The Null Device


For one week only, Pitchfork TV is streaming Wesley Willis's Joy Rides, a documentary about the late outsider musician.

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In what appears to be a periodic ritual as formalised as a Japanese noh play, an academic has called for Melbourne to radically change its transport policies, scrapping freeway building programmes and instead divert billions of dollars to public transport:

''Please, we need a moratorium on all freeway building, until we have an adequate transport and land-use plan for Melbourne,'' Professor Low said yesterday.
Instead, the Government must commit to better managing the public transport system, via a metropolitan planning authority, Professor Low will tell the Melbourne @ 5 Million transport conference at Melbourne University today.
Professor Nicholas Low, head of Melbourne University's transport research centre, called for Melbourne to have a cohesive citywide authority, much as London and Paris do, and also called for radical and distinctly un-Australian measures (albeit ones commonly found in Europe) such as restricting heavily cars from the CBD and suburban shopping strips (i.e., playing funny buggers with Aussie battlers' God-given right to drive; I'm sure there was a question about it on John Howard's citizenship test, right next to Don Bradman's batting average).
He compared Melbourne's expected population of 5 million people by 2026 to London's inner boroughs, which he said had a population of just over 7 million. ''Imagine London without the Underground,'' he said, ''because that is what Melbourne will be like at 5 million, unless we start building an efficient, integrated public transport system for this city.''
Good Luck to Professor Low and his plans, though in all honesty, the chances of them ever seeing the light of day are, as they say, somewhere between Buckley's and none. Most Melburnians have long since given up on public transport or never used it, and having their right to drive restricted in favour of an unknown quantity they only see horror stories about in the Age will be hard to sell. The Melbourne railway system is a case in point. In the 1990s, an unsympathetic Tory government decided to privatise it, and so brought in the British Tory advisers responsible for butchering British Rail and challenged them to outdo their previous accomplishment, which they did. The result is a dysfunctional system unable to cope with the increases in patronage caused by rising oil prices, and those unable to afford the petrol to drive in comfort having to endure sardine-can commutes, when the system doesn't break down, that is. (Which is not to say the operators aren't doing anything about it; they've now started pulling the seats out of carriages, turning them into more efficient cattle cars.) And then there are the trams, with their helpful conductors replaced by thuggish "revenue officers". The whole system bespeaks a contempt for those sufficiently lowly to not be able to drive.

Of course, there are the pie-in-the-sky plans, often floated before an election, of gleaming new subway lines across the city, which, were they to actually be built, would soak up the public transport budget for a generation. (There simply isn't enough money coursing through the Australian economy to build a London-style Underground or Paris-style Metro.) Meanwhile, the "swinging voters" who decide elections live in outer suburbs, have one car per adult member of each household and want freeways to drive along. The quarter-acre suburban block is still the ideal, and any proposals to increase housing density are dismissed as absurd and somewhat distasteful. It will take severe increases in oil prices—ones severe enough to cause hardship, if not unrest—to bring about a change of policy. (And maybe not even that; I can imagine that it may be more politically plausible to see Melburnians driving cars fuelled by liquified coal, poisoning themselves with carcinogenic pollutants but keeping the sacred suburban lifestyle, than to see the expense and upheaval required for an effective public transport system.)

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