Mosman traffic and Infrastructure NSW’s draft plan

November 2, 2012

It seems that our generation has dropped the ball when it comes to public transport infrastructure. 160 stations were opened in Sydney prior to WW2. Just 13 have been opened since despite the population having more than quadrupled. First it was our infatuation with the car, now it is our aversion to borrowing combined with a very narrowly defined approach to cost benefit analysis. We are simply not prepared to make very long term investments. This was not always the case. The passenger numbers on the East Hills line, which was built before there was any development along the line took 50 years before passenger demand began to approach the level of capacity being provided.

This is the great tragedy of the Infrastructure NSW’s draft plan. Where is the thinking that would have argued: the Northern beaches is one of the highest amenity areas of Sydney. Everyone there has access to bush and beach and the climate is pleasant. If we are going to have medium density along a transport corridor in Sydney this is clearly the best place for it. So let’s borrow and build a rail link from Dee Why to the City and pay it back from betterment taxes that will flow as the land along the corridor increases its value.

That, sadly is not what the plan recommends, so we have to live with the lost opportunity and focus instead on what is sensible in the short term.

Here also, what the plan recommends – eliminating parking to make Spit and Military Road into a 24 hour clearway is seriously wrong.

Congestion on any stretch of road can be addressed by either increasing capacity or reducing demand. Increasing capacity by eliminating parking would provide relief in the short term, but it would stimulate demand such at in a few years congestion would be back to existing levels. In the mean time the viability of commercial and retail centres along the corridor would have irreversibly declined and the amenity of the area for pedestrians and local residents would have been seriously
eroded – in effect, for nothing.

A more enlightened approach would be to reallocate the existing capacity in favour of the traffic with greatest economic benefit and manage the demand on the capacity that remains, without any net increase in capacity. Read the rest of this entry »

The new planning system – getting the balance right

October 11, 2012

In a recent lecture given at the Royal Society of the Arts in London, Matthew Taylor used the success of the London Olympics to make some important points about what makes policies effective. The NSW government would do well to pay attention to Taylor’s insights, particularly with respect to its current reshaping of the planning system.

According to Taylor, the London Olympics worked because there was the right balance between the inputs of each of the three key players – the authorities (ie governments at all levels and their agencies), the community, and individuals. The authorities put in place the necessary structures, and systems and rules, the community threw their full weight behind the project (the volunteer program, the enthusiasm, the atmosphere) and finally it was the enterprise, passion and commitment of individual athletes that made it all come together as a hugely successful event.

The message for governments is that effective policies require more than setting rules – they need have broad community support and have built-in incentives for individuals. Taylor goes further in noting that the optimal balance between the government, community and individual drivers of change will evolve over time. Set and forget simply doesn’t work. A further insight from Taylor was the need to view policy development as a design exercise – one which acknowledged the different interests of different stakeholders and seeks to find a solution that represents the best compromise. Read the rest of this entry »

First meeting of the new Council

October 3, 2012

Last night the new Council had its first meeting ordinary. Mayor Peter Abelson has wasted no time in making Council meetings more community friendly. Gone is the ‘high table’ where the Mayor and senior staff peered down on the chamber. Gone is the all-rise formal entry of the Mayor. Councillors now sit round a cosy table with the Mayor at its head and when members of the public wish to speak, they are seated at the table. Gone are the strict time limits for speakers.

I have to say I am impressed by how well it works. Peter is an excellent chair. When citizens have had a reasonable time, rather than cutting them off, he summarises what they have said which encourages the speaker to clarify specifics then voluntarily conclude, confident that they have been heard. When citizens speak, Council is always ‘in committee’ which means that the formal rules don’t apply. Peter uses this flexibility to encourage a conversation between councilors and the speaker, where solutions can be proposed, then worked upon, tic-tacking between the councilors and the speaker. Husband and wife teams are invited to jointly sit at the table and be part of the conversation. This lack of formality is much more conducive to getting a good outcome than how we operated last term where citizens were treated more like plaintiffs at a trial.

I also liked the way Peter invited anyone in the community with particular expertise to contact him if they wanted to make a contribution to the work of Council

But while the form of the meeting was clearly an advance, I am less enthusiastic about the cautious and untrusting approach that the new Council seems to be taking on major issues. This is particularly frustrating when the staff have presented a well-argued case for action. Pe Deferring matters to allow for further reports and further community consultation can be the right course of action (as in the case of the Parriwi Rd parking issue). But knowing when you have enough expert advice and community input is a key to controlling costs and building trust. The Family Day Care issue is one that no further consultation is every going to get past the economic reality. What’s more, a delay may see the solution brokered by Council staff slip through our fingers.

Giving staff busy-work is not the way to improve staff productivity. Tom Sherlock wanted some comparative data information on delegations. This sort of project is much better undertaken by the councilors themselves – all the information needed available on line and when you do it yourself you are very conscious of the time it is taking and you hone in quickly to what is really significant. You can also adapt your strategy in the light of what you find.

Tom attempted to impose a further burden with his attempt to get an interim report on community engagement in time for the October 16 meeting. How much better it would have been for councillors to do their own independent reading on this topic (including Deliberative Democracy) which after all was the centerpiece of Serving Mosman’s election campaign. The ACELG has produced two excellent reports on the topic as has NCC, the Grattan Institute and the International Association for Public Participation Australia. Informed critique develops a deeper understanding by staff and councillors alike. Uninformed criticism on the other hand just demotivates.

Speaking of which, it is good that Roy Bendall will attend Sydney Coastal Council meetings on behalf of Mosman Council. Hopefully he will learn something about climate change, the likely increased frequency of severe weather events and the huge difference in cost involved in protecting the Clem Morath Pool from a 1 in 10 year storm compared with a 1 in 100 year storm. Roy called into question the competence of Council’s coastal engineer and the consultants who undertook the work when what in fact they had done was come up with a solution that gave the maximum reduction of risk for the money that Council considered reasonable to spend. Listening to Roy you get the distinct impression that no amount of money is too much to spend on restoring this icon of his youth, notwithstanding projected sea level rise and future storm surges the likely to be more ferocious than anything we have yet seen.

To finish on a positive note, it is excellent news that Peter White who started public life as a rat-run crusader is going to chair the Traffic Committee, and that dedicated cyclist Tom Sherlock is going to chair the Active Transport Working Group, with youth advocate Carolyn Corrigan as the other councilor representative.

Pedestrian crossing Ping Pong

September 17, 2012

The smart phone is just the beginning. Imagine a future when the intelligence that is built into your mobile get dispersed to the point that is embedded in all the everyday objects we interact with. Take for example the pedestrian crossing. This example from Germany not only shows you how much green or red time you have left, but while you are waiting it allows you to play a game of ‘skateboard ping pong’ with a stranger waiting to cross on the other side of the road. The benefits? You are less likely to risk crossing against the lights and you make a connection with a total stranger. Watch the video here.

I don’t think we will see crossings like this anytime soon in Mosman but the example does alert us to the enormous potential that embedded ‘smarts’ have tackle safety. manage parking. address congestion and facilitate law enforcement by nudging us to do the right. An encouraging sign is the recognition given in the draft NSW Transport Plan of the value of variable time of day road user charges as a way of tackling congestion and the use by some councils of parking detectors so that drivers can be directed to where a spot is available (as well as alerting rangers to overstayers.) The next generation of parking meters will almsot certainly be mobile phone activated and smart enough to allow a daily allowance of free parking to be split over multiple periods of the day. Maybe the day will come when simple road markings will indicate that parking restrictions apply, with the details coming up, once we request it, on a screen in our car. No more ugly parking signs! As a public tranport user my favourite here-and-now example of embedded smarts is the STA real time bus arrival time prediction service. Just SMS the bus stop number to 0488 898 287 and you will get texted back a the route numbers and wait times for buses expected to arrive at the stop over the next 30 minutes. A similar service is available for the Mosman Rider. Just send any message to 0459 667 616 and you will be texted back its current location.

And now the end is here, and so I face the final curtain….

September 13, 2012

So I am to go down in history as one term councillor. I had hoped, perhaps naively, that once the dust had settled after certain controversial decisions like the parking meters that the Mosman community would come to appreciate the wisdom of those decisions and give us the credit. People talk about good leaders as being courageous and that is certainly the case – you are basically putting your job on the line, risking all because you believe you will not only be proved right but also that the electorate will come to see that you were right (often in the face of a vigorous campaign by hard-line opponents)

I am very disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity of serving Mosman for a second term. But if I had had my time again I would still have voted for the parking meters, the Mosman Rider, the MDAP, the smaller Council and the abolition of wards, undertaking a community consultation about Spit Junction. Better to go out with a record of achievement after one term than simply occupy a seat for two or more terms. My arguments in favour of each of these reforms still stack up, with one exception. I argued that the abolition of wards would, inter alia, make for a more representative council and reduce the risk of capture of Council by a party or interest group.

What has happened in this election has proved me wrong. Even with no wards and thus a quota of 1/7 of the votes, a group can still capture Council and perhaps more easily that if there were wards. When there are wards the interest group or party need to get a majority in each ward – that means finding popular candidates and running separate campaigns in each ward albeit under the one party. When there are no wards, the campaign can be focussed on a single outstanding individual – a much easier sell. If the campaign is successful, as clearly it was in this case, that party will get the mayorality and a number of other candidates on the ticket elected as councillors

I think the Mosman community has done well in their choice of the next Council (apart of course from choosing not to elect me!). It is highly desirable that there is some turnover of councillors each term. The new Council is a little light on experience, only three councillors from last term continuing and only one with more than one term of continuous experience. But this lack of experience is more than compensated for by the energy and very diverse mix of passions that the new councillors bring. The average age of Council must have dropped by at least ten years and would now be much closer to the average age of the population. Pity, though that there are now only two women. My congratulations to my former colleagues Tom, Libby and Simon and to the new councillors Peter, Carolyn, Roy and Peter.

If you are one of the 817 voters who gave me their first preference vote I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart and apologise for letting you down by not getting elected. Rest assured, that having spent the last four years getting up to speed on all the issues I have no intention of abandoning my interest in Mosman or in local government generally. But now instead of attempting to be a model politician I will experiment with what it means to be a model citizen; the sort that all the text books about community engagement assume exists – fully informed, with an open mind and willing to provide comprehensive feedback when asked to do so.

So its goodbye from Cr Yates but hello from citizen Yates. I will continue this blog, commenting on what is happening with Council and in particular on the how Mosman is shaping up in the face of the six mega trends CSIRO has identified http://www.csiro.au/Portals/Publications/Research–Reports/Our-Future-World.aspx

My Vision for Mosman

September 6, 2012

A resident has asked all the mayoral candidates to give their vision for Mosman, their position on the key issues facing Mosman and which six Councillors they would be most happy to work with.

What follows is my response. The feedback I received fromm the inquirer was: Thank you for your response. You might be interested to know that you gave the best resemblance of a Vision, in contrast to the other candidate responses. Most are well versed and opinionated on current topics, but with little foresight into future issues or solutions. Good luck with your campaign.

This was my response
My vision for Mosman is to take each of the following things that make Mosman special and work with the community to develop a strategy for nurturing them and making them even more special. Mosman’s future resiliencedepends on being unique.

. Our art associations, art gallery and art collection
. Our heritage shopping strip with its preponderance of unique-to-Mosman businesses
. Our thriving volunteer community
. Our high rate of fitness and sporting participation
. The walkability of our suburb
. Our housing diversity and the combination of heritage and award winning modern architecture
. Vibrant ‘local hubs’ -Avenue Rd, Spofforth St and Parriwi Junction
. Our beaches and foreshore reserves
. Our excellent children’s, youth, Library and seniors services

Position on key issues

Traffic corridor
Work with SHOROC Councils and State Goverment to improve Rosefille Bridge to City route Oppose any furthere reduction of parking along Spit and Military Road Electronic controlled creation of congestions triggered pop-up bus
lanes to ensure bus trip times are unaffected by congestion Encourage shift to Go-Get cars and to making trips by walking, cycling and public transport. Time of day congestion charge on Spit Bridge

Spit Junction
Continue the conversation until community fully informed and able to make trade-offs. Design excellence to be the key with sufficient development to house the extra population the State governmmnet has mandated.

New GM appointment
Crucial we get this right

Sporting fields
Invest in existing facilities so that more intense use can be supported.

Child Care
Monitor commercial and not-for profit provision with Council coming into the market as a last resort, to meet demand

Environment
Council and Councillors to commit to being zero carbon in a reasonable time frame.

The Councillors I would be most happy to work with be the dream team on my ticket, but being realistic about who is likely to get elected they would be in no particular order

Tina Jackson
Anne Connon
SImon Menzies
Libby Moline
Peter White
Any member of Peter Abelson’s team

How to decide who to vote for on September 8

September 3, 2012

Many, many Mosman residents live very demanding lives in which work and family are the top priorities. Keeping track of what Council is doing and how well they are doing it doesn’t usually make it above the radar. For such people it is a challenge deciding who to vote for, not assisted at all by the stream of missives flowing through their letterboxes, all advocating motherhood but with different layouts, fonts colour schemes and varying degrees of wordiness.

For such people I have devised a simple two question test:

Question 1: How do you rate the performance of the current Council on a scale from 0 (the worst Council that Mosman has ever had), to 10 (the best Council Mosman has ever had). Before deciding where you stand, have a look at Council’s end-of-term report

Question 2: What in your opinion is the right balance between freshness of perspective and experience using the scale 0 for no experience (hence totally fresh) to 10 for very experienced

Plot these two metrics as a point on the graph below. You should vote for the mayoral candidate nearest to your position on the graph.

[Very briefly, the justification for the positions of the various candidates is a follows. Menzies and Yates were consistently part of the majority that voted in the various policies and projects that Council implemented this term. Moline and Reid, voted for some but not all. White agrees with some but not all. Bendall and Abelson are strong critics of virtually everything Council has done this term and in particular the way it has gone about doing it. Bendall and White have no experience at all. Reid has had the most experience >3 terms, Menzies has had two terms of experience and Moline and Yates have had one. Abelson has had two and a half terms but they were a long time ago and under a different local government act]

Two other factors are worth taking into consideration. The first is effectiveness. Those candidates who have been severe critics of the bureaucracy will have neither the trust nor the respect of the Council senior staff. It is hard to see Council powering ahead with this level of mistrust between the key players.

The second is the impact your vote will have on the gender balance of Council. Assuming Anne Connon is re-elected as a Councillor, if either Libby Moline or Warren Yates was elected mayor there would be three women out of seven on Council, as both Libby and Warren have women (Sally Whitehead and Tina Jackson respectively) as the second candidate on their ticket. If any of the remaining five mayoral candidates are elected there would be at most two women on Council. Read the rest of this entry »

What Monday’s forum reveals about the Mayoral aspirants

August 29, 2012

One attendee observed that one very useful outcome of the forum was that it gave voters a chance to see something of personality, style, approach and demeanour of the candidates as well as their passions and ideological bent. Reading the flyers you might get the impression that it was a matter of six of one and half a dozen of the other – we are all in favour of motherhood. What was on display on Monday night was a much better differentiator, a much better basis of choice.

Jim Reid came across as the elder statesman able to build on 20 years of experience.

Peter White showed that he has not just creative flair, but commitment and the tenacity to follow issues through (in this case the state of council’s finances).

Libby Moline reminded us that all the qualifications in the world are of little value unless matched with a big dolop of common sense. Libby’s leadership qualities were revealed when she, much to everyon’e relief called it a night while we were all sytill having fun.

Simon Menzies was justifiably proud of what Council had achieved this term. Given zero notice to come up with a choice for a community project for 2013, he demonstrated amazing fleetness of mind in coming up with the Tour de Mosman idea. This resonated nicely with the Five Bay Bash that the Active Transport Working Group have been working on at the suggestion of ATWG members Brian Watters and John Goddard Read the rest of this entry »

If only…

August 28, 2012

My friend Juan Roberson has passed on to me some delightful commentaries on how a Quaker meeting is managed, and with the substitution of ‘for the good of the community as a whole’ for Divine will, it is not a bad template for council meetings. Peter Abelson and his Serving Mosman team want to restore politeness and decorum to our Council meetings, but perhaps we need to make even more significant reforms and approach the Quaker model. Here are a few excerpts from Quaker literature for your interest; there are one or two observations with a wonderful turn of phrase. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s each adopt a box

August 15, 2012

When you see graffiti in Mosman, chances are it will be on property owned by Ausgrid, Australia Post, State Transit, Telecom or Roads and Maritime. This is because Council’s own contractor removes all other graffiti in Mosman, whether it is on public or private property within 24 hours of it appearing. Despite countless requests none of the utilities are willing to allow Council’s contractor to remove graffiti from their property.

I have contacted each utility and it turns out they each have their own individual contracts with a graffiti remover. Although their contracts tolerate a much longer gap between reporting and removal, they do have a time limit – typically two weeks (although shorter if the graffiti is offensive.)

So really, the ball is in our court to report graffiti the moment it appears. Here is my suggestion for making this manageable. Let’s each ‘adopt a box’ – a piece of utility hardware that attracts graffiti that we can see from our house, or that we pass every day. I am happy to maintain a database of who has adpopted which box, so if you would like to participate please email me giving the street address and any utility code number on the box you would like to adopt. I will send back by return email information about how you report graffiti on that object and by what date the contractor is obliged to remove it.

Please keep a record of when each incident was reported and when it was cleaned up. At the end of each financial year I will be in touch to collect your data. If performance is not as claimed, Council will then have the evidence it needs to go after any utility not living up to its own claims. We need to show the utilities how seriously we take graffiti in Mosman. If we are diligent in our reporting they may even agree to allowing Council’s contractor to cover their property with our 24 hour service.