By Julian Bajkowski
Sydney’s jam packed city centre is officially on track for its biggest transport and access shake-up in half a century after the New South Wales Government publicly released a key document spelling out how new tram and rail lines, bus routes, bicycle paths and vehicle access will be tightly woven together for the next 20 years.
Dubbed the City Centre Access Strategy, the 60 page document sets out what Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian calls a “street-by-street, mode-by-mode solution” that will fundamentally recast public transport and traffic flows into the CBD.
The NSW Government estimates that around 630,000 trips are made into the city centre each weekday and that this will increase to 850,000 trips by 2031.
At the heart of its latest plan is an already announced move extend light rail down George Street from Central station to Circular Quay by 2019 as well as reconnecting the city to once bustling tramlines to the south east suburbs where road congestion is at breaking point.
Premier Barry O’Farrell’s government has also reconfirmed plans to build a second Harbour Rail Crossing to add much needed capacity to services to and from the north of the city, although there is still no date nor real details.
That project is listed as a “medium to long term” priority in the November 2012 release of the Transport Master Plan and is likely to be a separate ‘single deck’ line as the government moves towards metro-style trains that run every few minutes and have much shorter dwell times at stations.
The NSW Government has estimated that “completion of the second Harbour Crossing will enable a further 90,000 to 100,000 people to travel on the network per hour in the peak.”
But the big focus for the immediate future is tracking in the light rail to take pressure off choked bus lanes that will now be comprehensively re-routed.
In the process, the Transport for NSW is largely redesigning the flows of pedestrians, ferries, buses, bicycles and cars so that they are actually integrated and the CBD actually starts to flow again.
A major policy shift of the O’Farrell government was to comprehensively recentralise control over public transport by abolishing competing, stand-alone transport agencies and creating a single super agency along the lines of London’s model.
"The Strategy is a key action of the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan, and ensures the right modes of transport are used in the right places to get the most of out of the CBD," NSW Minister for Roads and Ports Duncan Gay said.
"For the first time, we will prioritise different transport modes in different parts of the city centre, to relieve congestion and improve journey times."
However as hard as Ms Berejiklian and Mr Gay might be selling the comprehensive transport vision as their own, the activation of the most prominent new elements of light rail and separated cycleways come after years of campaigning by City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to introduce alternatives to cars into the mix.
Having now been largely vindicated by the government despite being pilloried by talkback radio and tabloid newspapers as a crank for her stand, Lord Mayor Moore warmly welcomed the new Access Strategy.
“It’s terrific that we have a State Government getting serious about reducing congestion and improving transport in Sydney,” Lord Mayor Moore said.
“It balances competing demands for limited road space and delivers better public transport options while reducing congestion and wasted time spent sitting in cars for those with no option other than to drive.”
“We are particularly supportive of plans to introduce 40km/h speed limits to improve safety and the confirmation of a route for a connected bicycle network in the city centre,” she said.
Re-embracing light rail at Macquarie Street has been an all-stops journey since Sydney shut then tore-up its extensive tram network in 1961, literally burning off redundant rolling stock in the process.
Fifty years later, the last Labor government in NSW repeatedly attacked and decried any expansion of the light rail option as an ineffective boutique solution for city access.
Even when the government changed hands, the inaugural of head Infrastructure New South Wales head and former NSW Premier Nick Greiner also rejected the transport mode in favour of a giant underground bus interchange and the creation of the M4 motorway extension known as WestConnex.
While the now rejected underground bus interchange was derided by the public and transport advocates as unworkable and bizarre, the WestConnex option has stuck firm and is being backed as a priority to start within a year by incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
To get the new George Street light rail line built, busses will have to be shifted to already congested Elizabeth Street.
The government has also committed to building an interconnected network of CBD cycleways, with new separated routes along Pitt and Castlereagh Streets and the extension of the existing Kent Street cycleway to Liverpool street.
However the existing $5 million College Street cycle path has been sacrificed and will be torn-up to free up vehicle traffic, even though it carries a high volume of cycle traffic.
The City of Sydney had previously wanted a bike run on Castlereagh Street but says it was told by the state government to build on College Street. Ms Moore has said the City will try to get its money back from the state government as compensation for the scrapped route.
The state government and the city of Sydney have agreed that building the new cycleways will not cross over with the building of the tramlines to minimise disruption.
The state government has called for submissions during six-week consultation on the Access Strategy period that it says will give the community the chance to have its say “on all aspects” of the document.
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