Crossing Harold Scruby

The Manly Daily

Saturday 18 May 2002

Crossing Scruby

Author: Simone Richards

FOR years Middle Harbour Public School fought for a red light camera to protect the safety of children crossing the busy MacPherson St.

The RTA had rejected the call, saying the road did not meet traffic warrants. A subsequent request for a 40km/h speed zone was also refused.

Frustrated with the lack of response, then Mosman Council deputy mayor Harold Scruby enlisted the support of Willoughby MP Peter Collins and staged a “major demonstration” a week out from the 1995 state election.

“That night we got our 40km zone,” Mr Scruby recounted with pride. “We were the first school in NSW to get a 40km zone on a main road.”

Such is the influence of the now chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.

In recent weeks the pedestrian advocacy group has caused a furore on the peninsula with its high-profile leader copping the blame for a parking crackdown at Palm Beach and Careel Bay. While the council claims it has been seeking parking enforcement at Pittwater for many years, critics of Mr Scruby believe the topic has become an obsession.

Others believe the council is too extreme in its approach and, despite worthy initiatives, alienates people.

Mr Scruby knows all too well that the council has its critics but he makes no apologies for pushing for a new culture.

“We've had 50 years of the motor vehicles beginning to rule and we want to be, pardon the pun, the Greenpeace on legs,” he explained.

While Mr Scruby identifies his time on Mosman Council's traffic committee as the catalyst for the formation of the council, the seeds of the concept could conceivably have been sown in his mind almost a decade earlier.

In 1986, while Mr Scruby was driving to his father's birthday party, he hit a jogger with his Mercedes in Mosman and was charged with a serious driving offence.

After a lengthy court case, he was exonerated of the charges but admits the experience was a “harrowing time”.

“It certainly made me realise that each party on the road had a responsibility,” Mr Scruby said.

The PCA, which was first funded by the NRMA and RTA more than six years ago, is charged with the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians.

Mr Scruby describes the incorporated group as a coalition of like-minded groups, including the Federation of Parents and Citizens, Paraquad, Council on the Ageing and Bicycle Australia.
“Within the coalition there's hundreds of thousands of members and we can react to their needs and we can also represent a very wide group of pedestrian needs and wants,” Mr Scruby said.

But a northern beaches resident, who asked not to be identified, is critical of the council, claiming membership is open to all, but then requiring approval by Mr Scruby.
“They can vet who the hell joins,” the resident said. “I find groups like this frightening.”

Mr Scruby said the board had made a conscious decision to focus on pedestrian-related walking events, such as Walk to Work Day, rather than trying to attract membership.

But it is the council's methods of enforcing road rules and pedestrian safety that have raised the hackles of some. Mr Scruby in his zeal for the cause regularly photographs illegally parked vehicles and alerts councils and the RTA to potentially dangerous situations, most times with copious amounts of correspondence.

“We know we are going to be unpopular, we know this is bringing people into a new area of pedestrian rights but it's been a long time coming,” he said.

Manly councillor Sue Sacker has felt the wrath of the PCA (she was booked for parking in her driveway after the PCA tipped council rangers off) and describes Mr Scruby as a “man on a mission”.

“I think there's a lot of improvements that should be made for pedestrian, unfortunately, (Mr Scruby) is extreme in his approach and all that does is alienate people,” she said.

“lf he was more balanced and moderate in his approach he would get more support.”

Mr Scruby said the PCA had done an enormous amount of work toward promoting road safety and walking.

“Maybe we are obsessive, maybe not. Certainly persistent and we're not going to give up and if we upset people for the right reasons, then we upset them,” he explained.

There is no doubt Mr Scmby believes in adhering to the letter of the law. He cites the Australian Road Rules and associated fines like a mantra.

He interrupted our two-hour interview on no less than 10 occasions to point out parking illegalities in Manly.

“Our major issue is that dangerous parking is equally as lethal as dangerous driving,” Mr Scruby said. “It can have the same effect. It just hasn't got through to the community.”

There is also no doubt that the PCA is a powerful lobby group - and it knows it.

Mr Scruby speaks about “getting” Transport Minister Carl Scully to increase parking fines, claims “wins” for the introduction of demerit points for drivers using mobile telephones and says his group, was instrumental in shifting parkinng enforcement responsibilities from police to councils.

“We are a powerful organization, I mean I think we're making change and I don't think anyone can doubt our commitment or our honesty,” Mr Scruby said.

“Some people might doubt our methods ... but we don't want to see people booked, that’s the last thing we want, we want to see people obeying the laws.”
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