Media Release
What are the best high streets in Sydney – and how we can make them even better: New Report
10 February, 2020

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Matt Levinson

Narrow and cluttered footpaths, loud and speeding traffic and having to wait a long time at pedestrian crossings are harming our local high streets according to a new report released today by the Committee for Sydney.

The report sets out what makes a great high street, including examples from London, New York, Melbourne and San Francisco of great public spaces. It also highlights some of the best high streets in Sydney, including much loved areas such as King Street in Newtown, the Corso in manly and Church Street in Parramatta. However, it argues that more high streets across the city could be improved through better planning.

The report, Reclaiming Sydney’s High Streets, calls on NSW Government to fund a Healthy Streets program to undertake planning, design, and public works capital investments for healthy streets transformations. This money would be used to reclaim high streets, physically separated bike paths, and other improvements to streets in support of pedestrian and bicycle safety.

This paper outlines some of the techniques and policy tools that Sydney can use to make great high streets. It lays out a pathway to protect, nurture, and support high streets to be the thriving heart of neighbourhoods across Greater Sydney, focusing on reclaiming historic high streets, saving them from poor traffic management decisions and other threats.

To improve the look and feel of high streets, the report calls for:

  • A reduction in traffic speeds on high streets to no more than 30km
  • The widening and decluttering of footpaths
  • Impose buffers between traffic and footpaths
  • Speeding up the time between pedestrian crossings
  • Planting more trees

Commenting on the report, Committee for Sydney CEO, Gabriel Metcalf said:

“Great high streets create the kind of neighbourhoods that people love to live in and give neighbourhoods a real sense of identity. They are a huge factor in providing quality of life and making cities liveable.”

“Sydney neighbourhoods were originally developed around high streets. But in many cases, those streets have been hurt by poor traffic management decisions.”

“We know what it takes to support healthy high streets. All we need now is the political will.”

 “We hope that our report triggers a wave of high street revitalisations and lays the foundation for a renaissance of public spaces across Sydney.”

Examples of great high streets in Sydney include:

  • King Street, Newtown
  • Church Street, Parramatta
  • The Corso, Manly
  • The Spot, Randwick
  • Cronulla Street, Cronulla
  • Katoomba Street, Katoomba

Case studies of great international high streets include:

Exhibition Road, London

Exhibition Road is home to some of London’s busiest and most famous museums and concert halls. In 2003, the local council set about trying to rebalance the competing needs of an ever-growing tourist population with the need to provide vehicular access to service the streets’ cultural facilities. The project saw a unique criss-cross pattern uniting the footpaths and the roads. The result was a shared street with pedestrian being given priority over fewer, and slower moving, vehicles.

Herald Square, New York

New York’s Herald Square was one of the first of that city’s “road diets”. In 2009, two blocks were completely closed to vehicular traffic and were made pedestrian and bike only. The success of these interventions has seen New York’s civic leaders to experiment with putting more main streets on a “diet”. This involves reducing the number of traffic lanes a car can use and repurposing them for other uses, such as cycle paths, street trees or footpath widening. In most cases they are reporting reduced traffic accidents, more productive and profitable businesses, and more pedestrians on the street. Importantly these streets are allowing more people to use them to get around.

Valencia Street, San Francisco

Valencia Street was developed as a major 19th Century shopping street, with shops all along it and a train running down the centre. But as it entered the end of the 20th Century, it had been afflicted with surface parking lots, gas stations, and unkind street lighting. San Francisco’s Department of Parking and Traffic decided to turn it into a four-lane arterial, speeding cars to and from Interstate 280. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition fought back, arguing that Valencia Street should instead have dedicated bike lanes. In 2004, the Bicycle Coalition won. The design, featuring one moving lane for cars in each direction and a centre turn lane, flanked by parking and bike lanes, has stimulated a renaissance of the street. San Francisco continues to evolve the design, moving toward greater physical separation of bike traffic from car traffic. Valencia Street has become a beloved shopping street, a busy cycle route, and a safe street for people on foot, while still accommodating cars.

Note to editors:

  1. The Committee for Sydney is an independent think tank and champion for the whole of Sydney, providing thought leadership beyond the electoral cycle. The Committee aims to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions that make Sydney a competitive, resilient and liveable global city. The Committee has a diverse membership with over 150 member organisations: including the major corporate sectors driving Sydney’s economy; strategically minded local authorities; key NSW Government departments and agencies; not- for-profit organisations; and leading arts and sporting institutions. Members help develop and deliver priorities, provide expertise and ensure a representative geographical spread across the greater Sydney region.