In his role as transportation consultant, Jarrett Walker has advised TransLink and Vancouver with insight and common sense. Now based in Sydney, he was an immediate source to ask for comment on the just-released plan for the City, heavily influenced by the ideas of Jan Gehl (see post below).
Gehl’s plan is excellent as an application of New Urbanist concepts to Sydney, often saying things that local planners knew but only an outsider can say. Sydney’s CBD is a difficult case: uneven terrain, a maze of narrow and crooked streets dating from the earliest colony, all now built to highrise densities with an access system overly dependent on cars.
Gehl’s call to demolish view-blocking freeway ramps will sound familiar in Seattle or San Francisco but is still revolutionary in Australia, especially New South Wales.
At Circular Quay, the City has made an excellent choice in response to Gehl’s earlier draft which called for demolition of the entire elevated structure across the waterfront. This structure has two levels; a top level is the Cahill Expressway, while the lower level is a crucial rail station.
Gehl’s first suggestion, to put the waterfront rail station underground, was almost unimaginably complex and expensive. The final plan leaves the rail line in place but moves the station a short distance, leaving a low single-deck structure that can be integrated into a new look for the quay, while still opening up the visual gap between the financial district and the waterfront. A remaining challenge is to make sure that rail passengers arriving at the relocated station also have an aesthetically satisfying experience.
One concern about the plan is that as a City of Sydney product, it inevitably focuses more on urban design issues and less on impacts on transportation. For example, a George Street pedestrian and light rail mall would be a lovely thing, but there will still be buses and they will need to run somewhere, and those facilities need to be part of the vision before it can be called a plan.
New South Wales urgently needs a strong centralised public transit planning authority that can engage local governments in these conversations. Sadly, the current structure consists of separate rail, ferry, and bus entities with inadequate integration between them.
Jarrett is one of the best urban observers I know – and his blog is always worth visiting. Check it out here.