More space for social distancing: the case to close Centennial Park to cars before it’s too late

Centennial Park is one of these beautiful green spaces that make the quality of life in the Eastern Suburbs so high. Now, more than ever, when gyms are shut, exercising becomes one of the only good reasons left to leave your confined home. We are all craving open space, for a run, a ride or a walk.

And we are lucky compared to some European cities, after excessive crowding the few small parks of Paris were closed for the remaining lockdown, no more green space for the Frenchies.

But the park’s “big loop”, i.e. the Grand Drive, is getting a bit too busy for comfort. The footpaths at times are too crowded to allow for proper social distancing, and on the cycle lane kids, low-speed leisure riders and fast-paced sports riders on racebikes mix at a high density.

On the weekend, the most reasonable of us take one look at the crowd and turn around, there’s no way you can have a socially distanced run at peak times here.

So, what’s next? Are we going to be punished for crowding the park by a close-down until further notice?

There seems to be another solution, that is to give more space to people walking, running and riding. This measure has already been adopted by some parks in the USA and could more than double the available space while potentially slightly reducing the demand.

High-level measurements show that at the narrowest point (seen on satellite picture above), the cycle lane is about 3-4 metres wide, the sidewalk is about 3 metres wide, and the sum of parking space and driving lane is about 9 metres wide, as shown below.

Centennial Park is already closed to cars from sunset to sunrise, but night-time is not precisely peak demand for outdoor exercise. By extending these closing times, dedicating the parking lane to walkers and runners, and reserving the driving lane to bicycle riders, there is a gain of space for people and activities from 6 metres wide to approximately 15 metres, which is 2.5 times the current allocation. The Domain, in the care of the same trust, can also adopt a similar approach.

As stated by the park’s website: “With frequent trains, light rail services and a number of regular bus routes, the best way to get to and from Centennial Parklands is by public transport. Bondi Junction train station is within a 10-minute walking distance from the northern end of Centennial Park via Grafton St and Oxford St. A number of regular bus routes make stops along Oxford St near the Park gates including routes 333, 340, 352, 355, 389 and 440 from Bondi Junction or the city.” Riding a bicycle to Centennial Park is also more comfortable and safer than ever since traffic has significantly decreased with the COVID-19 lockdown.

An alternative for those who would still like to drive to their favourite place to exercise would be the adjacent Entertainment Quarter, which offers 2,000 car spots and is within a 6-minute walk.

Exercise and seeing greenery are vital to maintaining mental and physical health, especially now; as we are all going through these unusually tough times, they become even more essential services. For the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, increasing their parks’ capacity through this innovative approach is how they can lead by example and prove that, as their website states, they are “one of the world’s leading public parklands”.

Lise Chesnais
Senior Transport Planner