What can we do?

 Rational debate over the proposed E-W road link in Melbourne shown above is sorely lacking.  I usually don't argue from authority, but there are just too many experts against this project.

 what can we do 01

John Stone, Lecturer in Urban Planning at Melbourne University is convinced that the East West Link will create more problems than it could hope to solve, and that infrastructure, environment and budgetary issues will follow on from what he describes as'a mad scheme that should never have reached its current planning phase.'

 And as The Age said trenchantly 'PremierDenis Napthine claims that drivers frustrated by traffic grid-lock on the Eastern Freeway will welcome his tunnel. This is absurd, 80 per cent of the traffic coming off the free-way doesn't head west, it turns south into similarly clogged Hoddle Street.  As freeway users know, Napthine is spouting nonsense.'

 Alan Davies, who blogs for Crikey on urban affairs and understand the details of the cost-benefit studies that are used to justify projects like this and is convincing that a satisfactory economic case for proceeding has NOT been made.

 The Government has consistently refused to produce a Business Plan to justify support for this tunnel.  And even if they do produce a study we have to appreciate its limitations .  Cost-Benefit and Business Studies are of necessity based on estimates and assumptions and are only as good as these estimates and assumptions, even assuming they're fair dinkum and not slanted to support a particular outcome.  There is at least one road tunnel in Sydney that many years later still hasn't reached the traffic levels used to justify it being built, and where the public is still paying for the shortfall in revenue.   There is too much money involved here that this can be taken lightly. 

 While any road proposal must have advantages for some drivers, we don't the data that might enable us to judge whether this tunnel and road link makes any sort of economic sense and whether it is justified in taking priority over other proposals to relieve traffic congestion in Melbourne.  The following comparison (care of Ann Birrell, the Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports and trainsnottollroads.com) shows what could be achieved if the enormous amount of money needed to build this tunnel were spent on other sorely needed infrastructure proposals.  Is it wise to put all our traffic eggs into such a doubtful basket?

what can we do 02

The AILA (Australian Institute of Landscape Architects) have issued a Position Statement that concludes, '…this project should not proceed in its current form because of the severe ecological, cultural and heritage impacts on Royal Park and Moonee Ponds Creek. 

The pic below shows detail necessary to amplify the simple dotted line shown on the map at the beginning of this article and shows why the AILA is so upset.

what can we do 03

Not withstanding all this, the Liberal government is persisting with the East-West road tunnel, and the Federal Opposition has said that, if elected, they will contribute $1.8 billion towards its cost; Mr Abbott has said (as though it was a virtue) that the Liberal Party had always supported roads not rail!  The Premier proposes to sign construction contracts only weeks before the poll.  All this that doesn't give me confidence that it's being done for the right reasons; too much money is involved.

One of the unions has come out in favour of the E-W tunnel because of the jobs it will create.  This self-interested attitude is misplaced; rail projects would create even more jobs!

 The Labor Leader of the Victorian Opposition has finally come out against the East-West tunnel but hasn't yet said what Labor would do instead. Don't hold your breath; on past performance it will probably be a different road project where they see some greater political advantage!  

 Politicians, and to a lesser extent the general public, need to be educated on the virtues of rail transport rather than more freeways; a misnomer if ever there was one!  The need for greater sustainability will eventually be forced on us by the imperative of climate change, but it would surely be wise not to wait until our great-grand children have no choice in the matter.   More rail transport (and no more freeways) in our cities would not only be the beginning of sustainable and climate change wisdom but would also make the journey to work easier and cheaper for millions of citizens.  In my opinion the case for rail, based on facts and experience world-wide, is a solid one.

 Why is it that as we become more affluent we stop thinking as a community about things like this?  Why is it mainly my older generation that recognizes the importance of acting now, even though we wont be around when it happens?  Current withdrawal into consumer-fed private worlds allows our society to ignore all the unsustainable trends we face. 

Why do we let our politicians get away with the economic nonsense that helps decide which policies should proceed or not?  Ordinary people like you and me know the difference between an economy and a budget, and understand how sometimes we choose to borrow and exceed our immediate budget for long-term reasons as long as our overall circumstances look OK.  Nearly every family in the land has deficit financing in the form of a house mortgage, and if our forefathers and mothers had not gone ahead and borrowed we would have no transport infrastructure at all today!

As a country the overall indicators of our economic health are among the best in the world. So why do both major parties take the short sighted view that having a budget surplus is the sole indicator of responsible economic management, and then letting this limitation determine that we can't afford the things that are necessary to our long term survival.  

Both major parties see cutting spending to balance the budget as more important than long-term investment in education, health and infrastructure, even though all these have to be improved if we are going to prosper.  Raising money by increased taxation is not seen as acceptable because it may affect their re-election, and the Coalition recently even opposed an extra tax on tobacco, a tax to reduce the use of a drug that increases health costs every year!

In terms of transport policy there is little to differentiate the two major parties in Victoria. And most personal actions in the main preach to the converted and are therefore largely ineffective.  Personal blogs like this one, unChain's list of questions addressed to the political candidates, and Julianne Bell and her direct action cohorts from Protectors of Public Lands Victoria demonstrating at every test bore that is drilled, are all admirable democratic attempts to influence change, but are all alas, too easily dismissed as the actions of a rent-a-crowd minority. 

We need to find some way of making all these annoyed people into a real political force with enough power to help shape the political debate. In mid-May I wrote an article on 'Crowdsourcing a Better Melbourne' (see under Publications) warning that:

Community groups need to appreciate that their multiple small efforts are totally outnumbered and outfunded by ongoing influential pressures from right wing think tanks, property developers and their industry organisations. These well-funded pro-development bodies see their roles as being broader than specific issues and they never stop trying to loosen the planning reins behind the scenes between elections.  They believe in a free market approach to every-thing and accompany their actions with substantial financial donations to the political parties.  So it's not paranoia to be concerned about the undue influence developers and real estate interests have on the shape and development of our cities.  We would all probably be much more paranoid if we only knew half the concealed political influence they exert over breakfast with the Minister.'

To counter these forces we have to get out of the 'old' mode of protest and I think crowdsourcing might be the answer.  Crowdsourcing is definitely in the zeitgeist, the Architectural Review (UK/ August 2013) has an article on Kevin McCloud of Grand Designsfame dubbing him Kevin McCrowd for the way in which he is finding both allies and funding for his housing projects, and which concludes:
'The old anxiety that the internet would supplant real face-to-face interaction is beginning to be superseded by the intuition that it might become its saviour.'

The AR goes on to say that,'The idea of crowdsourcing urban renewal is commanding a new lease of life, harnessing dispersed networks of individuals through the internet'  and quotes the following that are worth following up; 

ClickFix.com  and FixMyStreet.com are US and UK websites where users can report problems in their area directly to the local authority……Bristol Connecticut has implemented a radical scheme for crowdsourcing ideas for major urban interventions in a bid to regenerate the deteriorating city centre.  The Bristolrising project allows residents to pitch any urban idea publicly, subjecting it to critique through social media.  If an idea gets above a certain threshold of positive votes the municipal government conducts a feasibility study and takes the idea forward into planning………
Kickstarter, a crowd sourced funding website has shown that, presented with a compelling case, the internet community will generously donate to see creative projects realized.
Brickstarter is a more complex concept that is both a fundraising platform and community advocacy tool to persuade decision makers to back popular projects.
And Crowdsourcing.org is a collaborative archive keeping track of the growing number of initiatives around the world.

The Victorian Liberal Government only has a majority of one in the Lower House of the Parliament. This surely represents an opportunity for all the citizen forces that don't want to see this highly doubtful, AND extremely expensive road project proceed.

Crowdsourcing to maximise all these efforts is clearly an idea whose time has come.  We need IT champions to set up a crowdsourcing system aimed at forcing the government to abandon this road tunnel.

Any suggestions?

Don Gazzard  LFAIA

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