This article refers to Item 8.4 on the agenda of the council meeting for the 24th June 2021.
Streets Alive Yarra welcomes the proposed reform to the existing Bicycle Advisory Committee. It’s great to see council focussing on community engagement, and formally recognising the variety of travel modes in Yarra, including walking, kick scooters, skateboards, e-bikes, electric scooters, and walking to public transport stops.
Out of the two options proposed for consideration, either an “active transport” or a “sustainable transport” advisory committee, we urge council to adopt the “sustainable transport” option, because it expands upon the scope of the “active transport” option to include issues related to walking between properties and public transport stops, and the design of council infrastructure at public transport stops. These are important issues related to transport and equity of access, as well as public health and our response to the climate crisis.
Yarra has limited public space, and how we allocate that space is contentious. Streets Alive Yarra suggests that it is more important for council to develop and support processes to resolve this higher order issue, compared with processes to receive feedback on lower order issues such as the design of a particular treatment.
Council has recognised, in the adopted Community Engagement Policy, that the best practice method to solve contentious issues is to use citizens’ juries, which enable participants to have the time and information to work through any “System 1” mental reactions and settle on solutions guided by “System 2” thinking, as described by “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Thus, the issue of how much of our limited pubic space should be allocated to on-street parking (at the expense of footpaths, bicycle paths, trees, seating, and pocket parks) would be suited to a citizens’ jury.
If this wasn’t possible, another option would be to further expand the scope of the proposed “sustainable transport” advisory committee to form a “streets” advisory committee, including uses such as driving, parking, trees, seating, and pocket parks. Such a committee would provide council with a structured process to receive feedback.
While an advisory committee does offer value, both of the two proposed options for a transport advisory committee have problems, specifically:
- The slow response time (only four meetings per year)
- The limited membership (eight members of the community)
Combined, these problems mean that the proposed committee could be accused of offering low value (too slow to provide effective feedback on council projects) and being unrepresentative (only eight members).
Through COVID we have learnt that new solutions and practices are possible, such as working from home or joining video meetings. Many more members of the community have increased their digital awareness and skills. Leveraging this, council could dramatically speed up the response time of receiving feedback, and significantly increase the number of people providing feedback, by developing a “City of Yarra” app with verified accounts for residents and ratepayers. A key function would be to offer “red dot” push notifications of new surveys that can be completed on a smartphone within 5 minutes. Streets Alive Yarra suggests that such an app, including back-end software to automate data analysis, would simultaneously increase engagement (e.g. from 1% to 10% of Yarra’s population) while also decreasing costs.
The City of Yarra has adopted a Social Justice Charter, placing it at the top of the hierarchy of council documents. It is a matter of social justice for people of all ages and abilities to be able to safely access any property in Yarra, irrespective of whether they choose to walk, roll on a wheelchair, cycle, use public transport, or drive. This requires increased space and budget. Therefore, it should be a council priority to develop and support a forum, such as a citizens’ jury, where the necessary discussions can take place. In parallel, it should be a council priority to develop and support a process, such as a “City of Yarra” app, that enables council to receive feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, on a wide range of issues, at high speed and for low cost.
Posted 22nd June 2021