The proposal for a freeway from Clifton Hill to Parkville (and then to the Western Ring Road) may not seem immediately relevant to transport in Clayton. However, the size of the project means it has significance for all of Melbourne, even all of Australia. This is because approximately $8 billion would be tied to the project. The sheer amount of Victorian Government funding needed will preclude the implementation of other policies and infrastructure projects across the state.
The commentary and developments regarding the East West Link proposal affirm, amongst many other things, a key lesson about transport policy in Victoria. The lesson is that there is an inner suburb-outer suburb divide in Melbourne, which extends to community response to transport policy; and complementing this, there is a public transport-private (ie. motor) transport divide. There is certainly a complex and fascinating relationship between these two binaries which is played out in the media and is also evidenced by actors: politicians, transport bureaucrats, the road lobby, inner-city activists and so on.
It is difficult to intelligently explain why there is such a divide in community response (or lack thereof) to transport projects. The answer which is often parroted would be that it is simply “hipsters” or “inner city lefties” who protest road projects; meanwhile, the “battlers” in the outer suburbs don’t have time for such bullshit. They have long hours and bills to pay, and cars are the only practical way of getting around. Sadly, the next move of the Hun-style argument is to convince people in outer suburbs that, since it is only the privileged city dweller who protests roads, the best they can and should expect is a new road. However, the overwhelming investment in private motor transport, and concomitant urban sprawl over the past 50 years can also do some work to explain the differing responses to road projects in inner and outer Melbourne.
Every time a new freeway is built in this city, it sharpens the divide between the way transport works in Zone 1 and Zone 2. The impact of a new freeway, regardless of where it is built (leaving aside local impacts), is not so dramatic for those living in Zone 1. There remains a choice between the full range of public and private transport options, and a new road will simply augment or adjust this in a small way. Where inner Melbourne expanded with the provision of good public transport, and then cars augmented this later, in Zone 2 it has only ever been cars. In Zone 2, then, a new freeway further entrenches how necessary a car is to get around. Much of post-1950’s suburban Melbourne, in contrast to much of Zone 1, has been built with the provision of minimal “charity” public transport services. The layout of more recent suburbs actively discourages walking or cycling as modes of transport even for short journeys.
People are forced into these circumstances to invest in private transport. In outer suburbs there is endemic car-dependency: 4-car households, higher percentages of income spent on transport, social isolation for non-drivers and no alternatives to avoid traffic congestion. This leaves outer suburban communities in a bind, as the best short term policy they could expect from the government is an ease on traffic congestion.
A better long term transport policy for all of Melbourne does not receive support in outer suburbs because people in outer suburbs are economically bound to the current policy direction in a way those in the inner city are not; there is no “choice” if you live in the outer suburbs. The smooth functioning of people’s day-to-day lives is reliant on private transport. To that extent, the Herald Sun prognosis is correct. One only has to look at local community responses to recent major road projects in outer suburban Melbourne including East Link (running parallel to Stud Road) and Peninsula Link (running from Frankston to Mornington Peninsula) in comparison to the ongoing local community response to East West Link to see this inner suburb-outer suburb dynamic at play. While East Link saw a few small scale protests on environmental grounds, recently protesters in North Carlton attempted to stop preparatory drilling work for the East West link. There have also been reasonably large petitions, public meetings, rallies and strong stances from local government against the project. The reasons for this response have included that is likely to aggravate traffic congestion, preclude funding of other (public) transport projects, impact on local residents and on parkland, and that the business case has not been officially released.
This dynamic can partly explain the impressive shadiness of the unreleased East West Link business case. Infrastructure business cases always have a political dimension; in this case, the Liberal government is clearly staking its political fortunes on the appeal of this road in suburban Melbourne. As such, the business case reportedly includes long-term or peripheral factors which are not usually used to judge the economic benefit of a road project. The lack of a robust and politically neutral business case for this project must raise serious doubts independent of one’s view on other arguments made in this article.
The construction of the East West Link is crucial for suburbs like Clayton: East West Link is about the entrenchment of car-dependency in Zone 2, much more than it is about the loss of inner city parkland or noise pollution. If the East West Link goes ahead, the consequences will certainly not include money for a train to Clayton campus for at least another generation, and (probably) not even for some modest bus network improvements.
Keep an eye out on https://www.facebook.com/ptua.vic for updates. Image: Chris Star, Yarra Campaign for Action on Transport (YCAT)