Visitors would be forgiven for assuming that the City of Launceston has commissioned a nightly race of ride-on-lawnmowers around the city’s streets, complete with intoxicated supporters cheering from the sidelines.
What visitors will be hearing is the nightly pilgrimage of questionably street-legal vehicles driving circles around the CBD: what’s commonly known as the Launceston blockie route.
Launceston’s street racing underbelly has generally been ignored, or mockingly embraced, by non-CBD-based Launceston residents. The recent blockie route parody Australia’s Best Street Racer was celebrated by the arts community. But the realities of these nightly disruptions pose a threat to the City of Launceston in establishing itself as a cultural hub, which is an imperative for Launceston to deliver on the $10 million in funding by the federal government to help develop itself as a cultural precinct.
For residents, Friday and Saturday nights in Launceston are becoming increasingly intolerable. One local business owner, with an office near blockie route ground zero – the Myer carpark – reported witnessing what they perceived as drug deals, semi-naked women dancing atop car bonnets, and being surrounded by hoons in Holdens transferring tire treads into taxpayer-funded bitumen.
One CBD resident laments seeking medical advice to cope with nightly sleep deprivation and associated deterioration of their mental health. Another city dweller is amazed that no one has been killed, yet. Cars accelerate around corners with complete disregard for speed limits and it’s only a matter of time before someone is struck. It is not uncommon for the noise to pierce the windows of residents’ apartments well into the early hours of the morning.
A brief reprieve from blockie route pandemonium was felt by city residents during COVID-19 restrictions, when group congregation was policed. But the nightly rampage has returned.
City residents are questioning why hooning behaviour is allowed to persist. How does the wellbeing of its residents, the safety of the streets, and the future of Launceston as a cultural destination seemingly rates so low on the priority scale?
When there’s a known epicentre of cars with illegal modifications and nefarious activity, residents are baffled as to why efforts to crack down are lacking.
The origins of the blockie route phenomenon lie in the unexpected outfalls of urban planning decision-making. According to the City of Launceston’s webpage, “at 7am on Monday, September 14, 1964, the streets in Launceston’s CBD were switched to a new, one-way system”. This gave rise to the circuit that would become the evening speedway for outer suburb residents entering the CBD for displays of petrol-fuelled power.
Given that the creation of the blockie route was a result of urban planning oversight, surely design corrections can be made to enable the city to evolve into its new cultural era.
Visitors come to Launceston under the attraction of cultural and scenic enrichment experiences. Yet, they will likely leave thinking the City has a lot of growing up to do before the promises on marketing materials are met.
Launceston should not be a place where visitors need to pack earplugs in their luggage to achieve a night’s sleep or a high-vis vest to cross the street in safety.
The council must pause and reflect on the characteristics it wishes to espouse as it works towards achieving its cultural hub vision.
- Dr Bronwyn Eager, discipline leader Entrepreneurship and Innovation Tasmanian School of Business and Economics UTAS