While watching and listening to the Premier’s press conference on Wednesday 9 September, I was struck by the outline by the Premier in answer to a journalist question on the changes to the urban streetscape to allow hospitality and other economic activity to restart in a Covid-safe manner.
“I fully expect … that when some of this happens – I think it will happen quickly and it will be very very popular, and I think it might change large parts of the city and suburbs. Not just for the pandemic, but for the longer term.” said Premier Dan Andrews.
While reallocation of public space is highlighted, there was no mention of change in mobility and need to reallocate road space for this change.
Public transport use has plummeted. Many more people are cycling locally for exercise and for shopping. Some of the reallocation of public space needs to go to making cycling safer through dedicated cycling lanes.
Dedicated cycling lanes can easily be put in using temporary dividers. Melbourne City is putting in 40km of extra cycling infrastructure , and Yarra Council is also prioritising new pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Moreland has outlined an increase in infrastructure making cycling trips safer as a response to the Covid19 pandemic.
Of course other cities around the world are already doing this. Putting in kilometres of extra dedicated bike paths, expanding footpath space for street dining to reduce Covid transmission risk. There is evidence that creating extra space for walking and cycling actually increases business turnover along shopping strips. We need this more than ever as an economic solution to pandemic recovery.
Moreland has one of the highest rates of cycling in Melbourne and Australia. Many trips are local, and many are commuting to the CBD. It needs the dedicated cycling infrastructure such as expanded fottpath and dedicated cycling lanes on Sydney Road to boost economic activity along the iconic Sydney Road shopping strip.
Time for Victorian Roads Minister the Hon Ben Carroll to work with Moreland Council for creating solutions for safer cycling and increased economic activity along Sydney Road as part of the state’s Covid response.
Question: Premier you said that outdoor dining would be a big feature of opening up…
DA: I think so, yeah.
Journalist: What do you say to those businesses where outdoor dining isn’t really practical?
Dan Andrews: What I say is, that those businesses that you refer to can probably be divided into a number of different groups. I think I went to this with Michael Rowland the other day, but I am happy to got back through it again.
There will be some businesses that local council rules will not be able to use the footpath. There are some businesses through other rules that go well beyond local government. There is curbside parking, for instance. So you can’t use that space. There are some businesses directly across the road a series of restaurants and cafes, there may be a park they can’t access.
We are going to make some pretty aggressive decisions about freeing up as much space as possible. You will see roads and laneways closed. Not every one, but where it is appropriate it will be closed.
You will see parks that will become, a centre of not just the centre of passive recreation, but you will see people drinking and dining in those parks. Not every square inch, but where it is appropriate, where we can share that you will see curbside parking gone in some streets and restaurants and cafes and pubs being able to occupy that space.
We’ve spoken with London. We’ve spoken with New York. We continue to speak with a number of big cities around the world directly into the Mayor’s office, into other senior officials, and we think that can be part of our mix.
So I would just say to business, it is not like only those with a very limited number of tables out the front today, sorry under the current rules, non-Covid rules, council rules, that is the only space you will have. We are going to change that up a lot.
We will have more to say on how to help businesses. There is a few different things we can do. So: changing the rules, allowing outdoor dining wher it wouldn’t be permitted. That is one thing we can do, we have the ability to do that, and do that pretty quick. I am not going to be wasting any time with that. We will make that decision for and on behalf of others.
And then there are other things about trying to support businesses. For instance, if you go to New York there is a whole bunch of cafes that are now out in the curbside parking, some are in streets, some have taken the entire footpath and the footpath has been moved into that curbside parking. Bollards have been put up, barriers, dividers, and then between each table there are A-frames with a perspex screen. All of those things are possible. And all of those things will be supported by us.
We understand there is a significant impost to do that. It is not like we are going to give people a set of rules they couldn’t impossibly afford to use. That wouldn’t make any sense.
Journalist: Is there any opportunity for doing things like for gyms, pilates, yoga studios? They are also all asked to come back?
Dan Andrews: Potentially. Under the roadmap there are outside training. Bootcamp activity does come back on at various points. I am always happy to look at it. That is what industry consultation is all…
Journalist: Would you think about waving Local Council laws. There are limits at the moment on parks and bootcamps. Would you wave some of those laws to allow…
Dan Andrews: Always happy to look at it. That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of local government. Those rules may serve a perfectly worthy purpose, but when you are in the midst of a pandemic and you are looking to get as much economic activity as you possibly can, then we will seek to change those rules for a period of time. I fully expect, Rafe, that when some of this happens – I think it will happen quickly and it will be very very popular, and I think it might change large parts of the city and suburbs. Not just for the pandemic, but for the longer term.
Now having said that, I don’t expect every publican to think that is a better outcome than having people inside. I am not expecting that. But it is a much better outcome than being closed. And that in turn is a much better outcome than being open in turn for five minutes and then locked down again.
ABC melbourne – Live Broadcast of the Premier’s pandemic response press conference, 9 September 2020