INNER-city bustle – what would St Francis have made of it?
Hundreds of inner-city parishioners and local residents have voiced their opposition to a Brisbane City Council plan that threatens access to their beloved church and community hall.
“I think this just shows the extent of community concern, ” St Francis of Assisi Church parishioner Peter Betros said.
Mr Betros, a former Queensland Rugby League chairman, was speaking on behalf of church-goers – many elderly and disabled – who will be inconvenienced by a Brisbane City Council plan to remove 115 street car parks and two bus-stops directly in front of and across from the St Francis of Assisi Church on Dornoch Terrace, West End, as part of a project designed to improve bike safety.
On the face of it, the controversial plan is aimed at stopping a terrible inner-city bustle – a run of horror accidents, often at dangerous speeds, involving cars and cyclists.
But there is a deeper concern about how city planning is carried out, about consultation, and about caring for the heart and soul of an inner-city community.
St Francis Church has been at the beating heart of West End life since it was built in 1927, while the St Francis hall is regularly used by a dozen local groups including the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Pro-Musica community band and choir, Active Ageing, Alcoholics Anonymous, and The Studio, a dance group for children.
“This is not only a church that is used on Sundays, it’s a whole community based around here, with a community hall used many, many times a week,” Mr Betros said.
“And the only way people can access it (the hall) is by car or public transport.
“By taking away car parks, by taking away bus access, it’s going to reduce the capability of this facility to cater for the enormous number of groups it does now.
“The whole viability of the precinct is in danger.”
West Enders turned vocal at the St Francis hall after 9am Mass last Sunday, during a meeting organised by Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
They included church-goers, nearby residents, self-described “drop-off” mums, local business owners and bike riders.
Parish priest Capuchin Father Joshy Parappully watched on as the tone of the meeting ebbed and flowed for more than one-and-a-half hours.
“They are really in need of the parking,” he said, expressing the concerns of the many elderly and disabled parishioners who attended St Francis of Assisi Church, either using their own cars, or relying on lifts from others.
The fear is that if the parking goes, and access to public transport, these parishioners will stop coming on Sunday.
Dozens of residents described their shock at learning of the Brisbane City Council plan – not because they did not see a safety problem, but because, they saw, the council failed to consult or carry out deeper analysis before rolling out a draft plan, and allowing only four weeks for public comments.
The downhill run along Dornoch Terrace is both exhilarating and scary but, according to residents “it should not be used as a velodrome” by cyclists.
On a bike it is impossible not to build up speed unless breaking heavily.
Sports cyclists can be seen passing cars, even on the hairpins.
They run the risk of cars pulling out of driveways, or even drivers of parked cars unexpectedly opening a door.
Across from St Francis church, resident Max Badeley said he had to deal with the ugly fallout.
“It’s not unusual for me to hear the commotion outside because cyclists are speeding, they come unstuck and they are laying in the gutter, and we’ve got to administer first-aid until the paramedics arrive and sort them out,” he said.
“It’s purely based on speed and competitiveness amongst their mates.
“They do need to realise there are families and kids and everyone has to share the space and be safe.”
Mr Betros said: “We see whole pelotons coming roaring down here, and I’ve been passed more than once in my car doing 50km/h by cyclists exceeding that speed.
“We’ve got to slow the traffic down.
“It is part of a city bicycle loop but I don’t think it should be a free-for-all, go as fast as you like because it’s a downhill run.
“We’ve got to bring everybody together on this and we can’t just say we’re going to close the road down and take the cars away so the bicycles can have a free run.
“That’s discriminating against one tier of society and favouring another. Surely it’s for everybody to share.”
After hearing residents’ concerns at last Sunday’s meeting, Ms Trad promised she would “make personal representations” to Brisbane’s Lord Mayor and City Council.
“From the outset, I believe the quality of consultation and the level of information have been woefully inadequate for the community to fully consider the impacts of this project,” Ms Trad said.
“We want to take community along on this journey – not just come out with a plan to remove car parks and bus-stops and give the community four weeks to get across it.
“I don’t think that’s fair.”
Ms Trad said an inner-city transport and mobility study to be released at the end of this month could deliver some answers.
“Projects such as this at Dornoch Terrace should have been done in light of all the data and analysis and community engagement rather than what has been done to date,” she said.
Local councillor Jonathan Sri agreed council consultation had been “woeful”.
He told residents he supported some of the elements in the draft safety plan, including slowing speeds to 30km/h.
And he expressed concerns for families and children on Dornoch Terrace.
The chair of council’s Public and Active Transport Krista Adams earlier released a statement that the draft concept plan to improve cyclist safety was specifically requested by Cr Sri.