Sydney Looks at Closing Downtown Streets to Traffic, Considers Light Rail Expansion

» George Street in the CBD would see cars removed, transit inserted. Meanwhile, with Metro plans now axed, light rail to the Inner West is being pursued.

Following what is becoming a worldwide trend, officials in Australia’s New South Wales government, working with the Sydney city council, are considering plans to pedestrianize George Street, a primary corridor in the city’s central business district. The proposal, which has yet to be fully detailed, may also include a light rail connection along the route. The scheme coincides with the government’s release of a draft study detailing a potential extension of the 4.5-mile existing light rail line southwest to Lewisham and Dulwich Hill.

This plan for the elimination of automobiles from one of Sydney’s most prominent streets has yet to be approved and may be dismantled if the current government falls out of power after elections later this year. The current Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, suggests it will take two years to develop the plan after a consultation with Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, who has recently been involved in the development of street plazas in New York City.

The southwest light rail extension will play an important role in extending fixed-guideway transit service to a portion of the city that has relatively high density but which is nonetheless somewhat isolated from the existing CityRail commuter rail lines. The northern sections of this route, notably in Rozelle, were supposed to get stations on the CBD Metro, but that project was shelved earlier this year after it became clear that its A$4.8 billion cost was simply too much for the limited utility it would provide. With this new light rail route, these Sydney “suburban” neighborhoods will get easier connections to all CityRail lines at Central Station south of the CBD, to the Inner West line at Lewisham and to the Bankstown line at Dulwich Hill. What they won’t get, unfortunately, is anything particularly fast — impossible because of the large number of stations planned, ten stations on a 3.5-mile route.

The CBD Metro, which would have run from Central Station to Pyrmont and Rozelle, with unfunded plans to eventually connect further south and west, was a bit of an odd solution for Sydney as it did not build upon the well-used CityRail system, with its more than one million daily passengers, nor expand the light rail, which now does not enter directly into the CBD district. But the Metro would have been fast and frequent; on the other hand, the light rail line will be half as quick as existing commuter rail and only run every twelve minutes, even at rush hour.

Even so, the light rail connection will encourage better mobility between neighborhoods for a far cheaper price. It is expected to roughly double annual ridership from an expected five million on the current route in 2026 to 9.6 million if the connection all the way to Dulwich Hill is built. The New South Wales government has already put aside A$500 million for the system’s expansion as part of a 10-year regional transportation investment plan. It is currently operated under contract by private company Veolia Transportation.

The Inner West line is just one among many routes recently proposed by an influential local group called EcoTransit.

Least interesting is the proposed light rail line from Central Station north to Barangaroo, which is a major redevelopment scheme on the CBD waterfront. While this project would like catalyze growth in the area, it would skirt the edge of the jobs center, meaning more people will switch to CityRail at Central to get to their final destinations, a problem since that service is already at capacity.

That’s why the news that George Street might be pedestrianized is so interesting. If light rail were sent down that corridor — something that has been under consideration for years — it could play a genuinely effective role as both an Inner West-to-CBD commuter connection and as a convenient downtown circulator. The corridor would become the city’s central pedestrian spine in the model of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, connecting the Central Station with Town Hall and Circular Quay, running the length of the CBD. Jan Gehl expects that the improvements would double the number of pedestrians using the downtown every day to 80,000 — greatly increasing the value of retail property in the area.

Though the light rail line would never serve the number of passengers handled by CityRail, its surface-level operations along a pedestrian street would make it perfect for quick trips from one end of downtown to the other. If Sydney develops George Street into an attractive walkable avenue with a useful new transit link, it would be creating a new main street for the entire region.

Image above: Proposed Sydney Light Rail extension projects (without the George Street route), from NSW Government

1 Comment | Leave a Reply »
  • Matt Fisher

    The light rail expansion, I actually believe, would be more effective than that CBD Metro proposal. I’m not against a metro in the full sense, but the current project is not well conceived. And an LRT extension to Dulwich Hill wouldn’t be that hard. Too bad Sydney axed ALL of its trams quickly by 1958, but then again, some Australian cities (i.e. Melbourne) appear to be better than some American and Canadian cities. Brisbane even kept the trams running until more than 40 years ago.

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