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.
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”.
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).
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.
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.
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.