Formula One track designer Hermann Tilke said recently that city street circuits, rather than the dedicated and permanent facilities he is renowned for building, are the way to go for motor racing. For the record, he lives in Aachen, Germany, where tree-lined boulevards lead to the warm sulphur springs at Aix-la-Chapelle.
The other day, my maltese-shi tzu got a taste of what Aachen might have been like during its famous battle with the Americans in 1944. Startled by the overhead air display, she correctly deduced that fighter jets are designed to attack ground targets and legged it down the street.
The punters at the Clipsal 500 four and a half kilometres away, for whom the display was designed, were no doubt more excited by it. The event’s slogan for 2007 was “Be There”, but as far as my dog was concerned, the 120-knot F/A-18 flyover meant that like it or not, she already was. While she cowered behind a bush, I was reminded of the inconvenience of street circuits. Adelaide has one. Today, Melbourne’s sits within a public park, patrolled by security guards and closed to the public. For non-motor sport fans, they are inconvenience itself.
Near my office, the concrete barriers blocking Flinders, Wakefield and Pirie Streets reminded me of the Berlin Wall, which for 28 years closed the border between East and West Germany. My wife decided to delay our daughter’s second birthday party until after Adelaide’s East was reunited with the West. That way, everyone could come.
The Adelaide Parklands Preservation Association claims a 8.3% increase in instances of city road rage during the Clipsal 500, a similar rise in traffic accidents and delays in the deployment time for police and ambulance emergencies. Last week, local businesses on the closed roads took to putting up “We are still open” signs.
No, I’m not down on street tracks. Sure, next week the noisiest circus on earth is on the doorstep of Melbourne’s southern suburbs, but Albert Park is a few kilometres from the CBD. The most famous street race in the world, Monaco, swings open its metal barriers to normal road users a few minutes after each track session – the millionaires and their Bentleys wouldn’t have it any other way.
But in Adelaide, we’re not even talking about Formula One; the world’s third most popular sporting event with television coverage in most of the 190-odd countries on the globe. Our V8s have no comprehensive free-to-air television coverage outside of Australia and New Zealand.
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The path to Adelaide’s Clipsal chaos was paved back in 1984, when the parliament passed the Australian Formula One Grand Prix Act. Recently, it was quietly renamed the South Australian Motor Sport Act 1984, now referring to indistinct “motor sport events” rather than to the defunct grand prix.
Also long after the wail of F1 engines died, a policy review concluded that “no changes to the legislation are recommended” and that the inconveniences to the public are “difficult to quantify”.
How about loss of access to public streets and parklands? How about a 15 minute walk to the city now taking an hour? How about traffic chaos, bus delays, bigger petrol bills due to detours, lost business hours, loss of local trade? What about littering, damage to the beautiful parklands? What about the police who are rounding up drunk revheads rather than patrolling my street?
How about asking the Ford and Holden fans to put up with a drive to a permanent racing circuit rather than requiring law-abiding local residents to put up with a provincial motor sport?
Over to you, Melbourne.