In April of this year MTAG commissioned a study into the impact of truck traffic on residents of the inner west. Approximately 1000 surveys were distributed throughout Yarraville, Kingsville, Seddon, and Footscray. Of these 500 were placed in letterboxes on the major freight routes of Francis St, Somerville Rd, Williamstown Rd and Buckley St. The remaining surveys were distributed through childcare centres, schools and via the MTAG website. (Refer Survey Fig. 1). Around 300 of these surveys were completed and returned; a number of other surveys came from respondents through the MTAG website.
Survey Fig. 1
The ages of respondents and the length of time living in area are shown in Survey Figs. 2 and 3
Survey Fig. 2
Survey Fig. 3
The MTAG Residents’ Truck Impact Study was undertaken to gain some insight into how residents experience the effects of excessive truck traffic. Residents were asked to record the incidence of physical ailments that are often associated with airborne pollution such as asthma, and to record the perceived effects of truck traffic on sleep patterns and the like. In addition, residents were asked to record their feelings and thoughts about the issue of truck traffic in their own words. Some of these accounts are quoted in the following paragraphs as they give perhaps the most vivid picture of the situation faced by residents living in Melbourne’s inner western suburbs:
“The intensity of the truck traffic on Francis Street is simply unbelievable. I honestly just didn’t believe that it would be allowed to be this bad as there are HOUSES on both sides of the street. People actually LIVE here, it’s not like it’s just a freeway, where pedestrians and cyclists aren’t allowed.
And these truck drivers seem to show little or no respect for other drivers as they noisily speed down this street at all times of the day and night, pumping out their noxious diesel fumes. I find it quite astonishing, as a recent arrival here, that the curfew means nothing and that the Government is prepared to sit by and allow the residents of Yarraville to be poisoned by the diesel fumes from the thousands of trucks that use this street daily.
This is no longer a crisis about traffic but one about people’s health.”
Survey Fig. 4
Survey Fig. 4 (above) shows the occurrence among respondents of a number of diseases that have been associated with airborne pollution. The incidence of asthma is of particular interest as it is nearly triple the Australian average which, according to the Asthma Foundation Victoria (2007) is 14 to 16% for children and 10 to 12% for adults. These figures are extremely alarming even given the relatively small size of the sample. Also disturbing are the qualitative observations of residents:
“My elderly parents suffer badly at least six to ten times a year with coughs, flu and recurring respiratory infections. This has lead to depression.”
“I notice that my allergies decrease when I am away from this area (i.e. coughs, eye/nose/throat infections, respiratory infections).”
Survey Fig. 5 and 6 (below) give an insight into residents’ perception of the impact of truck traffic and associated pollution on their health and the health of their children:
Survey Fig. 5 (green: yes, red: no, yellow: don’t know)
This figure (69%) paints a disturbing picture of a population where most people are living in fear for their health because of excessive levels of truck traffic.
“Living on Somerville Rd, we are constantly faced with all the dangers associated with having trucks drive past every second. We are certain that our health and living conditions would improve vastly with a significant reduction in truck volume.”
This fear is, unfortunately, not irrational and is based on a growing body of evidence. Of most concern to residents is the suggestion, contained in many recent articles, news reports, and documentaries, that it is children and the elderly who suffer most from exposure to excessive levels such as those found on residential streets in Yarraville. This research has been getting widespread publicity through the media on shows such as ABC’s Catalyst program and in publications including Medical Observer and the corresponding growth in awareness about the dangers of diesel pollution is creating genuine alarm among the residents of the inner west. Our study suggests that, in areas affected by high levels of truck traffic that nearly half of all households fear for their children’s health in their own homes:
Survey Fig. 6
“My son and I both have an increased occurrence of bronchial/chest infections; since living here my son has developed asthma. He is the first person in both my husband’s and my family to be diagnosed with it.”
“My youngest daughter has had a series of chest infections from about two months old. My eldest daughter has been rushed to hospital by ambulance in the last year with respiratory problems. My husband has a constant cough and chest infections.”
“There is not a day that passes that I don’t worry about my son’s health. If I had more money I would not choose to live in this area. I constantly wonder if I should sacrifice economic security for the health of my son.”
“It’s always at the back of my mind that diesel fumes are falling where the children play. Almost all the local schools are on major trucks routes.”
While naturally people appear to be most alarmed by the long-term health effects of high levels of pollution, issues around sleep and general residential amenity also rated highly as among those that concerned people in relation to truck traffic. As Survey Fig. 7 (below) shows, 55% of those surveyed felt their sleep was ‘usually’ being affected by truck noise. The comments that follow suggest that this becomes a real problem when lack of sleep due to disturbance becomes chronic. And it was not just residents living right on truck routes that were affected; many complained that truck noise carried a long way, especially when inconsiderate drivers use engine brakes to slow down for lights.
Survey Fig. 7
“When you are affected by fatigue your mind doesn’t function properly which affects you at work and home.”
“Sleep deprivation means I cannot function adequately in all areas of my life in terms of physical, emotional psychological wellbeing, in my work, relationships etc.”
“To get a good night’s sleep, I need my window open for fresh air but then it is too noisy and polluted so I have to close it. I get used to the noise, but I go away for a few nights I then find I can’t sleep because of the truck noise and their brakes wake me up. I have to wear earplugs to sleep because of the truck noise and the brakes.”
The other issue that is highlighted in the results of the survey is that people are scared of the trucks when using the streets. Indeed as Survey Fig. 8 (below) shows, a massive 78% of those surveyed ‘usually’ felt concern about trucks when using the roads in the inner west. This is borne out by anecdotal accounts told to MTAG members who find it is one of the things residents mention most often on street stalls and the like. It is also borne out by the small sample of many comments on road safety that we received in the surveys returned.
Survey Fig. 8
“Noise and non-compliance of road rules are a major concern. I often hear trucks slamming on brakes to stop at Hyde St lights because they are speeding.”
“I live off Francis St and when I put my indicator on to turn [the trucks] start to tailgate. If I need to make a complete stop to give way to another motorist they stop inches behind me – it’s like a deathtrap.”
“I’ve had numerous scary encounters with aggressive and angry truck drivers.”
“I can no longer enjoy time outside in my yard, even on the weekend it is oppressively noisy and big volumes of fumes. It’s distressing to drive, as the truck drivers are so arrogant. I have been driven off the road by a truck.”
Survey Fig. 9 (below) gives a summary of issues affecting residents’ homes and streets and the percentage of respondents that are affected by them:
Survey Fig. 9
“It has become so bad that we are looking at moving. The children are always sick and the truck traffic is dangerous. We love living in Yarraville but we have to put our children first.”
“My washing can’t be forgotten on the line, it gets filthy very quickly.”
“The house is always gritty due to the pollution. I can smell the petrol and diesel fumes inside my house.”
“I can’t leave the door or window open for fresh air, this is a serious problem in summer.”
“I used to live on Hoddle St, Collingwood – the reason I bought a house here was it was quieter but it is NOT and there is more residual soot than Hoddle St!”
“Some days I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I can’t open windows, spend time in my own garden, nor take the dogs for a walk.”