Merri Creek and Environs Strategy Chapter 4.4 - Public Safety

Chapter 4.4 Public Safety

Background


Like the rest of Melbourne, Merri Creek and its open space pose a number of known and perceived hazards to its users, management staff and to neighbours.  These known hazards include:

  • Accident or injury on the path, and collisions between pedestrians and cyclists or motor bike riders;
  • Drowning, or being caught in the water causing injury especially when the Creek is in flood;
  • Injury from entering drains;
  • Falling, including over steep banks;
  • Dog attacks;
  • Snake bite;
  • Toxic or allergenic plants;
  • Falling limbs or contact with low branches or injuries caused by inappropriate design of plantings;
  • Wildfire or ecological burning;
  • Rock or earth or fill collapses;
  • Toxic or carcinogenic effects from eating fish or sprayed harvested plants;
  • Contact with hazardous materials in dumped or tipped waste;
  • Attacks by other people;
  • Infectious diseases caught from water contact, contact with dog faeces, or needles, broken glass or other rubbish;

It is important that hazards such as these be identified, the risks associated with the hazards assessed and prioritized and control measures identified and implemented, to protect both users of the Merri Creek and agencies involved. 

Accidents

The first coordinated look at risks along the Merri Creek are the Merri Creek Trail Review commissioned by the Cities of Darebin, Moreland and Yarra in 2005, and the review of low level bridges across Aitken Creek carried out by the City of Hume. 

The Merri Creek Trail Review will audit and then analyse the existing trail and associated infrastructure. It will recommend a path system that meets Australian Standards and is able to provide a trail that runs the length of the creek corridor and addresses risk issues such as low level bridges, local flooding of paths and balance these risks against the community wishes to use the creek corridor and the cost of providing the assets. Recreational, ecological and environmental factors will be taken into account in considering the location of the creek trail. 

More information on path design and safety can be found in section 4.3 Trails and Access.

Drowning hazards are also dealt with in chapter 3.1.

Dog attack

In order to minimise the risk of dog attacks, Councils have identified areas where dogs may only be taken if they are on a lead.  The Merri Path is generally included in these on-lead areas in order to minimise this risk.  In practice however, Councils rarely police this rule which is widely ignored.  The idea of a green muzzle for dogs off-lead (green to flag that the dog is not a declared dangerous dog) has been raised as a way of reducing dog attacks.

Snakes

Tiger Snakes occur along most urban waterways in Melbourne and the Merri Creek is no exception.  Brown Snakes and a number of other highly venomous species also occur in the less urbanised sections of the Creek.  The perception of risk of snakebite is higher than the actual risk, and snakes are an essential part of Merri Creek's ecological system. 

Efforts have been made to make residents and park users aware of what to do to avoid snakebite and what to do if bitten, through a number of Councils snake education programs. 

Plants

A number of toxic or allergenic plants occur along Merri Creek, including the weeds Castor Oil Plant (which has highly toxic seeds), Hemlock (every part of which is highly toxic), American Black Nightshade (which has highly allergenic leaves) and Cruel Vine (which has irritant sap). The pollen of many weed species and some indigenous plant species (e.g. Wattles) is allergenic to some people. 

African Boxthorn has long dangerous thorns, and various other weeds have prickly and/or irritating thorns or needles.

The presence of trees leads to a risk of branches falling on parkland users.  This risk is highest where trees overhang paths and rest areas.  Trees and shrubs growing adjacent to paths pose a hazard if they obstruct the path and people might get head or eye injuries if they make contact with low branches.  Appropriate design and maintenance of plantings and paths should control these risks.

Fire

Wildfire poses a risk to park users and neighbours in the hotter summer months. North of the Metropolitan Ring Road several fires each year have been deliberately or accidentally lit. They can burn fiercely through the native and exotic grasslands along the Creek.  On the east side of the Creek, south of Cooper Street, fire control is the responsibility of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and north of Cooper Street it is the responsibility of the CFA.  On the west side of the Creek the boundary is just south of Patullos Lane Somerton.  Land owners are responsible for fire prevention.  Rural councils prepare and implement fire prevention plans in partnership with CFA, however to date no coordinated prevention plan for the whole of Merri Creek has been produced. 

The City of Darebin have commissioned the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation to prepare a draft fire management plan.

Ecological management burns, which are carried out by land managers each year in native grasslands along the Creek, have the potential to injure people if they get out of control.  Strict guidelines are in place for carrying out ecological burns.

Bank collapse

Rock outcrops and artificial soil, rock and fill slopes occur along the Creek.  Some of these may be unstable.  A collapse could injure park users.  Work has been carried out by the City of Moreland to stabilise a rocky slope in Coburg which was considered to be unstable, but no overall assessment has been made.

Chemicals

The risk to park users from contact with herbicides sprayed as part of park management is managed by using low hazard herbicides, mixing them with marker dye and the use of signs identifying that spraying is underway and signs indicating an area has been sprayed.  There is a risk of people harvesting and eating plants that have been sprayed if they are unable to read or understand the signs that are used.

Procedures to minimise herbicide use are discussed in chapter 2.3 Land Management.

Water borne Disease

Making the Creek water as safe as possible is dealt with in chapter 3.2 Water quality

Perceptions

Separate from management of these real risks, people's perception of risk also needs to be managed.

There is a public perception that urban parks, particularly at night time, are unsafe, especially for women or children.  However, there is no available data to support a position that Merri Creek is any more, or any less safe, than other open space areas.

The two consultation reports carried out in 1993 as background to this study identified safety as the second most important reason respondents gave for not visiting Merri Creek.  A higher proportion of the 50+ age group gave this response.

Clause 56 (Residential Subdivision) of planning schemes across Victoria includes a standard C10: Subdivision should increase visibility and surveillance by:&ensuring streets and houses look onto public open space and avoiding sides and rears of lots along public open space boundaries, and providing roads and streets along public open space boundaries.  Standard C13 states Land provided for public open space should be&related to the street and lot layout in a manner that promotes personal safety and surveillance of users of the public open space from streets along public open space boundaries&.  The Development Guidelines for Merri Creek include a number of standards (MC5 and MC14) which are similar to the Clause 56 provisions but without the explicit public safety objective. There is some tension between these standards and the provision of a sense of being in nature, which may require screening of at least the worst visual intrusions into the parkland. 

Some people stay away from parks because they fear being attacked by dogs.  There is a real but small risk of dog attack, but the perception is greater than the risk.  Councils have allocated dog off-lead areas away from the Merri Path, and made the Merri Path itself an on-lead area to address this problem.  It appears that the level of policing of these rules is inadequate to keep all dogs on-lead in these areas.  Compliance may be improved by signage stating that all of the Merri Path is on-lead.

The study by Context & Diversity found that some respondents felt that toilets made a park unsafe as they attracted undesirables, although the lack of toilets was also given as a reason for not visiting parks.  The study suggested changes to toilet design to make them feel safer for users.  This study reported a number of suggestions coming from discussion groups including:

  • Creation of a Merri Watch program
  • Appointment of a Ranger
  • Creation of safe hubs

Beyond the general questions asked in the consultation studies no detailed analysis of users perception of risks in the waterway corridors has been carried out.

Key References

Thompson Birrell Landscape Architects (in prep)  Merri Creek Trail Review. Report for the Cities of Darebin, Moreland and Yarra.

Context Pty Ltd and Diversity Coalition (1993).   Community Consultation Report, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Jan Bruce and Associates Pty Ltd. (1993) Customer Research Report on Survey of Local Residents, Prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

 

Issues

1.   A number of real hazards to park users, management personnel and park neighbours exist.  The protection of these people from injury and Merri Creek stakeholder organisations from liability, means that hazards should be identified, the risks associated with the hazards assessed and prioritized and control measures identified and implemented.

2.   Personal safety is of concern to a significant number of creek open space users and must be taken into account in planning the development of open space.

3.   There is no integrated overall plan for fire prevention and control along Merri Creek.

4.   Public concern about snakes needs to be recognised and managed.  As snakes are an integral part of a waterway environment, a key element of the fauna of the grassy woodlands of the Merri corridor and protected wildlife, their protection is important.  Improved provision of information to residents close to Merri Creek about these issues and ways in which they can make their properties unattractive for snake habitat is essential for better management of public concerns.

5.   Increased lighting is often suggested as a solution to some safety concerns.  However, it may be counter-productive, and unwarranted where there are few after-dark users of open space and where it is likely to have detrimental impacts on habitat values of the creek corridor.

6.   Consolidated statistics for injuries along Merri Creek are not kept, making it difficult to detect inadequate aspects of Creek management.

7.   Without careful design and maintenance, revegetation work may create unnecessary hazards for park users.

8.   Provision of information to users can be an effective manner of managing risks, however eliminating the hazard, or preventing or minimising exposure to the risk are more effective.

9.   Dog on lead rules are commonly flouted by dog-walkers on Merri catchment waterways.

Objectives

1.   Provide a high quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit (see RCS-LO5).

2.   Creation of a safe environment and perceptions of safety along Creek Corridors.

Targets

1.   Creation of a safe environment through all reasonable and practical means including design, maintenance, surveillance and provision of information including signage and media.

2.   Hazards are identified, the risks associated with the hazards assessed and prioritized and control measures identified and implemented, to protect both users of the Merri Creek and agencies involved.

3.   Involvement of the community in promoting sensible behaviour and safe use practices.

4.   Understanding of and management of the perception of risk so that people do not become unnecessarily concerned about risks.

5.   9 out of 10 of dog-walkers comply with dog-on-lead bylaws.

 

Actions 

See Section E page 208.

 
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