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Friday, 12 April 2013

Traffic in Sydney's inner west is the pedestrian's curse

It was fitting that just before I got back from visiting Sydney a story should appear talking about how bad the traffic is there.
Trips across the city take on average 33 per cent longer during peak-hour periods than they do on a clear run, an analysis of millions of kilometres travelled around Sydney by satnav company TomTom has found. 
In the worst of the travel peak, Sydneysiders on average are spending an extra 40 minutes in their vehicles for each hour driven on choked roads. 
Based on a 30-minute daily commute, that adds up to a staggering 92 extra hours spent at the wheel in bumper-to-bumper bedlam each year, enough to cause both engines and tempers to overheat.
I had hired a car but even though I had places to go on some days I left it in the hotel carpark because it's not just the teeth-grinding experience of negotiating Sydney's inner urban traffic, it's also the problem of where to park. The hotel I stayed in is on Pitt Street and I had occasion to go to Newtown. Drive? Forget it. Better to pay $15 for a taxi.

Even going to Glebe is difficult. On a weekday around 11am, finding a parking space in the Broadway Shopping Centre is no joke. You drive round and round to ever higher levels and as soon as a car departs there is someone waiting to fill the empty space.

In one taxi I took I learned from the driver of a plan to close George Street to traffic. Instead there would be light rail going from the CBD to Randwick. "Great," I thought, "that's what Sydney needs." But it needs more, too. The CBD is so choked with cars that the trip down Liverpool Street, for example, takes place in a fever of acceleration amid harrassed honking of car horns. On Broadway the drive up to the City Road intersection is a nightmare with cars and buses struggling to find an exit. And when the massive Central Park apartment complex opens up in the next couple of years the situation is going to get worse.

Glebe and Newtown are extremely popular with diners and are places where people go to meet and socialise, but getting there is no joke. It means you have to get on a crowded bus and jostle with other commuters through the hellish traffic that goes: start, stop, start, stop. Getting from Glebe to Newtown? The university is placed right between. But these are high traffic areas where a lot of people prefer to walk or use public transport, rather than drive. Meanwhile, hassled drivers surge forward a metre and break sharply, then wait for traffic to clear before edging on again. The wear-and-tear to vehicle and the driver's temper is palpable; you can almost feel the frustration rising as you walk down King Street or scamper across Broadway to the pedestrian refuge on the other side.

As the state government approves more infill development in the inner west the problems are going to get worse. Planners need to develop better ideas to allow people to get around on foot and using light rail, and get the cars and buses off the roads as much as possible. Sydney University hit the right button when it made Eastern Avenue on campus completely car-free, enabling students and visitors to unhurriedly go from one building to the next without worrying about bumping into cars and physical injury. A similar way of thinking has to be brought to bear for the King Street-City Road-Broadway-Glebe Point Road nexus of thoroughfares. And what about the conflict between students and cars on Harris Street and the roads in Ultimo between China Town and Broadway? So far, thinking in these areas has been lazy. A new paradigm is needed to make the pedestrian the main focus, and to get traffic out of these important commercial districts.

1 comment:

Alan said...

After living in Hong Kong, with its excellent transport system, I vowed never to return to Sydney's chaos. But I came back for a job three years ago. I mostly solved our transport problem by living in Balmain with its great ferries and middling but regular bus services. But I also I demanded a city parking spot, drive off peak and have stopped going to Newtown and Glebe.
Hong Kong, whch introduced an integrated public transport ticketing system "octopus" twenty years ago, shows what cities can achieve with planning.
There is no evidence it will ever happen here.