


Micro Plaza - Establishing an Idea in Today’s Post-pandemic Recovery

In our last article, we presented our design solution, the Micro Plaza – A Place for Gathering and Activation, which brought together our collective expertise in Town Planning, Traffic Engineering and Urban Design. In this article we illustrate how to implement the Micro Plaza in our streets.

The Micro Plaza offers a unique and creative approach to our streetscape: for both the retrofitting of existing roads, and for our future streets on the urban edges. Yet, every solution has its journey in the theoretical and practical sense. The ride to the Micro Plaza starts with providing for people.

From conception, our goal was to provide a solution that was a great public space, while providing for increased local travel capacity for active and future e-transit modes. Each street presents a variety of opportunities and challenges; a solution in one location may not be as suitable in another context. Therefore, our aim was to create a set of universal design principles to guide its implementation universally in any appropriate streetscape. These overarching design principles are:

  • Accommodating micromobility
  • Encouraging interaction and activation
  • Reshaping the linear geometry
  • Creating flexible modules

The Micro Plaza is a culmination of applying these design principles. To demonstrate the Micro Plaza solution in a Melbourne locale, our team chose a three-block corridor along Nicholson Street in Fitzroy North. This conceptual location was selected due to the variety presented in both existing land uses and transport outcomes.

Design Principle 1 – Accommodating Micromobility

Micromobility includes the modes we know well; pedestrians and cyclists, as well as emerging e-transit technologies. As people start and end their journeys as a pedestrian, regardless of the main mode of travel between A and B, our provision of space for users needs to be enabling. Using the speed of different users works to categorize the placement of various modes of transport and is an important element used to establish the hierarchy of separation.

By providing space for cyclists and e-transit modes, an order for how users travel along a corridor is created. Pedestrians are provided with space to commute, vehicles and public transit can maintain the centre of the corridor and intermediate speeds of e-transit/bicycles now have a safer way to pass through. Wide corridors such as Nicholson Street offer the opportunity for all modes to operate harmoniously while offering provision for the individual needs of each user group.

Design Principle 2 – Encouraging Interaction and Activation

Activation of space is a crucial goal in a successful public realm design. Creating a sense of place and encouraging pedestrian interaction along the street edge is essential to the success of a Micro Plaza. The strategic placement of activation points along a street, in this case, Nicholson Street, encourages the spread of activation beyond the point of intervention. Identifying these key opportunity points and broadening interaction at the street edge works to reclaim space for people and connect private properties with the public realm.

The Micro Plaza works both in isolation and as part of a larger network. The provision of space along a travel path offers the opportunity to engage with the space one is travelling through. The opportunities for activity with the commercial premises along Nicholson Street gives variability to the needs of the private and public space. Inclusion of seating space, parking for bicycles/e-transit or opportunities to expand outdoor dining, meshes the trip and the destination.

Design Principle 3 – Reshaping the Linear Geometry

The traditional geometry of a street is a linear form that separates transport mode types horizontally across the road. The Micro Plaza provides a bend in this linear form, creating a new space which can be used as interaction points for people and infrastructure.

This design principle considers the movement of users to transfer between the travel lanes and the Micro Plaza. Bending the lane serves to make the journey interesting for its users, encourages awareness for vehicles travelling alongside, as well as create a destination point for pedestrians and micromobility users alike.

Protected and separated mobility lanes offer the ability to travel along the linear geometry of Nicholson Street. These linear connections would bend through the Micro Plaza for those focusing on the journey. ‘Off-ramps’ result in a clean connection for users of the mobility lanes to reach their journey end at a Micro Plaza.

Design Principle 4 – Creating Flexible Modules

The fourth design principle is a progressive result of the three preceding it and is an expansion of the space evolved from the introduction of the bend in the linear geometry. The creation of ‘modules’ is critical to enabling flexibility within the solution to include innovative, site-specific design elements.

In particular, this principle supports the transferability of the overall solution and can respond to the needs of the urban context. These flexible modules can be used for specific goals of the location; provision of charging stations, landscaped pause points or to support other modes of transit such as a public transport stop. The modules can be manipulated to improve movement or to expand a sense of place.

Nicholson Street has recently been upgraded with central superstops to provide better equitable access to the public transport network. Here public transport stop modules would not be suitable in a Micro Plaza. These types of considerations for the site specifics ensure that a Micro Plaza delivers to its intended user groups. With the introduction of protected mobility lanes and the emerging use of personal e-transit devices, a modular provision for parking and charging stations could be more suitable to support the use of the Micro Plaza and the end of trip uses in the proximity of the plaza.

So, Where To From Here?

The solution presented in Nicholson Street is the ultimate layout for providing a sense of place for users to rest, relax and interact within the road reserve. The Micro Plaza allows user groups both from the footpath and the micromobility lanes to access supporting features that are inviting and convenient. The delivery of a permanent Micro Plaza could require large scale planning and expenditure to provide the solution immediately. Therefore, the Micro Plaza is proposed to be implemented through a four-step process. These are:

  • Initial trial run periods in pre-selected locations through Tactical Urbanism.
  • Data collection and analysis of the trial to determine the suitability of the location and elements.
  • Following a successful trial, modular implementation of the key parts to establish semi-permanent features of the Micro Plaza
  • Build out of the Micro Plaza following increased demand on the space and routes.

We believe this four-step process allows the responsible authorities to scale their approach and ensure public buy-in, as well as being able to fund the projects now. By trialling the solution in place, the location of the Micro Plaza can be refined to ensure maximum public benefit and accessibility.

With Ratio’s in-house, multidisciplinary expertise, we can thoroughly assess the community benefits that a Micro Plaza can bring to different urban environments. Opportunities to retrofit the existing road network or ensure new roads enable all people to travel means we can improve the liveability that Melbourne prides itself on.

If you'd like to find out more, or discuss how we can design an innovative solution for your project, please get in touch with one of our team members below.

Our Micro Plaza design team:

Andrew Guthrie, Senior Planner
Gokhan Karpat, Associate: Urban Design
Erica Orfanos, Planner/Urban Design
Ben Thomson, Traffic Engineer
Ariel Utz-Wirnsberger, Urban Designer
Author: Ben Thomson, Traffic Engineer
microplaza 01 design principles
microplaza 02 principle 4
ratio microplaza image c sml