September 30, 2015
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30th September, 2015
By Dr Tim Williams, Committee for Sydney
Published in The Sydney Morning Herald
Tomorrow’s Sydney is coming sooner than you think. In fact it starts next week. On Monday, to be precise, when buses will stop running down George Street, the very spine of Sydney’s CBD, as a prelude to the construction of the light rail.
Nothing will be the same again: and that’s a good thing. Light rail will not just strengthen the attractions of the city for tourists and business visitors. It will also definitively change the way that the entire transport system of the CBD works and how Sydneysiders access and move around it.
This is because new thinking is being developed by Transport for NSW on the back of the challenges of the light rail construction. The fact that light rail will take out some road supply has led to some first principles policy discussions to be had, the kind other global cities have been having for some time. At the heart is what transport techies call demand management. I believe that the shift towards demand management thinking is the key to a long term solution to Sydney’s congestion challenge. The stakes are that high.
When roads get congested the traditional response has been to increase road supply. In practice, we then discover that new road supply can actually create extra car demand and the new capacity gets filled up very quickly. Congestion returns to the previous level despite our best intentions. However, we are about to discover in the CBD that the most effective way to manage congestion is to reduce and reshape demand.
Firstly we will discover that although the light rail will reduce CBD road supply that will not in itself exacerbate congestion. A significant number of drivers will respond by making fewer journeys to the CBD, or move their journeys out of peak hour or choose to enter the CBD by another mode. Mass transit use and active transport (walking and cycling) will increase. In reality, the “demand” to use the car to access the CBD will reduce as the road supply is reduced.
Supporting this shift in behaviour is an innovative campaign by Transport for NSW, working with businesses, to provide employees with information about public transport and other options to commute, to commute off-peak or even to eliminate certain work trips altogether. Progressive businesses will use this challenge to provide flexible working opportunities for staff, exploiting new technologies. Commuters themselves will take advantage of digital tools and apps that enable peer-to-peer car-sharing.
Light rail is taking us not just down George Street but to a more modern transport system for our city.
So far, so brave. However, if the transition to Tomorrow’s Sydney is to be irreversible, community and business will need not just to stand with those leading on the light rail project now but also to give politicians confidence about further innovations on the journey to de-congestion.
What might they be? The first is simply to ensure that old style thinking doesn’t re-emerge. The plans to widen Market Street by taking some pedestrian capacity out are a tad “last century” as is restricting cycling. Global cities encourage walking, cycling and public transport in tandem.
And if some worry about ensuring better freight access to the CBD then the answer is to plan to enable deliveries in the small hours – much less of this” after hours” servicing goes on in Sydney than in London or New York. Fix that before you take walkways out.
Finally, congestion charging has decisively reduced traffic in places like London and Milan. Many other global cities are having this discussion. They have learnt, as noted by the respected RAND Corporation in its work on transport in Los Angeles, that “any package of reforms that does not include pricing strategies will not achieve lasting reductions in traffic congestion”.
We need this discussion here too, don’t we, to be ready for the day after Tomorrow’s Sydney?
Read the article on The Sydney Morning Herald website here.