We speak to George Mihailides, the man behind 'No Boullie Tacks' has organised a second Yarra Boulevard 'protest ride' this Sunday 8 November at 10am. La Velocita talked to George about the story so far and why he's taking a stand.
Interview - Tom McQuillan Images - George Mihailides
For those who aren't aware, what's the Yarra Boulevard and what's the history of tacks being spread on the Boulie?
The Yarra Boulevard is often called the Kew Boulevard. It’s a 6.5km stretch of scenic road in Melbourne's inner East.
It’s a bit of a cycling Mecca in Melbourne. It has very few intersecting roads, a generous shoulder to help keep cyclists and motorists separated and it rolls up and down giving cyclists a good workout. Its also a popular commuting route linking up with a number of key bike paths to and from the CBD.
In January of 2014, someone started throwing tacks down in the shoulder where cyclists ride. Month after month, reports of tacks and punctures continued to roll in. Boroondara Council, Vic Roads and Vic Police all got involved. There were door knocks, police patrols, sweepings with magnetic sweepers, letterbox drops. The tack attacks continue unabated to this day.
What made you decide to get involved?
I've had my share of punctures, but that alone never bothered me enough to act. I then started to hear reports of accidents. Having crashed myself as the result of a puncture, I knew that it was only time before someone got seriously hurt on the Boulevard.
The final trigger for me to act happened over a breakfast with some cycling mates who had just been on a bunch ride on the Boulevard. Tacks had been thrown on the road and half the bunch punctured. This was 15 months after the first tack attack and I thought to myself, this is ridiculous, it has got to stop.
How many Boulie laps would you say you've ridden?
So far in 2015 I have made over 80 passes of the Boulevard. I carry two extra spare tubes with me, to be used either by myself or any other stranded cyclists I happen to come across...and there have been many.
What measures has been taken so far to try and catch the culprit?
Bear in mind that I am not privy to everything the police are doing for obvious reasons. But hear is what I know:
- A number of operations in the area involving the Boroondara Uniform, Criminal Investigation Unit, and the Sheriff’s Department utilising Number Plate Recognition technology.
- They have initiated media coverage on a number of occasions through a variety of local and state-wide media outlets to encourage tip-offs.
- They have significantly stepped up patrols.
- They have been in touch with hardware outlets and tack suppliers for the purpose of identifying members of the public purchasing tacks.
- They have contacted local furniture manufactures and restorers.
- They have surveyed local residents to identify issues, motives and potential suspects.
So, its fair to say they have invested and its important to recognise that. But what's missing is surveillance cameras. This is something they have resisted because of the cost.
What's been the approximate cost of someone spreading tacks on Yarra Boulevard so far?
The advice I have is that the combined cost to Vic Roads, Vic Police and Boroondara council has now passed through $1M and is well on the way to $2M. These costs are born by the local rate payers of Boroondara, Victorian road users and all tax paying Victorians.
On top of that, there is the cost of replacement tubes to the cyclists of the Boulevard. Given that the number of punctures would be well over a 1000 by now, that's another $100,000 added to the bill.
Beyond these costs, there are other impacts of significance. Tacks have injured pets and children walking on the footpaths along the Boulevard. Motorists and motorcyclists have punctured. Tacks will be entering the water system and no doubt be impacting on the local aquatic life. More worryingly, cyclists are choosing to ride on the main road surface to avoid tacks in the road shoulder and this is creating dangerous circumstances. There are increasing reports of road rage incidents triggered by motorists unhappy about having to share the main road surface with cyclists.
But most disturbingly, we recently had an 82 year old cyclist severely injured following a front wheel puncture. And by injured, I am talking about broken ribs and a brain haemorrhage.
All in all, the only way to describe what's happened is as a disaster.
You held your first protest ride a few months ago. How did that go?
I organized the protest ride in May not knowing if anyone was interested. As it turned out, we had over 1000 cyclists attend and the event received significant media attention. I was shocked to be honest. Until then I hadn't realized the extent of the anger within the community.
On the back of the protest ride, Vic Roads implemented a daily sweeping routine and the police increased their patrols. These were two positive outcomes although Vic Roads later abandoned the daily sweeps. But the key remedy I sought was the installation of surveillance cameras which has never eventuated. It remains my absolute conviction that surveillance cameras will be the key to brining the tack attacks to an end.
What further measures are you advocating for and why?
The culprit is cunning and determined. It should be patently obvious to the authorities by now that this will not end until he/she is caught. The police need to acknowledge that patrolling the Boulevard and/or relying on a tip-off is a failed strategy. As I mentioned already, I firmly believe that surveillance cameras are they key. In support of that objective, Vic Roads needs to keep the Boulevard free of tacks by being more judicious about their sweeping program. With $1M down the drain already, I'd hate to think that we are sitting here in another six months having the same conversation. The case for the implementation of surveillance cameras has been made in my opinion.
There's another protest ride coming up on November 8th. What are your hopes and expectations for that ride?
I've never understood the police's resistance to installing surveillance cameras. I've said to those working at the coal face that they should be using the cycling community's frustration as a lever to convince whoever it is holding the purse strings to bite the bullet and install the cameras. My hope for this protest ride is that our voice will become irresistible and the decision to invest will be taken.
The ride itself will commence at the corner of Walmer Street and the Boulevard at 10:00AM, Sunday November 8.
What's the message you're trying to get across with your campaign?
To the broader community - Interestingly, during the last protest ride I was contacted by many local residence who gave their absolute support to what we were doing.
Cyclist or not, the majority of people already see this as nothing other than a criminal act. In fact, as part of our preparations for this protest, we are letter box dropping the local residents inviting them along. My approach to this issue is and will remain to bring the non-cycling community along the journey with us.
This is not a cyclists vs motorist issue. This is entirely about the actions of a single person.