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Every city has its sacred cows. Try telling a Sydneysider that the harbour is a little underwhelming, or a Brisbanite that the weather is not all it's cracked up to be. You probably won't be invited back.
In Melbourne we have our fair share of icons that are not up for discussion. The MCG (Australia's premier sporting venue); our laneways (unique); our coffee (the best in the world). Stray from the accepted script and you'll find the process of social interaction in this city challenging.
But it's our trams that are the most sacrosanct. You see, trams are uniquely Melbourne. (Sort of. If you pretend that Vienna, Prague and Budapest don't have trams). They are the clack-clacking heartbeat of our town. They add a spark - often quite literally - to dull mornings and a ''ding ding'' to weary afternoons. They have been part of the fabric of our streets forever.
More importantly, trams are, without any shadow of a doubt, the cleverest form of public transport ever conceived. To suggest otherwise you would have to be mad, or from Sydney. Probably both.
So imagine my trepidation when I started recently to have doubts about trams.
My suspicions began some weeks ago with the start of a $25 million-plus project to shift the current, perfectly functioning tram tracks near my house a few centimetres to one side. The disruption was immense. The street was closed for a week, every piece of bitumen was dug up and relaid, shops closed.
For one, fleeting moment I considered what they would have had to do for a bus route. The word ''nothing'' flashed into my mind, but I quickly stamped it out. Sydney has buses and Sydney is crap.
I read the Yarra Trams literature but couldn't find a compelling reason for the works. But I did see a statement that read: ''Building Melbourne's tram network for the next 100 years.''
Call me avant-garde, but I had not imagined trams would be trundling around Melbourne in 2111. I assumed we were just hanging on to them for sentimental reasons until they died. A bit like the Queen.
Once the questioning began, the floodgates opened.
Grievances that had been suppressed for years materialised.
Stepping out into the middle of a main road to get off a public transport vehicle is not exciting and cosmopolitan, it's just plain dangerous.
Ripping up roads every time we need a new public transport route isn't progress, it's bonkers.
That trams can't nip past other trams if the one in front is broken down isn't just unfortunate, it's just dumb.
And all those electricity lines hanging like spider webs across intersections aren't works of art, they're ugly. There, I said it.
I'll concede there's a certain romance attached to sitting on the 78 as it thunders down Chapel Street at the pace of a hand-pushed lawnmower in thick grass. But Melbourne, isn't it time we all conceded that trams might not be the Holy Grail of transport? Or am I missing something?
James Schloeffel is a freelance writer.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/dont-get-mad-but-maybe-its-time-to-rail-against-a-melbourne-icon-20111222-1p744.html
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