Swanston Street is a major thoroughfare in the centre of Melbourne. It is historically one of the main streets of central Melbourne, laid out in 1837 as part of the Hoddle Grid, the layout of major streets that makes up the central business district. It is named after Captain Charles Swanston, a Tasmanian banker and prominent member of the Port Phillip Association.
Swanston Street runs roughly north to south, between Elizabeth Street to its west and Russell Street to its east. The street runs through the middle of Melbourne's city centre, just to the east of the centre of the rectangular Hoddle Grid. To the south, it crosses the Princes Bridge over the Yarra River before becoming St Kilda Road. As it runs north and leaves the CBD, it passes the University of Melbourne, and ends at the Melbourne General Cemetery. This section was originally named Madeline Street.
The street passes a number of iconic Melbourne landmarks, including the Capitol Theatre, Manchester Unity Building, St Paul's Cathedral, Federation Square, Flinders Street Station, the Melbourne Town Hall, the State Library of Victoria, the City Square, the Melbourne Central and QV Village shopping centres, Curtin House, the pub Young & Jackson as well as the Hi-Fi Bar, which is a prominent live music venue. Both the University of Melbourne and RMIT University are on Swanston Street.
Swanston Street was one of the main north-south streets originally laid out in the 1837 Hoddle Grid. Originally carrying pedestrians and horse drawn cart, the street resembled many typical European avenues of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century it was carrying one of the major tram lines through the city. By the advent of the automobile in the early 20th century, the street became a major thoroughfare, carrying automobile traffic between areas north of the city and St Kilda Road throughout most of the 20th century.
The southern half of the street historically had problems with heavy traffic and carbon monoxide pollution, homelessness and loitering, and a plethora of discount stores, fast food outlets, sex shops and strip joints, throughout the later half of the 20th century.
In the 1990s it was closed to daytime private through traffic between Flinders and La Trobe Streets, roughly half its length. This section is known as Swanston Street Walk. Swanston Street was redeveloped in 1992 with a number of public sculptures being established through the Percent for Art Program. The most famous of these statues is of a small bronze dog called Larry La Trobe by Melbourne artist, Pamela Irving. By the turn of the 21st century, the street carried nine tram routes, with the frequency of trams being the highest in Melbourne.
In November 2008, newly elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle proposed to return private vehicle traffic to the street. The move attracted opposition from the Public Transport Users Association, Australian Greens and Bicycle Victoria. This proposal was rejected and by January 2010, plans to make the entire length of Swanston Street in the city car free, were announced by the Lord Mayor himself, representing a complete backflip on the issue.
The street runs in a straight line, north-northwest to south-southeast, between Elizabeth Street to its west and Russell Street to its east. The street runs through the middle of Melbourne's city centre, just to the east of the centre of the rectangular Hoddle Grid. To the south, it crosses the Princes Bridge over the Yarra River before becoming St Kilda Road. As it runs north and leaves the CBD, it passes the University of Melbourne, and ends at the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Nine tram routes currently run along the street, with the frequency of trams being the highest in Melbourne. Along it are located two of the busiest railway stations in the city; Flinders Street Station at its southern end, which is the hub of the suburban railway network; and Melbourne Central station, an underground station beneath the Melbourne Central area at La Trobe Street.
Swanston Street is also a major route for commuting cyclists from the University of Melbourne and the northern suburbs, through the city, joining up to the bike lanes on St Kilda Road, and the Capital City Trail on the Southbank of the Yarra River.
The parking of tour buses along the street caused controversy in September 2008 when a young cyclist was killed by a bus as it turned out of a parking spot. There had previously been calls to the council to relocate the large buses from the street where there was little space between buses and trams.