Posts Tagged ‘Pedestrianisation’

George Street could be free of overhead wires when trams run down the CBD’s civic spine at the end of this decade, according to an industry briefing on the CBD and South East Light Rail Line provided by the government earlier this week. The slides that accompanied the briefing, posted on the Transport for NSW website, list catenary free operation as “potential in the CBD area” (page 11). The City of Sydney council has been pushing for no overhead wires in the portion of George Street which is to be pedestrianised as part of the new line. While this does not commit the government, it is the first evidence that it is at least seriously considering this as an option.

City of Sydney Council wants trams on George Street to run without overhead wires. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: City of Sydney)

City of Sydney Council wants trams on George Street to run without overhead wires. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: City of Sydney)

These changes will not come pain free, and the Herald reports that George Street in particular will see 2 years of work starting in mid 2014 in order to relocate major services such as electricity and water. This follows a similar timetable to the light rail line currently under construction on the Gold Coast, and if it is anything to go by then these 2 years will provide the most significant disruption during the construction process.

The new line will operate 45m long trams with a capacity of 300 passengers per vehicle. This compares to 30m long trams that have a smaller capacity of 200 passengers per vehicle, or to existing buses, the longest of which are the bendy buses and have a capacity of 110 passengers per vehicle.

Map of the Randwick and Kingsford portions of the new light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Industry Briefing Session, Transport for NSW, page 10)

Map of the Randwick and Kingsford portions of the new light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Industry Briefing Session, Transport for NSW, page 10)

The briefing also includes a map showing that the University of NSW stop will be on UNSW property itself, whereas the current bus stop layout requires passengers to cross the road either when they arrive or depart the university. It also shows the light rail line running along an extended version of the bus road that currently parallels Anzac Parade and Alison Road. This bus road currently ends at Doncaster Avenue on Alison Road, but according to the map light rail will continue in a separate right of way until it reaches Clovelly Road.

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Put in place at Taylor Square in time for the 2013 Mardi Gras parade, Oxford Street’s rainbow crossing looks set to be removed soon. The City of Sydney council obtained permission from Roads Minister Duncan Gay to create the crossing on the condition that it be a month long trial only, and that a decision on whether or not to keep it would be made at the end of that month. The City of Sydney wants the trial extended to 12 months due to the popularity of the crossing and the $30,000 cost to remove it.

“I have concerns that we would have to approve every sporting club colours, charity colours, or business colours, which could pose a road safety issue” – Duncan Gay, Roads Minister (1 March 2013)

When asked about it more recently, Mr Gay repeated his concerns about safety, citing cases of people who had laid down on the road to pose for photographs. City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore dismissed the safety concerns, pointing to a council commissioned safety audit that found no accidents or injuries had occurred on the crossing.

Source: Author.

Source: Author.

The position of the Premier Barry O’Farrell is uncertain, though he earlier appeared to present the rainbow crossing as an either/or proposition alongside the renaming of Taylor Square to Kirby Square. His Twitter poll saw a slight majority (51%) in favour of the crossing.

Independent MP for the area Alex Grenwich, who was previously convenor of Australian’s for Marriage Equality, also supports keeping the crossing, and obtained 15,000 signatures in an online petition to Mr Gay to keep it.

It appears that Mr Gay wants the crossing removed in order to avoid setting a precedent, and it is his prerogative as the Roads Minister to make that call. Unless, that is, he gets rolled by the Premier, the cabinet, or the party room. This is what happened with the proposed helipad on Sydney Harbour, which was put forward by Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner but opposed by both the Sydney Morning Herald and federal MP for the area Malcolm Turnbull (whose Liberal Party is a coalition partner of Mr Stoner’s Nationals). It was later abandoned.

Popular opinion would seem to want to keep the crossing, but this will only happen if its profile is raised sufficiently and quickly. The clock is ticking.

It didn’t take long after the closure of the monorail was announced for someone to suggest that it be converted into an elevated walkway, using New York’s High Line as an example. While this initially sounds like a good idea on paper, it soon becomes clear that it would not be workable, and the 1m wide beam should definitely not be compared to the 6m wide High Line in New York. (Alan Davies explains why in more detail over at The Urbanist.)

A more recent proposal which received government approval last month, but seemingly less media coverage or public interest, was the conversion of a portion of the former Goods Line at Ultimo into a public space. It too has been dubbed as Sydney’s version of the High Line. Importantly, this proposal represents both a destination as well as a means of getting from one place to another (New York’s High Line is mainly the former, while the monorail proposal was entirely the latter). It is this combination of factors that Jesse Adams Stein, blogging as Penultimo, argues will make The Goods Line superior to the High Line, and I think that hits the nail on the head.

The Goods Line artists impression

Artists impression of The Goods Line. (Source: ASPECT Studios.)

I was in New York earlier this year and visited the High Line on two occasions. It’s a great piece of public space, a former elevated rail line converted into a public park and walkway. But it doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go, it’s just a destination. So by the time you finish walking to one end, it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came. The Goods Line, on the other hand, will connect up to the Devonshire St Tunnel, allowing a pedestrian to walk North from Central Station at Chalmers St all the way to the Powerhouse Museum unimpeded.

High Line 1/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

Sydney’s CBD actually has a fairly good collection of pedestrian links at the moment, and is adding to them. A collection of major ones that currently exist or are planned are shown in the map below (blue are underground tunnels, green are pedestrianised surface spaces).

CBD pedestrian spaces

Pedestrian spaces in the Sydney CBD. Blue are underground tunnels, green are surface spaces. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author created on Google Earth.)

Right now, a pedestrian across the road from the George St Cinemas can take an underground passage to Town Hall Station, through the QVB, across to Myer and come out the other end at Pitt St Mall. All of this without having to worry about vehicle traffic or the elements up on the surface. Continuing North for two blocks past the pedestrianised Martin Place is the Eastern entrance to Hunter Connection, which will take you to Wynyard Station, where another underground tunnel (soon to be the upgraded Wynyard Walk) takes you through to Barangaroo. By the end of this decade, a large chunk of George St will also be pedestrianised, and one of the features of the redeveloped Darling Harbour will be a pedestrian boulevard running North to South.

When it comes to transport, we are all pedestrians at the most basic level. So it’s good to see a bigger emphasis being placed on creating good quality public spaces that prioritise people above vehicles.

The ABS has released the journey to work data from the 2011 Census (it calls it “travel to work”), and it shows that public and active transport have increased their share of total trips since the previous census in 2006.

There were 1,644,247 daily trips to work in Greater Sydney made in 2006, which increased by 9.7% to 1,803,298 in 2011. This means that if a transport mode holds on to its share of trips, then the absolute number of trips has risen.

The private car remain the most common mode of trip, with 62.6% of trips made by car drivers and 5.2% made by car passengers, down from 63.5% and 6.1% respectively in 2006 (trips made by truck drivers have been counted as car drivers). However, measured in absolute terms, the total number of trips made by car has risen from 1,144,950 to 1,222,479, and increase of 77,529 or 6.8%.

Public transport (including trips where a car is used for a portion of the journey – these trips were not counted in the car trips figure above) have seen an increase in their share of trips, from 20.7% in 2006 to 22.8% in 2011. This is an increase of 20.5% or 70,089 in absolute terms, which is quite similar to the increase in car trips of 77,529. Virtually all the increase in trips from 2006 to 2011 is attributed to either car or public transport trips, and they share this increase almost 50/50. This is in contrast to Infrastructure NSW, which has argued that cars will continue to do the heavy moving when it comes to transport and that roads should therefore receive priority funding over public transport – an argument which requires you to close one eye, tilt your head and stand on one foot to be convincing.

The next biggest share is in active transport. In 2006, 4.8% of trips were on foot, which has fallen slightly to 4.7% in 2011. The largest increase has been for bicycles, rising by 44% albeit from a low base of 0.7% in 2006 to 0.9% in 2011.

Sydney remains the major Australian city with the highest proportion of public transport trips to work, but also the lowest proportion of bicycle trips to work.

Finally there is the other (including taxis and motorbikes) and not stated categories, which taken together were 4.2% in 2006 and 3.9% in 2011.

Of interest are the gender differences in mode usage. Some modes of transport see a significant difference in use when looking at its share of use by men or by women. Car drivers tend to be men (65.6%) more than women (58.8%), while car passengers tend to be women (6.9%) rather than men (3.8%). When it comes to public transport, it is used more by women (25.5%) than by men (20.6%), particularly for buses. The biggest disparity between the genders is for bicycles, with men (1.3%) being more likely to ride a bike than women (0.4%).

The journey to work data is measured based on trips, and does not take distance into account. (Passenger km are provided separately by the NSW Bureau for Transport Statistics as part of the Household Travel Survey.) Given that the vehicle km per capita for cars has been dropping in recent years, it would not be surprising to see that, when trip distance is taken into account, car’s share of travel is actually declining even faster than the figures above indicate.

Pedestrianisation of George Street would involve the replacement of buses from George Street between Bathurst and Hunter Street with light rail. The pedestrianisation of George Street, such as happened in Martin Place and Pitt Street Mall, has been a long term goal of City of Sydney Lord mayor Clover Moore, as part of her 25 year Connecting Our City plan for Sydney. Despite the City of Sydney Council’s continued push for pedestrianisation, the state government has yet to state a position either in favour or opposition to the idea, choosing instead to wait on the release of its light rail feasibility study first.

Pedestrianised George Street

Artists impression of what a pedestranised George Street with light rail could look like. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: City of Sydney)

The concept of pedestrianisation is opposed by some, such as former Parramatta Lord Mayor David Borger, whose council returned cars to the formerly pedestrianised Church Street Mall in Parramatta in 2007. However, it does have the support of businesses, with the Australian National Retailers Association and Committee for Sydney coming out in support.

If it does end up happening, this is what it might look like:

The reason is simple – if you increase the supply of road space then you also increase the demand for its usage (what’s known as induced demand). It encourages people off public transport and into their cars until eventually the increase in car usage saturates the road space and congestion returns. These were the findings of a University of Toronto study into widening of roads – “In particular, if you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities”.

In fact, the converse is often also true. If you remove road space, then much of the time the number of cars using the road space also drops. Hence, congestion does not actually get worse either. Jane Jacobs explains it in this way:

“in a dense and active city that is rich with mobility options, there will be as much car traffic as the city chooses to make room for…[When a road is closed] the traffic that used the formerly busy road disappears, through countless private readjustments, so long as there is an abundant grid of alternate paths into which traffic can disperse, and other modes, such as public transit, to which it can convert, and other times of day to which it can shift its travel” – Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities (Chapter 18)

This is why the proposed pedestrianisation of major city streets in Australia, such as Swanston Street in Melbourne or George Street in Sydney, is not the horror idea that you might first imagine it to be.

Swanston St Tram Superstop

A few decades ago, Swanston St was a 6 lane road right through the centre of Melbourne’s CBD. Today it is being converted into a pedestrian, tram and bicycle corridor with no cars allowed on it. This is what it will end up looking like once the transformation is complete. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The city of Seoul in South Korea went one step further, and removed a major highway from the city (see video below), replacing it with a stream that was originally there. But rather than a massive increase in traffic and congestion, people moved to public transport or changed their travel times to work around the new road space availability. This phenomenon was described (at around 11:45 in the video) by comparing traffic to a gas – it expands or compresses to fit into the space provided, rather than a liquid – which spills over and floods other areas when not enough capacity is provided.

If you want to reduce congestion, the way to do it is to invest in public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure, all things that encourage people out of their cars, rather than merely building new roads or widening existing roads.

There is one big exception to this, and that’s new roads that take traffic off local roads. The Lane Cove Tunnel, which took cars off Epping Road, and the Cross City Tunnel, which took cars out of the CBD, are both recent examples that meet this description. All new freeways do this to some extent, so the question is whether this is the primary function of the road or merely a by-product.

The state government recently officially declared that George Street is now the favoured route for a CBD light rail extension, with trams likely to soon travel from Central to Circular Quay via George Street, before continuing along Hickson Road to Barangaroo. Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has been pushing for such a route for a few years now, and hopes that light rail will transform George Street. Part of this transformation will be to pedestrianise a large part of George Street, banishing cars (and probably buses too), leaving only light rail, bicycles and pedestrians.

Melbourne has recently decided to take such an approach with Swanston Street, its main tram route through the city. Swanston Street has been car free during certain times of the day for many years now, but will soon be entirely free of vehicle traffic – currently one block has been completed, with a tram super stop installed.

Daniel Bowen wrote a piece about the new tram super stop shortly after it opened last month. If Clover gets her way, Swanston Street would give us a good idea of what a future George Street might look like.