SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Trains Not Toll Roads

One of the main take-home messages for me from the Economics of Happiness conference a fortnight ago in Byron Bay was about localization. I came away sold on the idea that the best way to take action is to try to make your own neighbourhood as sustainable as possible.
So when I learned that this weekend a community action forum was scheduled promoting the construction of the rail link to nearby Doncaster and opposing the Victorian Liberal Government's alternative - the East West road tunnel - I knew I had to be there.
In anticipation, last Thursday morning I stood on the footpath above the Eastern freeway, with my eyes smarting from the fumes and my ears ringing with traffic noise, to record what it's like driving into inner-city Melbourne in peak hour.


What a way to start the day!


7.30am and stuck on the Eastern freeway exit

I know it's often a squash, but how much better to be travelling to work on the train than sitting and seething, bumper to bumper in your car.
That's certainly the opinion of the bunch of stalwarts who met outside the Collingwood Library yesterday. Veteran public transport activists, new chums like me, reporters and Yarra council representatives mingled with each other before deciding to curtail the meeting. Because of an administrative stuff up, the library, which was the forum's scheduled venue, was closed for the public holiday, and the clash with Easter meant that only a skeleton group turned up for the forum.


Passionate about public transport

Although the meeting was brief, I still came away with lots to ponder:
I was blown away by the dedication of the activists. As one of them put it, ten years of campaigning had 'nearly killed' her. Yet there she was yesterday, ready to start all over again.
An example of the human cost of the proposed freeway extensions was expressed by one participant, Mary Ellen Fenelon, simply but poignantly: 'If they decide to go ahead with the tunnel plans, I will lose my home.'
There was an astounding level of knowledge within the group. People have obviously done heaps of homework and the arguments for the train on environmental, social, health and even financial grounds were very compelling. Even though I find it hard to get my head around the statistics of transport, it has left me determined to do some homework of my own.
There are glimmers of hope:
The transport Minister in Western Australia stood up to the road lobby with the result that Government money was diverted from road building to public transport. I'm told that travelling by public transport in Perth is a breeze.
I'm lucky to live in a part of Melbourne with a progressive local government. Yarra Council appointed Australia's first Greens mayor and has been very receptive to the community's desire to experiment with different sorts of edible gardens in public spaces. So I wasn't really surprised, but still delighted to hear, that Yarra is one of the six Melbourne metropolitan councils putting their weight firmly behind the establishment of Doncaster rail.
Even though the numbers at the forum were small, they were an energetic bunch, and group members have obviously developed considerable know how over the years about garnering public support. There will need to be a groundswell of public enthusiasm for rail over toll roads to challenge the determination, misinformation and dollars of big business. So future forums will focus on how to convert ideas into actions.
Signage is just one way of making an impact. And a few signs are popping up.


Spotted on my morning walk on a neighbour's front fence

I look forward to the reconvened forum and my opportunity to do my bit.
It's amazing to think that 'when' (not 'if') we have Doncaster rail, there will be 800 vehicles less per train clogging up the roads. That is 100,000 people a day who will be able to relax and enjoy their iPod or their book while somebody else does the driving. When that time comes, my photos of the Eastern freeway at peak hour might still not look like a country lane, but they might appear a bit different.

Watch out for the next post, which will be even closer to home. You can blow out the candles, while I tell you all about my adventures researching our house for the Fitzroy Residents Association 'Happy Birthday House' extravaganza.


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