BEING a local business operator with 50 commercial passenger vehicles moving safely and efficiently around the area, roads matter to me. But I recognise the importance of our local environment and its link to our lifestyle and our ability to attract visitors. I am generally supportive of a speed limit review for Phillip Island and appreciate Bass Coast Shire Council’s influence in getting Regional Roads Victoria to consider such a project.
The review was born out of the Phillip Island Integrated Transport Study (PIITS) recommendation and long-term action RN9 to “improve main carriageway layouts along the arterial road network to generally be consistent with and achieve 80m/h speed limits throughout Phillip Island”.
Other roads such as Surf Beach Road have not been included. Yet the number one road recommendation of PIITS (RN1) was to “investigate potential safety improvements at Surf Beach and Sunderland Bay such as duplication, turning lanes, realignment or services lanes” which is then an opportunity to raise limits on the through traffic. With no plans to substantially improve active and public transport options, cars and freight have to be catered for as the main form of transport.
It cannot be overstated how important Coghlan Road is to industry on Phillip Island. With increased main street congestion, large vehicles passing primary schools and undersized roundabouts unable to cater for freight, it is the only viable alternative access to the industrial estate. Occupancy has doubled in the estate over recent years, making this important link even more critical. Coghlan Road also acts as a distributor road, taking a lion’s share of the volume to Cowes. If we reclassify Coghlan Road for cycling, what about putting the bike path on the proposed pathway plan and keep cyclists out of harm’s way?
The old adage “Time is money in business” is still true. Records show twice as many islanders employed in trades and services as there are in accommodation and hospitality. While the COVID era has been devastating for the visitor economy, last year taught us there is a substantial locally reliant economy that isn’t as attached to visitors as we thought. Slowing down our roads has an economic impact, and balance needs to prevail.
Phillip Island is 26kms long and on a good day it’s still a 20-minute drive from the bridge to the main hub of Cowes. Not that long ago it was 15 minutes. This could turn into 25 minutes if we don’t speak up about how we want to use our roads. The concept of ‘Island Time’ has been pitched in support of reductions. This may support 100km/h to 80km/h, identifying and respecting the island’s special environment, but I question 60km/h on long stretches of road like Cowes-Rhyll Road.
There are two types of cycling: on bike paths or on road. The council pathway plan for the island includes a path down Coghlan Road but no real cycling corridor plan for on-road cyclists. If we are serious about finding alternatives to the private car shouldn’t we have one? Certainly before deciding to downgrade an important industry access road we should. The Phillip Island Corridor Master Plan report cites a lack of pathways and a linked cycling network, as well as insufficient cycle space on arterial roads to allow safe point-to-point cycling on the corridor. There is no better example of insufficient space for cycling than Coghlan Road and alternatives need to be found.
When council was questioned about why unsealed roads were not included in this review, the answer was it will be a separate submission in a possible stage two as it may have broader impacts statewide. Do we want to take a gamble this will happen or push for their inclusion now? In support of the non-inclusion of unsealed roads, the council claimed the data showed that the average speed on Harbison Rd was 60km/h despite the current 100km/h limit.
We don’t like seeing or experiencing road kill and it comes with an economic cost. If the average speed on Harbison Road is 60km/h then I question the argument that 60km/h is going to substantially reduce road kill on Coghlan and Cowes-Rhyll Roads. Harbison Road has a lot more road kill than Coghlan Road (average speed 77km/h) and substantially less traffic.
Our experience is that a wildlife incident can happen at speeds as low as 40km/h. If we were serious about reducing road kill, a multi-pronged approach is required. Newhaven College has dynamic speed limits at school times, reducing the road speed from 80km/h to 40 km/h. Why can’t we slow speed limits when needed to reduce road kill, such as dawn and dusk?
In places with far less abundant wildlife, Regional Roads Victoria has used other treatments, including using fencing to funnelling wildlife movement into crossing points, where signage and dynamic speed zones (or underpasses) allow them to cross safely. And we are still awaiting the results of the virtual fencing trial being conducted on the island.
One of the main environmental recommendations of the Phillip Island Visitor Strategy is to increase the island’s native vegetation from 7 to 30 per cent coverage. Our taxi business has planted more than 5000 plants over the last three years to offset our vehicle emissions and assist in achieving this aspiration. Why isn’t there a concerted effort by council to work with landowners “at no cost to them” to ensure this goal is exceeded? With more habitat for the abundant wildlife, they wouldn’t rely on roadside vegetation corridors on our main arterial roads. Might there even be a case to reduce the vegetation on our roads? This should see more wildlife out of harm’s way and might be an opportunity to use this space to enhance the pathway network?
Special interest and environmental groups seem well represented by the visitor economy; however, the local resident and other industries shouldn’t be left out of the conversation. I strongly encourage Council and RRV to seek the best long term solution for the wildlife and road users of our main carriageway road network to achieve what the recommendation (RN9) aspires to. Not just settle for a sign swap!
Michael Wright is director of South Coast Bus & Taxi.