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Melbourne owes both its location and much of the pattern of its development to the needs and limitations of 19th-century transport technology. In 1854 the Melbourne & Hobsons Bay Railway Company constructed Melbourne's first deep-water pier at Sandridge (later Port Melbourne) extending 275 metres into Hobsons Bay and connected to the city by the colony's first railway. By 1860, 22 main roads radiated out of Melbourne, establishing much of today's arterial road pattern. While transport technologies had defined the location of Melbourne's business district and constrained initial suburban growth, the massive investment in public transport infrastructure in the 1880s played a major role in creating the land boom, establishing the pattern of city growth for much of the following century. While the development of a sophisticated cable tram network helped consolidate growth in inner suburbs, the radial spread of Melbourne's railways established a pattern of corridor growth that would persist until the 1960s.

The first Motor Regulation Act came into force in 1910 and by June 1911 there were 2722 motor cars and 2122 motorcycles registered in Victoria. By the 1920s a dramatic transition from 19th- to 20th-century technologies in Melbourne's transport system was apparent. A snapshot looking down Swanston Street in late 1926 graphically portrays the changes. As the new W-Class electric trams rumble downhill towards Princes Bridge, the older generation of cable trams still glide across the intersections at Flinders, Collins and Bourke Streets with their clanging bells sounding a warning to the steady stream of pedestrians. Noisy motor cars, motorcycles and motor trucks roar alongside the trams, belching petrol fumes and weaving their way around slower moving cyclists and the occasional horse-drawn delivery lorry or cab.