Transport - general

Sep 12, 2013

Sydney CBD: are cars doing the heavy lifting?

The NSW Government's surprisingly positive new draft access strategy for the centre of Sydney shows that cars impose far too high a price on the CBD for what they deliver

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Sydney CBD: share of vehicle and share of passenger movements in the city centre (street network)

In terms of who’s pulling their weight on the streets of the city centre, the report released yesterday by the NSW Government, Sydney city centre access strategy: for further consultation, makes it clear that buses are doing the heavy lifting. Cars aren’t doing much at all.

As the first exhibit shows, buses carry 62% of passengers on city centre streets in the morning peak but account for only 8% of vehicle movements.

Cars dominate the space on streets across the city centre, including during the morning and afternoon peak periods. Between 8.00am and 9.00am, 87 per cent of traffic movements through city centre intersections are made by cars and taxis, eight per cent are by buses and the remaining five per cent are made by trucks and cyclists.

Despite the large number of cars, they move only 35 per cent of all people who come into the city centre on the street network.

Buses perform a much larger role, moving around 62 per cent of people on the street network into the city centre and along key streets. For example, in the morning peak hour, George Street near Goulburn Street currently carries approximately 5,900 people northbound on 170 buses compared to around 900 people northbound in 720 cars.

Note that the first exhibit refers only to on-street transport. In terms of all the trips made to and from the city centre each day by Sydneysiders (0.63 million), the second exhibit shows cars and taxis account for 27%, all forms of public transport for 62%, walking for 10%, and cycling and trucks for around 2%.

In terms of the much larger number of journeys made each day within the city centre (1.6 million), the second exhibit also shows walking is the dominant mode, accounting for 93% of trips.

Cars account for only a small proportion of all person trips within the centre of Sydney and yet they have a disproportionately negative impact on the quality of life for the much larger number of users who walk and take public transport.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the CBD is the location where the downsides of the car – pollution, noise, safety, severance – have the biggest negative impact.

They’re amplified by the very high density of activity; by the high levels of pedestrian movement; by the importance of the CBD as a consumption centre; and by the reliance of key economic activities like tourism on the centre.

The CBD is, in short, the last place where large numbers of cars are either necessary or desirable. Apart from taxis and service vehicles, cars should be the first mode in the queue to yield street space, especially for pedestrians.

Buses also have a negative impact on the amenity of Sydney’s CBD – there are around 1,000 bus movements between 7:45am and 8:45 am each weekday. The NSW Government says its planned CBD and South East Light Rail line will remove around 170 buses from George Street in the busiest hour and 220 across the CBD. Around 40% of George Street will be pedestrianised.

The Government says in the new report that it also plans to concentrate bus routes “along a network of key bus corridors that skirt the core of the city centre” and develop a network of bypass routes for traffic (there’s a diagram showing Park and Bathurst Streets through traffic running underground!).

It’s also floating other potential initiatives, including completing the city centre bicycle network (sans the existing College St path), imposing a 40 km/hr speed limit in areas of high pedestrian activity, and improving conditions for pedestrians e.g. Wynyard Walk.

Of course the proposals don’t go far enough and funding is another question altogether (moreover they might be compromised in the consultation process) but given political realities they’re heading in the right direction; surprisingly so in light of what we’ve seen in the recent past.

Sydney: daily trips within the city centre and to the city centre


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8 thoughts on “Sydney CBD: are cars doing the heavy lifting?

  1. Bruce Dickson

    My experience of Sydney’s main CBD thoroughfare, George Street, is that it was the excessive number of buses so close to the pedestrian kerb, generating such excessively loud engine noises and also polluting the air with their exhaust fumes that created the greatest single nuisance factor. Replacing them with light rail would make a huge change for the better and reducing cars a secondary but welcome bonus.

  2. Bill Bunting

    I think that you would have to read this study carefully and with a solid understanding of the layout of the city as a whole and of the history of the city.

    Sydney is one of the most abysmally laid out cities.

    The entire stretch of the east coast more populous suburbs are locked hard up against the north and south city centres with just a handful of exit options most of which converge towards the city centre. Until the building of the M5 there were only four serviceable routes out of the eastern beach suburbs. These were Canal Road, Missenden Road, and Oxford Street and Rushcutters Bay Road. The Northern beach suburbs were equally trapped by roads that fed directly to the Harbour Bridge, except one formed by the Roseville Bridge.

    The one and only corridor that can realese the congestion pressure, Pennant Hills Road is a planning nightmare that has been left in the too hard basket by a succession of incompetent state governments.

    What needs to happen? Link the M2 to the F3 (tenders called) and widen the M2.

    Promote a 4 hour offset 2 shift city operation from 7 am open to 7 pm close.

    Build a rail road tunnel under Sydney Heads (difficult I know) and a beach suburbs rail line to connect at Bondi Junction Eastern Suburbs Line. Perhaps do something really imaginative by making this an electric bus subway line where the units might exit periodically to use surface roads in some places, and perhaps utilise some of this kind of thinking

    Rethink the way that public transport construction is tendered. The current system guarantees ever increasing costs and poor delivery.

  3. Tom the first and best


    It is not a CBD bypass. It is a Fitzroy and Carlton bypass. Plenty of CBD and surrounds traffic would use it (exiting at Eliot Avenue or from Citylink) and little of the traffic currently going all the way through the CBD and surrounds will go through the tunnel.

  4. melburnite

    now Im jealous of Sydney – the State Government Ministers for Roads and Public transport actually doing a study to provide background for future improvements ! Imagine that.

    All we get in Victoria is an announcement for a very expensive freeway that is effectively a CBD bypass. Well we did get the Edington report, but that was limited in scope, and has been mostly ignored anyway.

  5. Bob R

    is kinda hard to “make a choice” when there really is no choice, thus the survey will alomst always get skewed results.

    build some light rail paralleling roadways or buses and see what the “real” preference is etc.

  6. Penny M

    What proportion can be attributed to scooters and motorcycles?

  7. peter mackenzie

    As someone else mentioned, Westconnex is only going to worsen this situation, as will similar road programs in other cities.
    Sadly, if you look at the infrastructure and related policies from the new Coalition government, it is all about roads, roads and more roads to fix infrastructure problems and ease congestion. It’s all part of a “..clear and definitive plan”.
    And I thought Albo was worry enough!

  8. Dudley Horscroft

    It is not surprising that cars carry so little of the people in Sydney’s CBD. They are well recognized as a very inefficient means of transport for densely populated areas. I can only hope that this gives more ammunition to Gladys Berejiklian, so she can not only complete the CSELR but also go on to construct the light rail line in Parramatta Road to, at least, Norton Street, and that Barry O’Farrell will reconsider the massive waste of WestConnex. WestConnex is a proposition neither NSW nor the Commonwealth can afford. WestConnex is an idea for the 19th century and should be dumped!

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