SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bikes vs Parks: Yarra Council Meeting

The flier in my letter box was compelling. 'Stop the Chop' inscribed over the image of a beautiful stand of trees in Rushall Reserve adorned the invitation to attend the Yarra Council meeting last night to protest the Council's plan to extend the shared-access path into the reserve. Despite the cold, I decided to go. After all the threat to the glorious trees in Royal Park was one of the motivators for my involvement in the protests against the dud East-West Link. And unlike Royal Park, Rushall Reserve is literally almost on my doorstep.
In advance of the meeting I decided to revisit the reserve yesterday afternoon. And it proved as beautiful and serene as I had remembered. The whole time I was there I saw only three other people and their dogs, and I could easily understand why many locals are prepared to fight to protect the status quo.

Enjoying an 'off-leash' walk in Rushall Reserve

Arriving at the Fitzroy Town Hall, whose council meeting had been moved to the main hall in anticipation of a large number of protestors, I was offered a 'I'm a Friend of Rushall Reserve' sticker to wear. As I had yet to hear from the other side of the debate, I took the sticker but didn't wear it. Glancing around the hall, I noticed that the opponents of the extension, many of whom were also displaying placards, seemed to outnumber the unadorned around 2:1.

With other business concluded, community members who wanted to address the councillors took to the floor, with supporters of the extension following opponents roughly in order.
Instantly I was shocked by the anti-bike fervour of the opponents. They suggested that if cyclists were allowed into the reserve, serenity would be destroyed, their dogs would have to be on leashes ('dogs and cyclists do not mix' 'I'm a dog owner and I pay a license. Cyclists don't pay a license.') Children would be at risk of injury. Allowing bicycles into Rushall Reserve would be no shared amenity 'but a bicycle track'. I heard complaints about how bicyclists ride on the footpaths, are rude, don't abide by road rules, and are essentially thoroughly nasty folk.
Of course bicyclists are a mixed bag, as are drivers, and walkers. But the more important and vexed question it seems to me is the environmental one. I can absolutely understand the desire of those who want to keep the reserve in its present pristine state. And yet...
Every morning for years I have walked along the shared pedestrian/bike path in Park Street. Particularly in recent years I have been delighted to wait at the St Georges road crossing where I am joined by a larger and larger flotilla of bikes waiting  to cross with me. I have taken this as evidence that the power of cars is waning and more and more people are living the environmental message. And in all that time I have never had an experience of a rude, dangerous rider.
Similarly I am lucky enough to live near the glorious Edinburgh Gardens, which houses a bike path, basketball courts, a table tennis table and a skateboard rink under its majestic elms. I have wheeled push chairs there, kicked balls, sat under the trees, played with hoola hoops, all unimpeded by the presence of cyclists sharing the same space. It's a delight to see so many people out and about, making the most of these beautiful urban gardens.
During the meeting it became clear that Yarra council is still undecided about what form the final plan might take. Perhaps only a small number of trees would have to be removed. And as the area was reclaimed in 1978 from a tip, it seems unlikely that there are ancient trees involved. It could respond well to replanting.
Surprising myself, I left the meeting reconciled to the notion that Rushall Reserve might need to change, as had been tabled way back in 2007. I concluded that there is truth to the statement of Chris Carpenter (Bicycle Network) that:
'A real friend of Rushall Reserve would want to share it with the community.'

I will be interested to hear how the vote went. Watch this space.


Blogger Cheli said...

Thanks for this post - I hadn't been aware of the proposed changes to Rushall reserve. I can understand that introducing cyclists changes the use of a space but I too, am surprised at the vitriol of some of the public direct towards two wheels.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Luke C Jackson said...

Fascinating to read about the turn-around in your views. :)

8:11 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Thanks Cheli and Luke for your comments. It is hard when both public parks and bike riding are close to your heart and you have them pitched up against each other in this way!

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Sue, this is a great story and mirrors some others i hear from women councillors about decision making with an open mind. It also reminds me that the old NIMBY way of thinking is as strong as ever. We can believe in theory but putting that into practice requires some letting go of our comfortable habits! Love your work, Linda xx

7:45 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Thanks for the comment, Linda, and as always for your support!

9:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I use paths and parks such as this for running, cycling, playing with kids, and enjoying the "serenity". I was puzzled about the angst but this article has helped me.
Perhaps this is the future of journalism - an apparently well-balanced, researched article that acknowledges potential "bias".

9:11 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Thanks for you comment, Daniel. Yes there is a lot of angst about this issue locally and it feels most odd to not be on the 'side' I expected to be!

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sue, thanks for your nicely written article. Last night Council made a decision to proceed with the proposed path. I too am a local and while dogless, I walk and ride to and through Rushall Reserve often. I have not had a problem with any person or dog, while there Sadly, the argument continues, even after the decision.

Cheers, Richard

5:03 AM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Hi Ricard,

Thank you for the update. I can imagine the Council's decision to proceed with the path will stimulate a lot of controversy. It is such a vexed question!

6:34 AM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

It was interesting to see in yesterday's local Council elections how the 'sides' are ranged against each other. In my ward Nicholls - which incorporates the reserve - the Socialists, the Greens and the hard-working, ex-mayor independent Jackie Fristacky all support the extension, while Labor candidates have come out most emphatically in opposition. I noticed yesterday that the closer to the reserve you get the more Labor placards are adorning peoples' fences. Perhaps this vexed issue will have a big, and in my view detrimental, impact on the composition of Yarra Council.

3:30 PM  

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