Dr Paul Mees about the North East Link

Dr Paul Mees talks about why we don't need the North East Link Freeway

Dr Paul Mees, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning at RMIT University

Friends of Banyule recently had the opportunity for a Q&A session with Dr Paul Mees, Senior lecturer at RMIT University. Dr Mees teaches and researches in the areas of transport planning and statutory planning.

Dr Mees is also the author of a new book “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”.

FOB: We hear a lot about the North East Link being an essential “missing link” in Melbourne’s road system. Does this make sense?

Dr Mees: Every freeway proposed in Melbourne for decades has been justified on this basis. The same could be said of every road from the Bolte Government’s 1969 freeway plan — a plan that even the engineers who wrote it now accept was crazy. As we have just seen, VicRoads’ proposed road network for 2040 includes an extension of this link southwards through Camberwell to South Oakleigh: is this another ‘essential missing link’? The real question is who, or what, is this road supposed to be linking? The main argument I hear is that it links the industrial areas around Dandenong with the airport and the Hume Highway. But there areas are already linked, by City Link, which we were promised would ‘solve Melbourne’s traffic problems for a generation.’ It’s time we, as a community, stopped letting the road lobby get away with bogus arguments like this.

FOB: In particular, the Victorian government says that North East Link is essential for freight movement in Melbourne. Is that so?

Dr Mees: No it’s not. That’s why City Link was built. Now it is true that there are some trucks that travel along routes like Rosanne Road to avoid paying the City Link toll. The solution for this is simple: they should be banned from Rosanna Road and forced to pay the toll. This is what would happen in virtually any North American or European city.

FOB: How many trucks and cars would the North East Link take off the streets of Banyule and surrounding municipalities?

Dr Mees: None. It may even increase traffic. The road is so expensive it will need a toll to finance it. The truck drivers who use streets like Rosanna Road to avoid the City Link toll will also refuse to pay a toll to use the North east link. In addition, we tend to forget that cars and trucks have to leave freeways to access their final destinations. This
freeway will have big interchanges at Manningham Road and Lower Plenty Road, which will increase traffic levels compared with the present.

FOB: Generally speaking, what are the relative costs of private motor car and public transport, including social costs?

Dr Mees: The answer is “it depends”. In Melbourne at present, we are spending huge sums on both roads and public transport, and receiving very poor value for this investment. Meanwhile, other areas like health, schools and universities are starved of investment. The cities that are beating us in the “livability” stakes generally spend less on transport overall
than Melbourne, but spend it wisely.

FOB: We hear about cities that have good integrated transport public transport networks. What would a good integrated public transport network do for Banyule and Melbourne?

Dr Mees: At the risk of being mercenary, I could refer you to my new book “Transport for Suburbia” for more detail on this. First rate, European-style public transport makes the car an option, not a necessity. It promotes walking and improves health, while allowing us to reduce the volume of traffic, especially on roads that have houses along
them, and which thus aren’t suited to heave traffic volumes. We also need to revive rail freight, but that’s only a small part of the issue for places like Rosanna Road. The number of trucks on that street is relatively small in comparison with a road like City Link. If they moved to City LInk, you’d hardly notice the impact on that road, but it would
make a huge difference to Rosanna Road.

FOB: It is often argued that we need urban consolidation for public transport to work effectively.  Is this true and are there good examples of more dispersed cities with highly effective public transport systems?

Dr Mees: No it isn’t. Vancouver has about the same density as Melbourne, but they are making huge strides in getting cars and trucks off residential streets. The suburbs of many European cities including Zürich, which many experts think has the world’s best public transport, have similar densities to Australian cities. There are rural towns and villages in
Switzerland where the majority of travel is now on foot, cycle or by public transport: density is no excuse.

FOB: Would a holistic approach to our overall transport planning, including road, rail/light rail, bus, bicycling and pedestrian, which considers all modes of transport as part of an integrated whole, be preferable to our current approach, which is fragmented and disconnected in separate silos not communicating  with each other? For example Vic Roads’ grand plan for roads crisscrossing Melbourne,  as revealed in the 2040 document published recently in The Age; their job is to build roads, regardless of the impact on communities, the shape of the city or the environment.

Dr Mees: We shouldn’t be surprised that Vicroads like planning and building roads. Roads agencies in Europe and North America are no different. But in well-run cities, there are also powerful public transport agencies that can put forward alternative plans for the city’s future. The community can then decide what plan it prefers, and in a fair fight
public and “sustainable” transport always wins. In Melbourne, we don’t have a fair fight: the government is determined to prevent the community having a real choice. So there is no meaningful public transport planning, and the road planning happens in secret to prevent the community having a say. This has to stop, and the coming state election is a good time to demand that it does stop.

Dr Paul Mees new book “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age” has been reprinted is now on sale again. See: http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=92752

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About Friends of Banyule Inc

President & Public Officer of Friends of Banyule Inc, a community not- for-profit organisation to enhance and protect the environmental assets of Banyule City. Currently fighting the proposed NE Link freeway through one of inner Melbourne's most ecologically sensitive areas and historical areas.
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