Walking infrastructure steps up

In 2015, a parent with five children at a school in the Parramatta council area asked for a pedestrian crossing to be installed near the school. Council staff said no because it didn’t comply with the NSW warrant for pedestrian crossings. 

Warrants are State guidelines to install new pedestrian crossings and until now councils have only considered crossings (zebra crossings) that satisfy the NSW warrant.  Even in locations where a crossing would have provided a much-needed walking connection, proposed crossings have been repeatedly rejected because they failed to meet the specifications in the warrant.

When the parent was informed the crossing would not proceed, the parent went to their local councillors and the local media to draw attention to this issue. In response to this pressure, Council staff recommended a pedestrian refuge island instead be installed to provide waiting space in the centre of the road. However, when this approach was reported to a Council meeting, councillors insisted on a pedestrian crossing. The pressure applied by the parent was successful but only to jump over the first hurdle.

When Council’s Local Traffic Committee (an advisory committee process involving both local council and state government) considered the matter, the pedestrian crossing was rejected because it didn’t comply with the warrant. The issue was then referred to the Regional Traffic Committee and was again rejected because it didn’t comply with the warrant – a document drafted decades ago.  

Subsequently, Parramatta Council wrote to the NSW Minister for Transport and the Minister responded to say “no”. Council staff then requested a meeting with the Minister and met with TfNSW staff where they were informed that the NSW warrant for pedestrian crossings was written for State roads (known as Classified roads) – these are major arterial roads such as the James Ruse Drive, Parramatta Rd, Cumberland Hwy, Pacific Hwy and Victoria Rd. Parramatta Council was informed that the NSW warrant does not apply to local streets (about 85 percent of the street network) and councils have the discretion to install pedestrian crossings by referring to the other national guides. 

Council staff researched the national guides and proposed a new approach for installing pedestrian crossings based on a method used in Victoria.

At the meeting on 22 February 2021, Council adopted the new approach for considering pedestrian crossings and other walking infrastructure.  

Why does it require determined community pressure over five years to install a pedestrian crossing that would support children and parents walking to school? 

The experience described here is not unique – it happens in councils all the time. Extensive staff time in both local and state organisations is consumed seeking compliance with documents that are no longer applicable for a growing city. This needs to change and Parramatta Council is to be commended for its work. This precedent paves the way for councils throughout Sydney to work together to prepare a new set of common guidelines for pedestrian crossings and other walking infrastructure in local streets.

The work by Parramatta Council is important and necessary for a few reasons. 

GSC: Central City District Plan

Parramatta is one of Sydney’s major city centres where people are walking throughout the day and night. The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) Plan, A Metropolis of Three Cities, identifies Parramatta as one of three major CBDs in Sydney where people will live, visit and work. While the plan talks a lot about city-shaping infrastructure, changes like we’ve seen from Parramatta Council are crucial to achieve the plan’s intentions – aligning land uses and transport planning to slow emissions growth and increase the use of public transport, walking and cycling.

It’s also worth questioning the origins of these traffic warrants and whether they’re still relevant for the city we want today. It seems the rationale to install new pedestrians crossing was originally related to rationing funds rather than the needs or safety of people walking. 

We need to remember that traffic engineering is not a science even though we’ve been convinced it is. There’s no State or National mandate for traffic engineering concepts (that’s all they are, concepts) such as pedestrian crossing warrants and Level of Service parameters for driving and it’s time to revise them. 

For decades we’ve rolled-out-the-red-carpet for car driving and convinced ourselves it’s not negotiable, but it is. With the NSW population expected to grow by 100,000 people each year over the next 20 years, traffic engineering needs to take a step back so everyone can get around safely and easily.

Please contact your local council and ask them to follow Parramatta Council’s lead – see item 2101 B1 in the link below https://www.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/sites/council/files/2021-01/TEAG_2101_Agenda.pdf