Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strong concerns emerge at Route 86 meeting

A public meeting held at Northcote Town Hall last night saw big concerns emerge about the City of Darebin's Tram Route 86 Corridor Project as it applies to Westgarth. There was a strong message that options for the project must get a whole lot clearer much more quickly if there is to be any sort of result for the community from consultations that are set to end on 14 April.

Among a large audience, overwhelmingly of residents living south of Westgarth Street, it was also clear there is staunch opposition to the current treatment of traffic and use of the High Street service road as a left-turning sliplane under the proposals.

Specifically, the meeting extended the two options available until now on the project website, inviting on-the-spot feedback to quite complex diagrams that were not at all clear when projected on screen. They all, however, feature the use of the High Street service road as a sliplane diverting traffic - estimated at 200-300 vehicles in peak hour - past the doors of some eight houses, then west along Westgarth Street/Merri Parade to St Georges Road.

Other issues to emerge included the vagueness of the design of the High Street lanes at the intersection (one north-bound lane and a dedicated right-turning lane); the incompleteness of traffic modelling for the broader area; the potential restriction of emergency access to the service road; the consequences of a mechanical breakdown there for banking traffic; and the impact of additional traffic on Westgarth Street/Merri Parade - including for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists crossing further to the west at McLachlan Street.

Following a previous meeting at the Jika Jika Community Centre, concern was again expressed about the danger of cyclists having to ride over raised tram stops in High Street, where pedestrians, including the elderly and people living with a disability, would be waiting to catch trams. It emerged that, while there have been discussions with Bicycle Victoria (claimed to be 'generally supportive') and Darebin Bicycle Users' Group, no formal written advice has yet been received by Council.

The loss of parking received limited air-time at the meeting, and there was poor representation from local businesses. One business owner I spoke to on my way to the meeting didn't know it was on, and the facilitator referred to the previous meeting for businesses at Jika Jika Community Centre, despite Council's website inviting 'Westgarth residents and businesses' to last night's consultation.

The loss of parking - up to 78 spaces from Ruckers Hill, and up to nine within the strip, is a major concern for traders - especialy in the absence of specific research showing how customers make their way to the Westgarth shops. There is an additional concern that the parking shortfall could also be distributed across local streets, resulting in further parking pressure for residents.

A key point was also made that Council's parking survey appears to indicate that spaces up to 700 metres distant are considered by Council as conveniently available to the strip. Not only does this paint a false impression of parking capacity in the (not-so) immediate area, it seems to assume Council is comfortable with the idea of women (or those with mobility challenges) walking 700 metres at night to reach the shops, cinema and restaurants.

While it was good to see Mayor Diana Asmar and Councillor Trent McCarthy there to hear from their Rucker Ward constituency, there could have been more from them on the specific substance of the proposals. They did, however, map out in general terms the shape of consultation from here until the close of submissions, and the success of these measures will determine the value of these councillors' contributions.

Between now and 14 April, a series of themed roundtable discussions with Council officers will seek to concentrate on the particular concerns that have emerged - for example, the sliplane, traffic management, parking and cycling. These will have unlimited and open memberships (at the useful suggestion of Mayor Asmar), and community members and other stakeholders can nominate now to take part.

There was strong sentiment among the audience that these groups must be representative, and their work completely transparent to the broader community as it proceeds. If that is achieved, the discussions will not only inform the proposal being developed by Council, but will help the broader comunity shape their individual submissions to the process.

At the meeting, I called for the process to be clearly detailed as a priority on the Council's website for the project, including Mayor Asmar's suggestion that an extension to consultation could be requested if the groups felt there was not enough time to fully resolve the issues. Council had some difficulty with publicly advising the membership of the roundtable groups, but this would add to the transparency of the process.

In addition to detailing this process on the web, Council gave an undertaking to publish online all possible information on which the proposal is based - traffic data, as well as details of feedback from stakeholders such as Bicycle Victoria. Council should also expedite online publication of the new options, including the slideshow presented last night - if the community can do it, Council should certainly be able to.

The community will also be keen to see Council live up to last night's promise to carry out comprehensive letter-boxing in the area regarding the consultation. It is putting very substantial resources into what will potentially be be a multi-million dollar infrastructure investment, so a few thousand leaflets shouldn't be too much trouble to keep everyone informed.

Finally, it is important to reiterate that the roundtable discussions are only part of the input the comunity can have on this proposal. You can respond to a survey, or email your own submission by 14 April. Let's see how Council can now expedite a much clearer process, and what they do with your views. Stay tuned for more updates, and please leave your comments on how you felt about last night's meeting.

See all posts on the Tram Route 86 Corridor Project


  1. There were a few really interesting themes that emerged for the first time at the council meeting last night (Wednesday 18th March).

    Firstly, the plans as they are currently published on the internet lack an enormous amount of detail including the options for the side streets (Walker, Rucker, McLaughlin etc). They also completely lack the crucial treatment of the lanes at the High Street/Westgarth Street intersection. So for the first time last night, we have become aware of the dedicated right turning lane at this intersection. More on this below.

    The moving of the proposed "Superstop" from the intersection (current tram stop position) to the Westgarth shopping precinct was a very important point that was raised. When I approached the presenter (Daniel from the consultancy firm Maunsell) after the meeting and asked him specifically about this, he responded by saying that it would make the intersection 'unworkable'. When pressed, he would not elaborate and advised that it was too complex to go into at the time. This is a huge gap in the justification for their thinking, and needs to be revealed. He also stated that he'd spent 18 months looking at this, and couldn't come up with a better solution than the slip lane. When pressed further about the traffic congestion, he stated that he was "happy to wear" the consequences of traffic queuing up to Collingwood should the slip lane be blocked.

    In a round-about way, it was revealed that the justification for the slip lane has been because High Street is not wide enough to cater for the super stop, and the turning lanes. I find this very hard to believe. On one side of High Street (the East side) you have an old toilet block and a lot of disused space. You also have commercial buildings facing this section of the road, not houses. If the street needs to be wider (for which there is no proof) then why hasn't this side of the road been considered?

    Another massive omission from the consultant's logic is why a dedicated right turning lane is needed. Currently there's the right turning arrow which filters traffic and buses without much of an issue. They believe it is more important to have a dedicated right turning lane than to have a service lane for access to our homes. Again, no data provided, no elaboration when questioned, just the revelation of the dedicated right-turning lane for the first time without further explanation.

    In any case, the published plans reveal nothing in relation to the treatment of turning cars at the intersection, and the widths required. Both of which have been revealed (only last night) as the main reasons for the slip lane. Community members that did not attend last night's meeting will still have no idea that a right turning lane is proposed, and that there are several (controversial) options for the Westgarth side streets. Potentially, with the old deadline of the 26th March, this gave residents 8 days to consider the 'true' plans. Absolutely disgraceful.

  2. I think Daniel is actually with the City of Darebin, not the consultants. It is disturbing about the lack of detail in the plans, and that additional options were revealed this close to the original close of submissions on 27 March. Moving the tramstop north of Westgarth Street would have implications for further loss of parking, but the reasons it is supposedly not feasible should be made public. I'd like to see some more options that use the strip dividing High Street from the service road, so we could get rid of the idea of entering the service road at Cunningham Street at all. What do you think?


Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.