May 10th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

CHILD CARE INQUIRY: Should parents or paid strangers raise children?

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Sorting out the confusion over Australia's agricultural exports

EDITORIAL: Is the Coalition government losing its way?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Joe Hockey's two-phase plan to cut budget deficit

EDUCATION: How contemporary schooling devalues great literature

ENVIRONMENT: PM's top business adviser rejects climate alarmism

HEALTH: Kirby Institute report silent on incidence of AIDS

TRANSPORT: Finding a better solution to our traffic problems

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Russia ups the ante, but faces backlash in Ukraine

LIFE ISSUES: What really happens outside the abortion clinic?

UNITED KINGDOM: Christian arrested in Britain for quoting Bible, wins damages

PAKISTAN: Council of Islamic Ideology 'anti-women': Sindh assembly


CULTURE: Remembering the quality of mercy

BOOK REVIEW: The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikotter

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Finding a better solution to our traffic problems

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, May 10, 2014

Jackie Fristacky is mayor of the city of Yarra, which is rapidly becoming one of Melbourne’s wealthiest municipalities.

The City of Yarra is the brainchild of former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, whose government oversaw a round of council amalgamations. Grouping Richmond, Collingwood, Fitzroy and North Carlton didn’t seem to have much logic at the time, but it’s worked.

Richmond was the original Struggletown, as documented in Professor Janet McCalman’s study, Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965 (MUP, 1984; 2nd edition, 1998).

I can remember, long ago, meeting a distant relative from Sydney. He was a waterside worker and he owned three terrace houses in Paddington, which were “doing alright”. My relative moved out of Paddington some years ago, no doubt taking some fat profits with him.

The same thing is happening in the municipality of Yarra. An unrenovated terrace with a 16-foot frontage and two bedrooms sells for in excess of $1 million. In a twist, some 10 per cent of Yarra’s population is in commission housing, the biggest such proportion in Melbourne.

What makes Yarra attractive is its proximity to the city and dense transport links. Take Mayor Fristacky, for example. She rides her electric bicycle everywhere, including when visiting constituents. It’s actually quicker for her to get around the city by bicycle than by car. She does have a car, but it’s shared with her adult children and she rarely uses it without good reason.

Mayor Fristacky has probably taken some undeserved flack over residential parking. Some time ago, the city of Yarra’s councillors came to the startling realisation that there were more parking permits on issue that there were parking spaces. Usually it’s not a problem, because not all permit-holders use their permit every day (or night). But on those occasions when two people are competing for the last spot, it can get ugly. So Yarra encourages residents to use public transport to relieve pressure on its infrastructure.

As property prices go up, middle-income earners are squeezed out. These days, in the former Struggletown, you are more likely to bump into a barrister than a butcher. Many cultural venues in Melbourne’s city centre, such as the Arts Centre and the National Gallery of Victoria, are easily accessible by public transport from Yarra.

But what raises Mayor Fristacky’s ire is that Yarra, like many other municipalities, is slowly being crushed by the weight of cars going through its streets. Most local governments are well managed and have a stable income stream, giving them a good credit rating. However, both the Commonwealth and state governments like to get in on the act too, and come bearing gifts — but always with strings attached.

According to Mayor Fristacky, only a quarter of the Melbourne metropolitan area has adequate public transport. It might take 10 minutes to get from Yarra to the city centre by tram, train or bus. But, in the outer suburbs, buses commonly run only once every 40 minutes, meaning that a trip to the city can take hours.

She cites the fact that Sydney has reached consensus on its public transport options to prove her contention that it is not impossible to thrash out an agreement, even on difficult issues such as transport.

Another example she cites is Perth’s light-rail project, opened in 2007, which connects the city with WA’s second largest city, Mandurah, 72 km south of Perth — a project for which left-leaning former WA state Labor government minister, Alannah MacTiernan, now a federal parliamentarian, is generally given credit.

The light rail has significantly improved the quality of life for people living along the main route. It means, for example, that you can get a job in Perth if you live 43 km away in the suburb of Rockingham, whereas previously an employer would say you could never get to work on time.

Funnelling an ever-growing number of cars through a major city can never be a long-term solution for such a city’s transport problems. Some tollways have worked well — for example, Melbourne’s CityLink, another Kennett government project; but others in Brisbane and Sydney have flopped.

The alacrity with which Yarra residents have embraced public transport shows that not everyone will need — or use — a car. Some residential developments these days have parking spaces only for bicycles, not for cars.

The Victorian state government’s proposed East-West Link, an 18 km road linking Melbourne’s western suburbs to the Eastern Freeway, is not without its critics. However, if it is run as a freeway, the bill for taxpayers could be astronomical and could even increase congestion on key routes rather than reduce it.

At the end of the day, Victorian construction unions are more concerned about getting jobs for their members than fighting ideological battles over public versus private transport. Yet with Melbourne set to add several million more inhabitants by 2050, something needs to be done.

Sydney’s transport debate has reached a sensible outcome. Successive Western Australian governments have given priority to transport planning. Bringing interested parties together, thrashing out an agreement and getting on with it, without butting heads, is not perfect for Melbourne; but then, nothing ever is.

Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer. 

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