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|
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.