MTAG was formed in late 2005 out of concern about the negative effects of the growing number of trucks using residential streets in the inner west Melbourne municipality of Maribynong, which includes the suburbs of Footscray and Yarraville. Its aim is to pressure Government to put some real solutions on the table by raising community awareness of the issues faced by Maribyrnong residents in the and by providing a focus for the considerable community anger that already exists in relation to truck traffic. MTAG is not politically aligned; its members represent a spectrum of political views but share a conviction that it is time something is done to address excessive levels truck traffic and to get it off our streets (see MTAG charter).Since its formation MTAG has had a significant impact on raising the profile of the issue of excessive truck traffic and the threat it poses to the health and safety of residents of inner West. MTAG’s activities and achievements include:
November 2005: Survey of Local Councils In the lead up to the 2006 Maribyrnong City Council elections MTAG surveyed each of the candidates asking them to rate the importance of the issue of truck traffic as an issue. Almost all candidates nominated it as the most important issue facing this area. This result was widely reported in local newspapers.
January 2006: MTAG Goes Online www.mtag.org.au One of MTAG’s important first steps was to design a website; it now receives up to one thousand hits a day and has become a destination for anyone studying the issue of truck traffic anywhere in the world. It has also been included in several university studies of the work of community action groups as a demonstration of how modern communications can be harnessed to aid small NGOs such as MTAG. Through this website MTAG has gathered a large mailing list to which regular email newsletters are sent (subscribe now). It includes a public forum that now is now a major store of information regarding this issue and which has hosted many a lively debate. The site also now features a live webcam revealing the traffic situation on Francis St Yarraville moment by moment to anyone that cares to log in.February 2006 (and ongoing): Community Information Stands MTAG has held regular stalls at local festivals such as Yarraville Festival, Carols by Candlelight and other community events to answer questions, disseminate information, accept donations, and gather new members for the group. Membership is now in excess of 400.
March to November 2006: Letter Writing Campaign MTAG members and other interested parties embarked on a letter writing campaign targeting local newspapers, The Age newspaper, and relevant politicians. Around 30 letters were published.
April 2006: Francis St Action MTAG’s first protest action was to blockade the intersection of Francis St and Williamstown Rd Yarraville from 8 to 8.30am. This is one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne and carries around 8,000 trucks a day. The blockade was carried out with the approval of, and assistance from Victoria Police, and was attended by around 300 residents who occupied the intersection for a short time and listened to speeches from Mayor Janet Rice, and MTAG president, Peter Knight. The protest action was filmed by helicopters from two major news networks and was featured on each Melbourne television news bulletin that evening. Other media coverage of the event also included stories in The Age and Herald Sun newspapers and interviews on at least five radio stations.
May 2006 (and ongoing): Media Profile The Francis St action seemed to kick of a huge surge in media interest in the issue which has led to articles and features including: a 10 minute detailed report on truck traffic in Yarraville on A Current Affair, a report on Today Tonight on the effect of diesel pollution on Yarraville residents featuring MTAG health spokesperson, paediatrician, Dr Zoe McCallum, a report on same (again featuring Dr McCallum) in Medical Observer magazine, two major articles in The Age concentrating on different aspects of the issue, and a story on ABC news.
August 2006: Live Francis St Webcam Launched In August 2006 MTAG IT specialist set up a live webcam located in Yarraville Community Centre near the corner of Francis and Hyde streets in Yarraville. Images are streamed onto the MTAG website to enable anyone in the world at anytime to see for themselves just how many trucks use this street. The webcam has hundreds of thousands of hits since it was launched with a flurry of local media interest.
October 21st 2006: Community Health Forum Held at Maribyrnong Town Hall The MTAG Community Health Forum was an event that MTAG is particularly proud of. It brought together perhaps the most comprehensive panel of experts yet assembled to discuss the issues around excessive truck traffic in Melbourne’s inner West. The panel members were: Dr Tom Beer (CSIRO diesel pollution expert) Horst “Oz” Kayak (RMIT transport expert) and Cr Janet Rice (Chair of the Metropolitan Transport Forum). In addition, Martin Wurt (Oxfam) contributed a brilliant DVD presentation and valuable input also came from Royal Children’s Hospital paediatrician, Dr Zoe McCallum. The forum led to the creation of a body of work in PowerPoint form now available for anyone to access from the MTAG website, it was also widely reported in the media particularly on the ABC which carried a feature story. The forum was funded and made possible by the Maribyrnong City Council.
November 2006: State Election Campaigning – Register a Protest Vote Against Labor In the run-up to the state government elections MTAG was led to believe by State Government sources that the Transport and Liveability Statement would contain measures to take trucks off the streets of the inner West. However, instead of spending money to alleviate the dangerous situation on Francis St Yarraville, the Transport and Liveability Statement allocated 19.1 million dollars to a truck bypass for Plummer St Port Melbourne; a street that carries about a quarter as many trucks. The politics were not lost on MTAG: Melbourne Ports, the seat in which Plummer St lies is held by a much lower margin than Footscray and so it seemed obvious that the money had been spent to shore up local member John Thwaites’ electoral position. Angered by this decision MTAG members decided it was time for radical action and embarked on a campaign for a protest vote against Labor. MTAG printed 20,000 flyers and letterboxed most of the electorate.The election result seemed to suggest that the MTAG campaign was effective with a 6% drop in the primary vote for Labor and an average drop of 9% in the booths most affected by trucks. The election also delivered an upper house seat to The Greens’ Colleen Hartland who has a long history of supporting the campaign against excessive truck traffic in Yarraville and surrounding suburbs.
April 2007: Truck Traffic Impact Study MTAG most recently commissioned an independent study to provide insights into the perceived health impacts on residents of Yarraville and Footscray caused by increased levels of truck traffic in Yarraville and Footscray. The Truck Traffic Impact Survey has been designed to measure the effects on residential amenity in areas that experience excessive levels of truck traffic and has had an excellent level of response. The survey results and questionnaire feedback was collated and independently analysed by a high profile firm specialising in the interpretation of qualitative research. The MTAG Residents’ Truck Traffic Impact Perception Study will provide some measure of the effects of truck traffic as experienced by residents in the inner West, in addition to insights into residents’ perception of truck traffic impact on their lives.
A Brief Review of the Situation Since the completion of the Western Ring Road in 1996 and CityLink in 1999 the levels of truck traffic in the inner west have increased dramatically. Currently 20,000 heavy trucks a day presently use residential streets in Maribyrnong. (Figures supplied by Vic Roads March 2005).Francis Street Yarraville, with its passing traffic is possibly the unhealthiest and most dangerous street in Australia and has the dubious claim to fame of the highest levels of diesel pollution recorded in any residential street in this country. Even in global terms it appears that Francis St is among the worst streets in the world in terms of pollution and truck traffic. One of the most controversial pollution issues in the USA is around the Port of Oakland near San Francisco California, in an area not dissimilar to Maribyrnong. The notorious Richmond Parkway has recorded pollution levels 40 times higher than the Californian average, it carries 7000 trucks a day (a similar level to that of Francis St Yarraville) and the deleterious effects of pollution on residents’ health are well documented in this Pacific Institute report.
While Francis St may be one of the worst streets in the world, and certainly carries the highest volumes of truck traffic in Maribyrnong it is, unfortunately, not the only street in our municipality blighted by excessive numbers of trucks. Some of the other streets with major problems caused by trucks include: Somerville Rd and Hyde St Yarraville, Paramount Rd, Dempster St and Sredna St Brooklyn, Williamstown Rd Kingsville, Buckley St, and Moore St Footscray.According to the most recent research, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald (August 12th 2005), it appears that children living close to pollution hotspots are 12 times more likely to die of cancer than those who don’t.
The Herald Sun (11th September 2005) also published an article headed ‘Cancer Link to Fumes’, which quoted the Cancer Council of Victoria’s Professor Mark Elwood: “Chemicals in diesel emissions are cancer causing agents, we know that.” Another study done recently at Birmingham University concludes that many childhood cancers are caused by exposure to diesel emissions while in the womb (27th January 2005 Dieselwatch)The planned expansion of the Port of Melbourne will result in even more trucks on our streets. The Port of Melbourne’s own studies predict a doubling of truck traffic in the next ten years if channel deepening and port expansion go ahead as planned. The government’s proposal to increase the amount of freight carried by rail will only take a fraction of the extra traffic.The following map shows the proximity of truck traffic to the many schools, childcare centres and kindergartens that cater for the large number of children who live in these suburbs. This is a fast growing area and most of the people moving in are young families or couples wishing to start a family. Given the research detailed above, it is incredible that the State Government has allowed this situation to worsen so dramatically in the last ten years. Even more disturbing is that it still has no plans to do anything to protect the health and safety of families.