Residents row over 'rat runners'
By Charlie Gill
Road rage, a rat plague, fears of an impassable divide between the north of Holden Street (NoHo) and those living to its south (SoHo) and petitions at ten paces.
These ingredients have coloured a long-running argument among residents living around Brunswick Street North and Holden Street. Now the argument has escalated with the erection of ‘no rat-running’ signs that suddenly disappeared in the dead of night.
Members of the Fitzroy North Traffic Action Group (FNTAG) have been advocating for increased traffic calming measures since 2012, highlighting in particular the use of local side streets by ‘rat-runners’ – drivers who use those streets as shortcuts to avoid traffic on major roads.
In May this year, FNTAG’s petition calling for new measures to be introduced– signed by over 350 residents – was presented to Yarra Council. It stated that “the daily upper limit of vehicles on residential streets is 2500” but in October 2018, “the average daily volume of vehicles on Brunswick Street North, for example, was at 3169”.
Lisa Byrne, a Brunswick Street North resident and FNTAG member, said heavy traffic on Nicholson Street and St Georges Road has resulted in cars travelling through these side streets at high speeds and poses a safety risk. “There’s young families around here…Little kids trying to cross the road.”
But FNTAG’s lobbying to reduce traffic hasn’t been appreciated by all. The ‘No Rat Running’ signs it put up along Brunswick Street North were recently removed by unknown persons on July 10.
An anonymous resident told The Rotunda that the existing traffic calming measures make life more difficult for many locals. During peak-hour, drivers aren’t allowed to make right-hand turns from Holden Street into Brunswick Street North, complicating their journey to the North Fitzroy village or local primary schools.
They also said “most residents” oppose the placement of a median strip on Holden Street (as was proposed last year) as it will create two suburbs, effectively NoHo and SoHo. In 2019, the Yarra Council approved a trial of the said median strip but a petition with 547 signatures was subsequently tabled at a council meeting in September 2019, opposing the use of right-hand turn bans and/or median islands. Councillors then voted against the median island proposal.
But FNTAG’s Glenn Morrison says there is currently no proposal for a median strip and that the peak hour right-hand turn ban is to “disincentivise peak hour rat-runners going through local streets on their way to the freeway or other destinations…often travelling above the speed limit”.
Neighbourhood traffic is only set to increase due to apartment constructions, such as the likely development of Piedimonte’s supermarket. The development is contingent on the Council itself selling a laneway off Scotchmer Street, a decision that has not been made yet.
Meanwhile, police have begun to randomly fine illegal right-turners from Holden Street to Brunswick Street North, as part of their usual policing of traffic regulations.