Is WestConnex worth building without a CBD link?

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Transport
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The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered $1bn in funding for Sydney’s WestConnex, based on it meeting 3 conditions. It must go all the way to the CBD, it must go all the way to Port Botany, and the government must not impose tolls on currently untolled roads. None of these are currently part of the WestConnex proposal. The Premier Barry O’Farrell immediately dismissed the offer, claiming that doing these three would cost $5bn to $9bn in additional construction and lost revenue.

Map of the proposed WestConnex route. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Map of the proposed WestConnex route. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

It is the first point, on linking WestConnex through to the CBD, that has obtained the most attention, and here Mr O’Farrell has got it right. Many transport experts support the decision to not send WestConnex right into the CBD. It’s worth remembering that private vehicles on roads do a terrible job of moving large numbers of people to a single place: a single track of rail has ten times the capacity of a single lane of road. Congestion on the roads leading into the CBD cannot be solved by building more roads into the CBD, it won’t eliminate the bottleneck – it will merely shift it closer to the CBD. Not only is CBD road space limited, but so are parking spaces, and both of these are a poor use of the very limited space available in the city centre.

The only way to improve capacity into the CBD is to improve public transport, and that means more investment in train, buses, and trams. Public transport (and to a lesser extent, active transport – walking and cycling) are effective to areas with a high employment density.

So if WestConnex will do a bad job of transporting people into the CBD, then why isn’t it being scrapped entirely? Answering that question needs a non-CBD centric perspective on jobs and commuting in Sydney. One of the experts opposing the CBD link, Dr Garry Glazebrook of UTS, points out that “the point about motorways is not to service the CBD. It’s cross-regional traffic”.

Location of jobs in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney's Centres, 1996 - 2006, page 2.)

Location of jobs in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006, page 2.)

The Bureau of Transport Statistics compiled these figures from the 2006 census and released it in a document called Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006. These show that 1,923,900 were employed in 2006 in the Sydney statistical district, an area which includes the Central Coast. It then breaks these jobs down by location, into one of 33 activity centres and the remainder of Sydney, while excluding the 110,342 who’s employment location is listed as “unknown”. The largest centre is the CBD, with 230,049 jobs (12.7% of the total), with all other centres collectively employing 484,447 people (26.7% of the total). The remaining 1,099,062 work in the rest of Sydney or have “no fixed address” (60.6% of the total).

Sydney CBD has an employment density of 546 jobs/Ha, and hence a very high public and active transport share of of journeys to work of 76.6%, with only 19.5% of journeys primarily made by car (combination of driver and passenger).

Journey to work modal share for Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney's Centres, 1996 - 2006, page 10.)

Journey to work modal share for Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006, page 10.)

The 32 other centres are classified based on type, which include Central Sydney (e.g. Redfern), Commercial/Business Park (e.g. North Sydney), Education/Health (e.g. Westmead), Industrial (e.g. Port Botany), Regional (e.g. Liverpool), and retail (e.g. Castle Hill). These centres have a large range in employment density, from 1 job/Ha in Eastern Creek to 369 jobs/Ha in North Sydney. However, these are both outliers, and all other centres range from 11 jobs/Ha to 271 jobs/Ha. This lower employment density leads to a lower public and active transport share of 30.0%, with 69.1% of journeys primarily made by car.

Journey to work mode share for other centres in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney's Centres, 1996 - 2006, page 10.)

Journey to work mode share for other centres in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006, page 10.)

That leaves the rest of Sydney, where 60.6% of people work. These are dispersed and have a very low employment density of 0.8 jobs/Ha. This is very difficult to service by public transport, so these parts of Sydney have a public and active transport share of only 14.0%, with 85.2%  of journeys primarily made by car.

Journey to work mode share for rest of Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney's Centres, 1996 - 2006, page 10.)

Journey to work mode share for rest of Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006, page 10.)

By not linking directly to the CBD, it is precisely these dispersed jobs that WestConnex is best equipped to serve. Critics of WestConnex who (rightly) point out that dumping more cars into the CBD will not solve Sydney’s congestion problem fail to acknowledge that this is a very CBD-centric view of roads planning. With over 60% of jobs outside of major centres, and 87% outside the CBD, roads have and will continue to play a role in providing the appropriate mobility to the people of Sydney.

It is in the CBD, and to a lesser extent the inner city and other major centres, that public transport should and must be the priority.

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Comments
  1. Matt says:

    Rail is the best solution for travel to/from the CBD. Building more radial motorways to the CBD will only move the jams to different places. Sydney’s biggest problem, and one that is rarely discussed, is getting across the city, where public transport is not a realistic option. The most valuable road project that could be built in Sydney would be a North-South motorway connecting the F3 at Hornsby to the F6/Princes Hwy at Heathcote. Some sections would be fairly simple such as south of the Hume Highway at Bankstown which could be built as an Eastern Distributor-style slot road, and south of Alfords Point Bridge which is partially complete anyway. The F3 to M2 tunnel is already planned, and a reservation exists for much of the route from the M2 to Silverwater although some tunnelling would be needed. The biggest headache would be Silverwater to Bankstown which would need tunnelling, although the slot road idea would work on Rookwood Rd. The project would potentially solve more traffic problems than the West Connex and would probably cost much less. It would also remove the need for much of the North-South traffic to travel through the Harbour Tunnel/ Eastern Distributor which is currently the quickest route for most traffic between South Coast/Wollongong/Sutherland Shire/St George/Inner South West areas and North Shore/Northern Suburbs/Central Coast/Newcastle/North Coast.

  2. Sam says:

    Agree that building more radial motorways is a poor idea. Westconnex resembles a radial link in many ways it just doesn’t get all the way to the CBD. While there are benefits I see it as a poor allocation of funds.
    Similarly the F6 at Heatchote is a radial link, parallel to existing public transport. Better to improve the rail service.

  3. […] Is WestConnex worth building without a CBD link? […]

  4. […] politically based on (and one which I have criticised the Labor Party for doing in the past on both WestConnex and the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link). As a comparison, urban rail has received a majority of […]

  5. […] off local roads around Botany and Masacot. The link to the CBD is more questionable, given that roads do a terrible job at transporting large numbers of people into a compact activity centre like the CBD. While the limitation placed on new tolls is a populist measure that goes against the […]

  6. […] earlier post on the WestConnex looked at whether it should link up to the CBD, and what sort of trips car travel is best suited to […]

  7. […] in moving large volumes of people to or from a single destination in a short period of time, while private motor vehicles work best in moving people to and from dispersed destinations over a long per…. Each performs poorly at the other function, which is why public transport has a high mode share […]

  8. […] the only congestion problem is in the AM and PM peaks during the week. It should be remembered that only 13% of workers commute to the CBD each day, and 77% of those do so by public or active transpor…. Most car traffic is not destined for the CBD, and most non-CBD travelers get to their destination […]

  9. […] have made their funding conditional on the M4 East being extended to the CBD (a poor decision, as explained here), while Labor has also required a link to Port Botany and for existing portions of freeway to […]

  10. […] Is WestConnex worth building without a CBD link? […]

  11. […] Is WestConnex worth building without a CBD link? […]

  12. graham moot says:

    A very poor decision which will affect a large number of residents, and do little over the long term to ease traffic congestion. Heavy transport should pick up from rail transport nodes. Public transport needs to increase. All major international cities have realised the folly of building more motorways without adequate public transport in place.

  13. […] but then implements it ineffectively by doing so through the prism of politics. As seen with the proposed funding of WestConnex, it’s not a one off […]

  14. […] that problem is worked out. In many cases, such as for outer suburban areas with dispersed trips, it is indeed better for road based traffic solutions. In other cases, such as in compact inner city areas or into dense urban cores, it makes a lot […]

  15. […] makes sense to encourage mode share towards public transport and away from cars, there are some trips that are more suited to public transport and other better suited to cars. Trips into the CBD and other major centres or within the dense inner city, for example, are well […]

  16. […] a mode of transport, private motor vehicles work best in moving people to and from dispersed destinations over a long per…. However, this poses a problem when a major arterial road happens to pass through a major centre, […]

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