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.