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  • Paul Fink

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Six weeks ago before my stroke, my family were moving in a new house at Carnegie (inner-city suburb at Melbourne). We were upsizing the living arrangements because my son was born, and my old apartment was very small.

Grange Road is a main road and Oakleigh Road is medium-sized road between North Road and Glen Huntly Road (photo). My new house is located not far this intersection and I identified that the intersection was very busy and 'need traffic lights or roundabout or something' because - in my opinion - was dangerous.

But sadly, I was very busy with work, family stuff, construction the house etc and never proceeding my idea. Anyway, I parked the idea very soon after that because my stroke happened moving in after six weeks living this house. Nonetheless was valid idea. That's why my friends calls me 'the ideas man'... I have lots of ideas. (Borrowed the line from The Castle movie...sorry terrible joke).

The intersection is dangerous because people - disabled, elderly, young kids and even able bodied people - were struggling to cross Grange Road by foot, and cars sometimes are waiting even longer to crossover to Grange Road on road. After received my licence back (post stroke), I drove this road many times and my personal best (or worst!) is 15 minutes to wait. The traffic - especially at peak hour - are terrible and leads to frustration, promoting dangerous driving and road rage. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side... sometimes fast and dangerously.

After I was discharged at Caulfield Hospital, I commenced outpatient therapy at Caulfield community rehab (roughly six months after my stroke at Jan 2014) - specifically, physio, OT and speech therapy. The allied health team used the word 'community' and how to improve my independent living in the community. But I remember how I was very confused the word. I know the literal word, but my thinking was 'what community'? My family? Cricket community? My cricket club? My high school? Eventually, I got it. 'Community reintegration after stroke' ... but three years ago my cognitive state of mind was poor. My understanding (in general) is a work in progress still and - I reckon - the word is too broad, hence my confusion.

My therapists (at outpatient therapy) - David, Claire and Tracey - decided I needed a mini-project. It was a very general comment and I was pondering ’what project??’ I am a practical person and I require the specifics’. Two days later, I resolved with myself that my project is improving the intersection.

Any therapy is more beneficial when you including real-life situations, and this idea [the traffic lights] is definitely relevant and helpful for me, and the community in general. I spoke with my therapists with my idea and they loved it.

Claire (speech pathologist) and Tracey (allied health assistant) assisted with getting the project started. We did lots of brainstorming, and discussions about implementation, stakeholders, hurdles and risks. My background with management also helped. One hurdles were my speech - particularly writing - because I envisaged to write a formal letter for the stakeholders (eg. council member or possibly parliament members). A daunting task but luckily they helped me, and eventually the letter was completed, but I decided not sending the letter right away because I was busy with doing the 'groundwork'.

First, Tracey and I 'googled' where my area/zone located the [proposed] traffic lights it. And after that, I searched the names of the Glen Eira City Council members of the ward and also the parliamentarians for my area. Politics is not my strong point so this was all a big learning curve for me.

Second, I went to Ormond Community Kindergarten to see if the Kinder supporting idea. I was not prepared the conversation - to be honest - but I decided to just 'wing it' because I was eager to start. This was a big step for me in my rehab. Until then I'd only communicated with people who either knew what had happened to me, or with someone who could communicate for me if I was struggling. In hindsight, maybe I better prepared because two years ago, my speech was not the best. But, I made my point successfully. Vicki (my contact person) she agreed the idea has merit and definitely supporting the idea. She also said also the kindergarten were campaigning over 20-25 years! But sadly no luck.... I was happy because my idea was vindicated and we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Communication lines were on.

Third, I organised a petition - local residents, the Kindergarten, local coffee shops, friends and acquaintances - and overall 250 people signed. My petition was not online. I understand that the online petition more productive than off-line petition, but decided 'manual' was better because more authentic and also I needed an actual signatures.

Eventually, I sent the letter (via email) with the petition to the parliament members and council members, and I decided to send it to the local paper also because my thinking was can't hurt more pressure with politicians. Fortunately, the Leader Newspaper ran the story at 22 September 2015.

After sent my letter I received lots of support. I received emails, letters, phone calls and face-to-face meeting from parliamentarians and Council members who were vocal about supporting. I even featured at Parliament (One example of this).

After that, I was told there was support for the lights but was pending VicRoads approval for funding.

There was not much communication for about 6 months until 27 April 2016, Steve Dimopoulos MP confirmed the news (at Facebook) and I was very, very ecstatic to see the good news come.

Luke Donnellan, Steve Dimopoulos and me...

In that time, I was still communicating with Vicki, the Council and the parliamentarians and this year (2017) the traffic lights are operational... and AMAZING! Vicki recently said "It has made the whole area so much safer and we have had some great feedback from parents" and "I’m so genuinely glad you took on this project as I’m sure it is saving lives." And me, I am very happy because my son and I will be to cross the road safely and I can be more independent with Oscar.

I know what community means now, and my small contribution to the Ormond, Glen Huntly and Carnegie's community are very rewarding - in fact - I received a Higgins community award for the initiative. Side funny note: I came the Malvern town at the morning tea hosted Kelly O'Dwyer MP. I came alone because I was not expecting much - aside from a nice morning tea - but I met Kelly and she awarded this award. My wife felt terrible though as she wouldn't come with me.

This project was therapeutic and I benefited from this real-life experience in therapy. Initiating conversations with people in the community, making phone calls, writing letters and emails, brainstorming, communication strategies, teamwork, ideas and support and lots more.

Special thanks for Claire Hudson, Tracey Wagstaff , David Harrower encouraged to continuing the project and also thanks to Steve Dimopoulos MP, Margaret Fitzherbert MLC, Sue Pennicuik MLC, Philip Dalidakis MP, Luke Donnellan MP, Kelly O'Dwyer MP, Vicki Carr (Ormond Community Kindergarten, Zeth Romanis (Gauge Espresso Cafe), Glen Eira City Council, VicRoads and the people who sign my petition. I am grateful for supporting my idea. It was a real team effort, and good result for everyone.

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