Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Community wins on High Street service road

A Darebin Council community meeting last night saw at least one big gain for Westgarth residents in proposals to upgrade the Route 86 tram line. The service road on the south-western side of High Street leading to the intersection with Westgarth Street is no longer proposed for use as a sliplane for High Street traffic turning left into Westgarth Street/Merri Parade.

Council's change of heart on this issue means that residents of the service road will no longer face the prospect of heavy traffic - including trucks - entering the service road at Cunningham Street and passing by their front doors, not only threatening their amenity but compromising access of emergency services to their homes.

Council officers last night explicitly ruled out the service road sliplane option in the further development of the proposal. Instead they will consider alternative designs for left-turning traffic based on a possible re-alignment of tram tracks (as suggested by a local resident), or part-use of the strip currently separating the service road from High Street.

What was initially a very heated meeting evolved through compromise into what could be the start of more effective consultation by the City of Darebin, with benefits to this and other Council projects. Initial staunch opposition to a badly communicated format of small group discussions subsided when community members suggested a session at the end in which outcomes from each group could be shared among them all. This helped address the concern that the groups would split the consultation and hinder the communication of outcomes, an area in which Council has so far performed very poorly.

Instead, the group discussions produced valuable feedback that Council officers shared at the end and have committed to publishing on the web by the end of this week. Issues covered included the contentious, but now thankfully rejected, service road sliplane option; resident access to streets south-west of the High Street-Westgarth Street intersection; the positioning of new tramstops; business and resident parking concerns; the integration of cycling; and the consultation process itself.

The initial deadline for consultation of 14 April (by which date submissions are still invited) will now be followed by a report detailing the outcomes of consultation, before a further 'listening phase' refines the proposal with the input of a yet-to-be-nominated community reference group. The ultimate timeframe for consideration of any final report and recommendations is yet to be announced, and the community is also awaiting further advice on which councillors will be able to vote - four having previously declared a conflict of interest related to the Route 86 project.

The overall aim in the new process is for Council to shape the proposal in a more suitable timeframe to reflect community needs, rather than submitting to overly hasty consultation to meet the State budget deadline. The difference could be a good project well rather than badly implemented, provided feedback on more effective consultation is heeded.

The focus now shifts to the related questions of tramstop locations and parking - in particular whether stops should be located immediately south or north of the intersection of High and Westgarth Streets. This will partly be influenced by redesign of the intersection to avoid use of the service road as a sliplane, and partly by the impact of the northern option on parking in the strip. The community will be looking for clear options regarding this point as the proposal is refined.

At the other end of the strip, a useful contribution by the Palace Cinemas representative put forward the idea of north- and south-bound stops located immediately north of Union Street instead of just south of it in the strip. This may well have benefits for parking in the strip itself, and would move the stops closer to the proposed 47-unit older persons public housing development at Roberts Street, which will lose its current south-bound stop under the plan.

In my own view, this option could be enhanced by considering the repositioning of the light-controlled pedestrian crossing to facilitate the flow of bicycle traffic from the eastern to the western leg of Union Street immediately south of these stops. Better crossing arrangements for Westgarth Street at McLachlan Street would consolidate this move by offering a safer connection to the bicycle path network accessed via the Merri Creek footbridge near Rushall Station. A related cycling issue was continued concern regarding interaction between waiting passengers and cyclists riding over tramstops.

An unequivocal outcome of the meeting was that the loss of parking from Ruckers Hill would have a heavy impact on Westgarth businesses. It was also suggested that a broad traffic and parking study should be undertaken across a range of times to determine true parking capacity and how people come to the strip, and that acquisition of sites at either end of the strip should be considered for the development of underground parking.

While the meeting was a big step forward, albeit only after some community intervention on the night, it should now be clear to Council that the community will no longer tolerate bad consultation, and is fully capable of mobilising opposition to bad proposals.

To build on last night's positive turn of events, Council should acknowledge that the community's anger has been well-founded. It must also do more than one councillor's empty suggestion of clapping each other and council officers after the meeting. That said, there was certainly a mood of constructive progress that I hope will continue. This is a big chance for our new Council to re-establish the trust of its community.

Chances are in detailing such a busy meeting I have missed a few things, so feel free to comment about what you thought was important.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your effort with this Darren, it is a great summary and an excellent format for discussion and information.

    One issue which received less attention during the meeting was that of potentially limited residential access to High Street from the residential area West of High Street. Assurances were provided that this would not happen and that there would be access to High Street from this area in one way or another, I want to make sure that this remains the case.

    On the council website four options (1A, 1B, 2 and 3) have been proposed relating to 'Westgarth Residential Access'. Given the commitment to improving the consultation process I thought it would help if residents could provide feedback on which (if any) of these options are preferred.

    Personally my preference is Option 3, I have a strong preference for this option.

    Given the outcomes from last nights meeting (remove the slip lane) these options will change slightly, but the design principles in Option 3 appears to be the best.

    Cheers, Craig


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.