The Infrastructure NSW chair, former Liberal premier Nick Greiner, delivered a vision for the state for the next 20 years on October 3. For the 4.5 million people living in Sydney, the State Infrastructure Strategy, titled First Things First, will mean more roads, more congestion and more transport frustration for years to come.
At the centre of the strategy is a push for more motorways. The strategy envisages an extension to the F3 so that it connects with the M2 in the north of the city, the extension of the F6 south from central Sydney, the duplication of the M5 tunnel and the construction of “WestConnex” to link the airport and Port Botany freight terminal with the western motorway, the M4.
First Things First simply brushes aside any arguments to the contrary. “There is some evidence that vehicle growth per person may now be stabilising,” it proclaims, “but demand for freight is still increasing and our population continues to grow.”
Gone also is any concern to encourage the use of public transport as a healthy, environmentally sustainable alternative to the car: “The overwhelming majority of Sydney’s journeys are dispersed in nature. For such trips the flexibility of the private car makes it the dominant choice.”
Decades of planning designed to concentrate retail and services in accessible centres, to reduce dispersion, encourage dwelling density, multi-purpose single trips, walking and public transport use are simply dismissed without a thought.
Those concerned with carbon emissions (not that the phrase is mentioned anywhere in the document) will be pleased to know that Infrastructure NSW thinks: “The most realistic and effective means to substantially reduce environmental impacts will be through continued improvements in vehicle fuel-efficiency, and a market-led shift towards alternative fuel technologies.”
The idea that it is the role of government to encourage changes to transport patterns to reduce the number of trips, the length of trips and the carbon footprint of transport appears simply to have been abandoned.
As for the development of public transport itself, Infrastructure NSW is as miserly in its projections as it is lavish in its vision for new roads. The First Things First document says: “In the absence of significant local population increases, demand for Sydney’s bus corridors will be insufficient to justify new heavy rail or metro style rail on these corridors over the next 20 years.”
The only rail projects that it supports are the already planned North West Rail Link and the South West Rail Link, which is under construction.
The report suggests that rail congestion in the centre of Sydney can be relieved — but not by building a relief line from Central to Wynyard or a second harbour crossing. Infrastructure NSW suggests a re-routing of trains to the “under-utilised” city circle (that is, taking commuters away from the stations closest to their destinations), the introduction of punitive peak-period pricing, the speeding-up of trains (to “unlock” extra capacity), and the progressive introduction of privatised single-deck metro trains across the more central parts of the network, starting with the North West Rail Link, which will run from Cudgegong Road in Rouse Hill to Chatswood.
“Quite simply, the single-deck trains won’t solve problems like congestion,” Jim Donovan, spokesperson for Action for Public Transport NSW, told Green Left Weekly. “They’ve been chosen so that the NSW government can have some holes in the ground by March 2015 when the next election will happen.
“The trains are being specified to get from Cudgegong Road to Chatswood in 37 minutes. However, the many passengers who want to go beyond Chatswood to North Sydney or the CBD will for many years have to change,” Donovan said. “Wynyard and especially Town Hall stations will have to handle even more peak-hour passengers than they're struggling to handle now.
“Another problem with single-deck trains is that while they're regarded as faster in metro systems with stations closer than one kilometre apart, stations on the North West Rail Link will average over three kilometres apart. The advantage of quicker loading and unloading simply evaporates when the stations are widely spaced.
“So we're to get single-deck trains because they're different from our present trains, not because they're suitable for the job at hand,” Donovan said.
Infrastructure NSW also talks down any widespread use of light rail. Outside of its narrow focus of a light rail line servicing the University of NSW and the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, the strategy relies on the continued use of buses, served by incremental service increases, as priority measures to improve speed and service.
Any idea of a light rail line through central Sydney, or using light rail to provide greater connectivity for Parramatta or elsewhere is simply dismissed as not cost-efficient when compared with spending more on roads.
“Light rail could be used to strengthen the ‘cities of cities’ idea for Western Sydney,” Sue Day, president of the Western Sydney Public Transport Users Association, told GLW. “By encouraging development along light rail corridors in regional cities, it opens up the opportunity for creating local jobs for local people.
“Most regional city councils (such as Penrith) have a major strategic objective to create local jobs for local people, however, to achieve this they need to entice investment. Light rail could encourage this investment and development of the area.”
Former NSW transport boss Ron Christie was scathing about the Infrastructure NSW plan. “It is back to the 1950s,” he told the October 15 Sydney Morning Herald. “It is a real LA-type solution.”
“People use the car because public transport is infrequent or doesn’t exist in some parts of western Sydney,” Paul Falzon, secretary of the Western Sydney Public Transport Users Association, told GLW. “Building more roads is short sighted. They haven’t even done a cost-benefit analysis.
“Whenever we ask for more public transport they argue that a cost-benefit analysis doesn’t support it, but as soon as they want to build a massive road that will divide communities no analysis is needed.
“In Guildford where I live, 10 to 15% of people don’t even own a car. What is Infrastructure NSW saying to them?”
Infrastructure NSW has produced a blueprint for transport for Sydney that is just business as usual. Faced with the challenge of providing a sustainable plan for transport for Sydney for the next 20 years, Greiner and his cohorts have offered more of the same.
Rather than making plans for a transit-oriented city of the 21st century, they have stuck with plans that will increase car dependency, magnify environmental impacts and drive Sydney into a worsening transport gridlock.
[Jim Donovan, Sue Day and Paul Falzon will speak at the “Better Public Transport Forum” organised by Green Left Weekly at the Parramatta Town Hall, Church Street, Parramatta on Saturday 24 November from noon. For more information call Fred on 0412 556 527].