Transport thinking stuck on a bureaucratic black box

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Transport thinking stuck in bureaucratic black box


SYDNEY needs rescuing. Past and future generations expect us to be smart, and the Premier promised to stop the stupidity. Those who don’t understand history are bound to repeat its mistakes.

Do not underestimate our forebears’ commitment to us about a century ago: £27 million towards a rail and tram bridge, electric railways and CBD “metro”.

And just as we started the 20th century with a real planning inquiry, which produced a planning consensus, we need the same now. Melbourne has had one recently, London too; but Sydney keeps repeating its “black box” approach of navel-gazing within central bureaucracies. Sydney is the world champion of compromise.

Our radial railways and roads no longer match where we live, work and play. About two-thirds of commuters on the East Hills and Bankstown lines, and many on the Illawarra and Main West lines, will be working in the Norwest/Macquarie Park end of the “global arc” in 20 years or less. Their trains currently pass through the CBD and then out again. That’s pretty dumb. The transport bureaucrats are trying to justify a second Harbour crossing, reinforcing that historical anomaly.

In fact, most people need cross-regional routes of suitable modes, where cross-regional means from Hurstville to Strathfield by heavy rail or trams, and Ryde to Kensington via the ANZAC Metro, as examples.

If we started to adjust our great legacy to meet future needs, we could possibly move trains off the Illawarra, East Hills, Bankstown and Main West lines (and out of the CBD and Harbour crossings) and run them into the North West, providing a greater service than the NW link alone.

Clover Moore wants to replace buses with trams, increasing congestion around the transfer points. Looking at Tokyo and like places, we could take all heavy traffic out of the CBD by developing a circumferential by-pass or ring road. Two former main roads commissioners thought this worth an inquiry.

The tram route along Barangaroo will not pick workers and visitors up from where they live and will intensify congestion at the interchange points with the rail, bus or ferry systems. It will relocate congestion, not solve it. That route would impede the extension of trams to the west (Balmain), north via the Harbour Bridge, or east to Moore Park or Bondi, should future generations decide to do so.

The current extension from Lilyfield is one of two alternatives assessed in Carl Scully’s 1999 report. The alternative through Leichhardt would service Sydney Uni, the Broadway Centre, the Catholic Uni, Fraser’s Brewery and UTS and carry at least 10 times more fare-payers. It was forgotten by the previous government and ignored by the current one.

The Anzac Metro announced in 2007 would take buses off Victoria and Parramatta Roads, the CBD, Oxford St and Anzac Parade, potentially servicing four universities. Where did that go? It is the only “metro” route likely to be a successful PPP.

We need that Eddington approach ex London and Melbourne. We need to get the thinking, the scenarios, right. We need to build public transport webs, instead of straight lines of fixed routes, especially where space is expensive – such as around beaches, regional centres and hospitals/universities.

This means new Personal Rapid Transit systems as in the UK. This will help us to stop thinking about Parramatta as the only alternative CBD. We have a city of centres: Hurstville, Liverpool, Chatswood, Campbelltown, Blacktown and Penrith are vitally important, as are Gosford and Wollongong.

Other cities work out long-term ways of raising money and paying off costs instead of relying on development levies and tools. Sydneysiders have shown a willingness to pay for services which help them so long as fairness rules apply. Many have paid taxes to support services in privileged areas but now are expected to pay excessive amounts for their own services.

The Daily Telegraph’s People’s Plan is an excellent start; but Barry O’Farrell needs to meet the standards COAG agreed to in 2009, that all states would have city plans meeting agreed planning criteria.

We can’t complain if we allow “black box” processes – bureaucratic, remote processes and tired thinking which have only nominal community engagement links and unknown “scenarios” – to continue and dominate.

Robert Gibbons is a former manager of planning coordination and executive director planning at the NSW Ministry of Transport


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