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16 Jan 2020

Sydney Planning to Focus more on people not cars

Sydney Planning to Focus more on people not cars
It's time to move on from a vehicle-centric approach to urban planning. It's time to think of the people

Sydney needs to move away from a vehicle-centric approach to urban planning if liveability is to be increased, according to landscape architecture and urban design experts. As the populous grows each year, competition for space hinders urban planning in most areas of downtown Sydney. 


Mike Harris is a lecturer at the UNSW School of Built Environment who has worked across Australia, Auckland, Copenhagen, and the Middle East in precinct planning, public domain design, infrastructure, and active transport.

He assumes that Sydney needs to move towards a people-based planning approach, but as good of intentions as they maybe there is an obvious flaw as at the local level are being held up by obstacles thrown up by state government policy.

“City governments like the City of Sydney advocate and push for people-based stuff,” he told Government News.

“But state governments often really resist simply because it seems they still have this really strong focus on this idea of moving cars around very efficiently.”

Dr. Harris says the know-how to move towards people-based planning exists, but it’s up to governments to make it happen, with the timeframe though it is bordering on unrealistic. 

“As a profession, we know how to design this stuff, and often communities are on board when you talk to them about it, but the political decision at the policy level is really the main barrier at the moment,” he said.

As a starting point, public transport projects can be better managed and better-taken care of, Dr. Harris says. But at present, they are much maligned and often rely on one agency to make all the major decisions happen as well as putting them into practice.

Some of the intersections that have been remodeled for the CBD and South East Light Rail project, for example, which now only operates between Circular Quay and Randwick, are “absolutely terrible” from a pedestrian point of view, he says.

“There’s a situation where just to cross one street, you’ve actually got to cross five signalized intersections just to get from one corner to one corner,” he says.

Pedestrian crossings in and around Sydney are not much better.

“I’m a pretty healthy person, but at most crossings, I’m basically faced with a red flashing stop sign before I’m even halfway across the road,” he said.

“And the message that sends is basically ‘if you’re not in a car, you’re not really important’.”

Dr. Harris said it was also disappointing that seating benches and bikes racks have been removed during the construction of the light rail and that they would not be reinstalled by the government or local council.

“This is a very simple and disappointing sign of how transport projects impact streets in NSW,” he said.

“Good practice would be improving the streetscape with increasing seating and other amenities rather than decreasing.”

An integrated approach is needed with public transport, Dr. Harris says, because all public transport involves an element of walking which defeats the ultimate goal of transport to get you from place to place without walking being involved.

“If we’re trying to encourage people to use public transport, we’ve really got to think about what the experience getting to public transport is like for the pedestrian,” he says.


Some steps that can be implemented in order to give a better everyday relationship with the urban population of Sydney. 

Start by making incremental changes: 

In any environment in this every-changing world, incremental changes can be a useful strategy. It offers a fresh approach, broad range of ideas and something totally innovative. A key example would be pointing to Copenhagen, in which the government reduced street parking in the city center by five percent a year over a period of 15 years.

“It was pretty small, so it wasn’t really noticeable. But whenever they did that, they replaced that space with better pedestrian amenities, such as better footpaths (and) bike lanes,” he says.

The proposed City of Sydney’s innovative project in which it is envisioned to reduce car lane width will be a success, Dr. Harris says.

“That means they’re not removing any parking, they’re not removing any car lanes – they’re just narrowing the lanes to get that extra space,” he said.

“So that’s pretty smart in a way because it means you don’t have to go through these battles of loss of parking and all that type of stuff.”


Take a leaf out of prosperous countries, instead of criticizing start learning from them: 

Dr. Harris said Sydney should look over and beyond its own backyard and learn from other countries.

Norway, for example, recorded only one road death in 2019. It is working towards a ‘Vision Zero’ plan to eliminate road-related deaths in four years. From a design point of view, all cities have different climates, topographies, and social patterns, but most streets are similar but lifestyles and spans remain vastly different.

“There are some pretty fundamental things that you can borrow and apply wherever you are and, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can learn from every aspect of life,” Dr. Harris says.

“Humans like certain conditions, so things like wider footpaths and more street trees, and being able to cross the road in good time and all that stuff is just universal, so all that stuff is just readily available to start doing.”

In Conclusion: 

Regardless of the outcome, in an ever-changing landscape and unprecedented future, it is imperative that we make the best living possible. Populations will always grow, finances will always shrink, by following the examples left behind by others, Sydney can be one of the worlds leading cities especially if it follows Norway's and other examples.