Election Selection: lake path in spotlight after solution kept in dark for decade

TRACK lighting at Lake Wendouree has remained a dark issue in the city after more than a decade of users calling to let there be light.

The $1.8 million potential project started to gain traction once more when voted top priority for City of Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree master plan, which councillors adopted in November. More than 80 per cent of Ballarat residents support the concept.

As the path to the November state government election shapes up, regional issues are becoming deciding factors. Lake lighting features in The Courier’s Election Selection, a list of the city’s top funding priorities leading into the polls.

Hometown Olympian Steve Moneghetti says the track in his name is fast becoming a bigger issue for people wanting to move in colder, darker months.

“This actually used to just be a problem of safety and security but it’s becoming a user group issue as well,” Mr Moneghetti. “People, including our running group, are out there wearing headlamps at night but it’s blinding people coming the other way...There are so many more people out there in the mornings.

“It’s getting dangerous. We want there to be a lot more use of the lake, and safe use. We want the lake to be a welcoming environment.

Mr Moneghetti said the project need not be complicated. Minor details could be made to supplement existing lighting and timing lights so as not to affect wildlife.

We don’t want people to be shunning exercise or socialising because they do not feel safe.

Steve Moneghetti

Lake lighting has been flicking on and off council’s agenda for years, including a 12-month trial on the lake’s western side, near the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial.

There are times when Mr Moneghetti said runners were forced on the road for visibility in the darkest parts of the lake, and he was concerned lighting would become a reactive move from government rather than preemptive one.

Lake user groups say lighting would make it easier for all users from runners and walkers to cyclists and rowers to enjoy the lake safely and without concerns of collisions with other users.

Saxons cycling group member David Fisken said the most important thing for cyclists was to see and be seen on the road. The Saxons, who leave from Saxon House at City Oval, wait until daylight before they set out in the mornings but lots of other people did not have the luxury to wait.

Mr Fisken said there were always plenty of walkers already out by the lake by the time the Saxons started pedalling. He said anything to ensure cyclists and pedestrians were kept safe and separate from each other was important.

Experienced ultra-marathon runner Tash Fraser is involved in multiple running groups in town, including her own training group for everyday office workers trying to get fit. Ms Fraser said the group is struggling for where to train in winter, given the after-hours necessity.

Her group has tried training on the athletics track at Llanberris, where venue lighting is no guarantee. 

“And there’s only so many times you can run the Dana Street hill,” Ms Fraser said. 

“Just to be away from traffic would be amazing. We’re a large group, developing into a larger group and there’s not many safe places you can actually train.

“I know a lot of runners in Ballarat who find it hard to train as a typical nine to five worker.”

Obesity is an issue at the moment and these groups are about trying to help people out with options and somewhere safe to train before or after work.

Body and Soul gym instructor Gary Blood says he knows of about 20 runners who would rather run outdoors but opt for treadmills rather than joining running groups, because they did not feel comfortable running in the dark – even with headlamps.

“They could run well-lit streets but you have to stop for intersections every couple of hundred metres in the CBD, or you could run on outer streets, which are longer but tend to be darker. The lake is one six-kilometre loop and you don’t fight with road users,” Mr Blood said.

“People want to be active, but unless you’re a member of a gym or sporting club, like a football netball club which has facilities under lights, then you really don’t have anywhere to go.”

The Lake Wendouree master plan also lists outdoor gyms, sponsored by AFL club Western Bulldogs. Mr Blood said a lack of lighting would also send the proposed outdoor gyms into disuse outside daylight savings months.

He said there was also the potential for someone getting injured on the gyms in the dark.

Proposed track lighting is low-cost and low-maintenance, easy to install and can be set on timers. The Courier understands similar lighting is already in place in the carpark near the Yacht Club Cafe at Ballarat Yacht Club.

The aim is to have lighting focused on the Steve Moneghetti Track so as not to upset wildlife nocturnal patterns or the views of lakeside houses.

Mr Moneghetti said The Tan, which is lit up until midnight, and Albert Park in Melbourne and Lake Weerona in Bendigo tracks are great examples for after-dark running in winter.

Mount Gambier’s The Blue Lake has graded lighting until 11pm and lights are predominantly solar powered.

Ballarat triathlete Arthur Shaw said the Steve Moneghetti Track could be “as busy as Bourke Street” at 6pm during daylight savings but went quiet in darker months.

Mr Shaw went for a run about the same time early this week and said conditions were a perfect winter’s night for running.

“The lake is popular with walkers, dog groups, the elderly in the evenings except this time of year because it isn’t lit up,” Mr Shaw said. “We want to get an inactive population active at this time of year. You look at the investment made in winter sports like football, which are very club specific, compared to possibilities for lake users. The lake is for everyone.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer. Other communities have made the investment.”