Planning chief pedalling in reverse
Vivian Straw (''Planning chief: cycling plan blind to wheelie good ideas'', December 11, p3) makes sweeping assumptions about the use of cycle paths in Canberra without quoting properly conducted studies. His statement that ''Canberra has the best cycling network of any Australian capital city but it also has the lowest participation rate'' is at odds with Australian Bureau of Statistics census data for 2006 and 2011 for methods of travel to work.
Based on that data, ACT showed the greatest national increase in bicycle-only travel to work - of 16.3 per cent from the 2006 census to last year's data. Canberra is at the top of the table followed, in descending order, by Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
The Canberra Cyclist magazine for December 2012/January 2013 has the full article and references. Nationally, the uptake of cycling to work is still low, but there have been improvements. In Canberra, the improvement in cycling paths has enabled cyclists who fear being on the roads to commute safely.
Mr Shaw would appear to base his opinions on only one category of cyclists: those who commute to work by bicycle. He further narrows this sample by referring to those who cycle 20 kilometres to work. Anecdotally, most bicycle commuters are 10 kilometres or less from their workplace.
As a regular commuter myself, I know it is not just the ''lycra-clad enthusiasts'', but office workers, school and university students, and other folk wearing ''civvies'' who are getting to work or school in a safe, reliable and cost-effective manner.
Given the Planning Authority's encouragement of higher-density living, it would seem that cycling to work would be a viable option without the need to ''put on the gear, cycle 20 kilometres and then shower and change for work''.
There is a ''park and ride'' option in the ACT, enabling those who live a longer distance from work to cycle to a bus stop with a secure bike cage, leave their bike in the cage and continue on by bus. Also, as the ACTION bus fleet is updated, the numbers of buses with front-mounted bike racks is increasing.
These options go some way towards addressing the city's sprawling nature.
Canberra's cycle paths are in great use by recreational cyclists whom Mr Shaw seems to have ignored. Weekends especially see the paths used by people of all ages, including tourists. By proposing a takeover of the cycle paths, most of which are shared with pedestrians, Mr Shaw does not seem to have considered the increased dangers from other types of traffic on the paths. His proposal of separating pedestrians is an extra cost. Nor does he seem to have considered the high initial cost of Segways and other devices and maintenance costs.
I agree that people with decreased mobility who use specialised electric scooters have a place on cycle paths But these are not your typical commuters. These electric scooters are speed-restricted.
Mr Shaw's reasoning flies in the face of concerns over the national obesity rates and the medical profession's call for people to do some exercise.
My own journey is a pleasant and picturesque 10 kilometres each way and takes 35-40 minutes via the cycle paths. I ride further afield on weekends and experience no problems with traffic and parking. But there are occasions when I find it more convenient to take the car.
While it is always good to keep an open mind about other forms of transport, it is also important to consider their viability. Would the uptake of Segways and similar devices be that high? Would it be high enough to justify the cost of widening the cycle paths and providing separate pedestrian pathways? Mr Shaw talks about ''well thought-out decisions'' but this isn't apparent in the article given the small sample he uses.
Finally, I take exception to his dismissal of the sterling work by organisations such as Pedal Power through whose advocacy we now enjoy the excellent cycle paths, transport, and insurance options available to users. I find it encouraging that further expansion and improvement are in progress.
Janet Thomas, Kaleen
Yes to Lyons plan
The ACT government has treated the suburb of Lyons badly for decades. First there was its failed social experiment Burnie Court, which became a slum infested with criminals. When it finally demolished Burnie Court, it moved some of the tenants closer to the Lyons shopping centre.
When we complained about shopping trolleys being abandoned in our streets, the government responded quickly because it was a politically sensitive issue. Now I, as a ratepaying resident of Lyons, request the government to stop using our suburb as overflow parking for the Woden Town Centre.
I have heard that a developer wants to demolish the Lyons shops and build a three-storey shopping and business complex, with an underground car park. I have also heard that the ACT Plannning and Land Authority and the Directorate of Territory and Municipal Services are extremely unhelpful. This complex would be a great boost to Lyons and would help to address the parking problem and congestion at and around the Woden Town Centre.
Judy Ryan, Lyons
Don't waste vote
We should be alarmed by reports that the Australian Electoral Commission estimates that 1.5 million people - a tenth of the 15.7 million eligible voters - are not on the roll (''Jump in no-show voters at ACT poll'', December 13, p3). At the last federal election a similar number were enrolled but didn't turn out to vote, or they voted informally.
When one in five potential votes is not being counted, Australia has a problem. It's a problem identified after the 2007 and 2010 elections, when a parliamentary committee twice recommended that the electoral commissioner be given the power to directly enrol electors, if he were satisfied they should be enrolled. The power (which already exists in NSW and Victoria) was given to the commissioner in a new law this year but that law does not provide for automatic enrolment. It simply improves the integrity of the roll as conceived by the Australian constitution.
Getting people on to the roll is not about how people vote; it is aimed at ensuring that citizens who are eligible to vote do exercise that right. As the commission has noted: ''The greatest risk to the integrity of the electoral roll relates to its completeness.''
Gary Gray, Special Minister of State
Leave shale alone
Much as I like Boris Johnson (''Energised future from green and pleasant land'', December 13, p19), I have to take issue with his love affair with shale gas. Overlooking the polluting effects of fracking such as groundwater pollution, gas from such unconventional sources pollutes - in greenhouse terms - as much as coal when you look at whole-of-life production. It is only conventional gas, which does not require fracking, that is significantly better than coal in greenhouse terms.
Yes, shale gas is an excellent fuel in energy terms, but we have to stop looking at energy in isolation. With all the recent warnings that we are heading for catastrophic climate change, we have to consider energy and climate change in concert.
The International Energy Agency said we must keep two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Mr Johnson's eyes may water at the vast deposits of shale gas in his country ready to be fracked, but for the sake of the planet much of it needs to stay right where it is.
Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW
Boris Johnson, the fast-talking poster boy of the London Olympics, embraces fracking and demonises eco-warriors.
He sees these tree-huggers as lacking the ''oomph to pull the skin off a rice pudding''. He trivialises geophysical concerns as pantheistic fantasy whereby the ''goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge''.
There are very big energy problems. Fracking is a solution. It is also a very big problem. Mayor Johnson opts for quick-fix frontman.
Gary J. Wilson, MacGregor
In the pursuit of alternatives to car usage in the ACT, which, strangely, has become a very expensive planning distraction, Peter Keast (Letters, December 13) recommends electric bikes over vehicles like Segways.
Segways have been proven to be dangerous. Apart from that, users of Segways and bikes of every kind soon notice that it's absolutely freezing here in winter, stinking hot in summer, and wet-weather gear tends to be inconvenient and ineffective.
Inevitably, some bright spark will say: ''What my electric bike/Segway could really use is a roof and perhaps closed sides to allow climate control.''
And so the electric car will be invented …
Hey! Hang on a minute. They're available now!
Michael Jordan, Gowrie
Too much fentanyl
The article by Aisha Dow, ''Spike in deaths from fentanyl overdoses'' (canberratimes.com.au, December 13), highlights a practice that is all too common: over-prescription. With 32 out of 50 deaths that have been attributed to the use of fentanyl still under coronial investigation, it is surely time for Senator Di Natale and supporters to think about the incessant push for a Medical Treatment (physician-assisted suicide) Bill.
Are we really supposed to believe that the motive of dying with dignity is paramount? Or do they simply want to lower the coronial workload and lessen the consequences for doctors who overly prescribe drugs like fentanyl?
Geoff Mongan, Campbell
De Groot threat
Robert Willson (Letters, December 14) claims that he does not defend Captain Francis de Groot's action in ''opening'' the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Yet Willson found his action ''amusing''. Perhaps it wasn't so funny in the context of fascist threats. Having read de Groot's biography, I have no doubts about his fanatical authoritarian views. Whether they qualified him for a mental asylum is a moot point, but Premier Jack Lang's attempt to categorise him as insane was one way to defuse a potentially violent situation. This action can hardly be compared to the actions of the former Soviet Union in incarcerating dissenters in mental institutions. A long bow, indeed.
David Roth, Kambah
Smoking ban will affect mental health
The ACT Mental Health Consumer Network joins with mental health carers in expressing concern about the potential mental health damage to mental health consumers if smoking is banned in mental health facilities in the ACT (''Anxiety rises over effect of smoking ban on the mentally ill'', December 12, p5) .
Forcing patients to stop smoking on admission will adversely affect their mental health. Stopping smoking, even with NRT, has effects including increased irritability and anxiety. When mental health consumers are experiencing a major crisis and are extremely distressed, this is not the time to exacerbate their anxiety by taking away their cigarettes. A crisis is not the time to make an effective decision to quit. ACT Health has not shown evidence that forcing someone to stop smoking in a mental health facility enables them to abstain when discharged. Katrina Bracher (''No more nicotine in mental hospitals'', December 13, p3) states there is no evidence to support claims of adverse effects. But in September this year the West Australian government reversed a 2008 smoking ban in mental health facilities, citing the serious effects of the ban. WA has allowed smoking in designated areas to provide ''a dignified response to the unique circumstances'' of mental health patients in locked facilities.
The new Adult Mental Health Unit was designed and built including designated outdoor smoking areas. In 2010 Katy Gallagher recognised banning smoking in mental health facilities as a ''significant human rights issue''. If the ACT government is really serious about improving the physical health of mental health consumers by reducing smoking rates, then it should direct its energies towards working with consumers in the community, rather than an ineffective and punitive ban in its facilities.
Dalane Drexler, executive officer, ACT Mental Health Consumer Network
As a trained volunteer for one of the most professional and effective community organisations I have ever had anything to do with, I am truly horrified to read that Parentline ACT has apparently arbitrarily had its Community Services Directorate funding for key programs (''Stoush over referrals cost support group its contract'', December 13, p9), including Parentline telephone services, cancelled after 34 years of dedicated service to Canberra families.
Parentline is the only telephone counselling service in the ACT. Its experienced professional counsellors are always there 9am to 9pm weekdays for anyone with parenting issues. Parentline staff cannot be replaced by a call centre-style impersonal referral number.
Parentline volunteers, who provide ongoing one-on-one phone support to people who need it, have been selected by interview. All have been through a rigorous 12-week training program developed and delivered by Parentline professional staff and receive ongoing professional supervision.
If Parentline ACT is really to cease operations permanently, many needy parents and children across the board will miss out on much-needed support and we will all be the poorer for its demise. It would truly be short-sighted, and an incalculable loss, if this great institution for the mental health of ACT families, built up over so many years of hard work, were to be closed down because of bureaucratic folly.
Ros Gordon, Ainslie
A better outcome
Interesting to see an expose of architect John Andrews' proposal to have the modularised form of his Callum Offices building in Woden, extend north along the watercourse that it straddles (''Octagon pods of Woden a vision unrealised'', November 16, p1).
That would have been a far better outcome in terms of architectural and cultural expression, than the prosaic blocks of flats now ominously marching panzer-like south along the same watercourse towards the Callum Offices building.
Jack Kershaw, Kambah
TO THE POINT
COMFORT OF A SMOKE
An ex-smoker of three decades, I am nevertheless appalled to think that mental health patients who are smokers should be denied a smoke (''Anxiety rises over effect of smoking ban on the mentally ill'', December 12, p5). Given the problems they are facing, it is certainly no time to expect them to give up the comfort of a ''drag on a fag''.
Barrie Smillie, Duffy
Mental health carers have reiterated fears that a plan to ban smoking in Canberra's secure mental health facility will harm distressed and vulnerable patients. Your headline is in direct conflict with the opening paragraph of your article. ''The'' mentally ill is overbroad; it includes everyone dealing with a mental illness. The ban is not directed that generally.
Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor, Fort Myers, Florida, USA
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I am fed up with politicians and the media continually bleating that various individuals and organisations ''have questions to answer''. Can we please hear from someone who has questions to ask?
Keith Lawler, Weston
A SAFER ROAD
My thanks to the Canberra Airport Group and ACT government for heeding the warnings about the dangers of Glenora Avenue to cyclists. Until recently this was a narrow country lane shared by trucks, cars and cyclists. It was dangerous. We now have a widened road with smooth cycleways. A pleasure to ride and drive.
Joe Murphy, Bonython
LIVE EXPORT APOLOGISTS
The SBS series Go back to Where You Came From added an interesting dimension to the asylum-seeker debate. I would like to propose a similar opportunity for senators Joe Ludwig and Barnaby Joyce and other apologists for the live export trade - how about a cruise on a livestock ship to Karachi via Bahrain and Israel, with a final stopover in Indonesia? Travelling cattle class, of course.
Gaynor Morgan, Braddon
I see from Wiki that the Canberra coat of arms did not initially have a motto and now it is in English: a pity. When it was in Latin, Pro Rege Lege Grege could be rendered (not just by Republicans) as ''For King, read Mob'', a just version in that the Latin jingle was achieved at the expense of grex, meaning a herd of animals.
J.C. Eade, Ainslie
Keep your letter to 250 words or less. References to Canberra Times reports should include date and page number. Letters may be edited. Provide phone number and full home address (suburb only published).