Transport for NSW has released its first ever Active Transport Strategy, a milestone for Transport.
There is a lot to like in the Strategy, describing what needs to be done to make active transport a real choice for more people. However, its long-term targets and implied funding investment show a lack of real commitment from TfNSW and our political leaders.
The Strategy aims to double the number of walking and bicycle riding trips over the next 20 years, oddly unambitious for that time frame. We can say the same for the ambition of 1,000 km of new cycleways.
Despite lacking a transformative commitment, the Strategy describes a credible and well-thought-through path to a world where walking and bike riding are safer and more enjoyable. It establishes a set of Focus Areas, Ambitions and 5 year Priority Moves (actions to be achieved by 2028).
WalkSydney shares the Strategy’s vision for our transport networks to be centred around people choosing to walk and cycle, and for improved liveability and amenity of our neighbourhoods.
The Strategy recognises that the designs of our roads, streets and precincts need to create safer and more pleasant places. Reduced car speeds and low-speed environments have to be an essential feature.
It is disappointing that there is no recognition of 30km/hr as the default speed limit.
Our transport infrastructure is currently poorly equipped with the fundamentals of a walkable and rideable urban environment: adequate footpaths as well as sufficient pedestrian and bicycle crossings to enable wider routes and networks. The Strategy aspires to create 15 minute neighbourhoods where services and facilities are more easily accessed without cars.
The necessary small-scale infrastructure to bring about this new world order is familiar to us: traffic calming devices (such as speed platforms and chicanes), pedestrian crossings (such as ‘wombats’) and refuges, raised footpaths, improved intersections, upgrades to signalised intersections, the creation of missing crossings and smart traffic systems using electronics.
The Strategy recognises the need to consider reallocating vehicle lanes to walking and other uses for public spaces. It canvasses reconsidering the design of specific State Roads – the main roads controlled by TfNSW – and their immediate precincts where they have important ‘Place’ values. Many main roads destroy the amenity and safety of long-standing shopping strips, our high streets, which are often blighted by multiple lanes of speeding motor vehicles and with few places for walkers and riders to cross.
Transport’s policies, processes, technical directions and guidelines are aligned with achieving traffic efficiency for cars. They need to be streamlined to make it easier to deliver infrastructure for active transport. The Strategy foreshadows a much-needed comprehensive review of approval processes, committees and governance models that hinder this delivery.
Our car-dominated neighborhoods tell us we don’t value our children. We severely restrict, even deny, children’s access to streets and public places. It’s just too dangerous now to do otherwise. Child-friendly streets can be planned in new neighbourhoods and retrofitted in existing areas. 15 minute neighbourhoods would enable children to travel independently and feel safe doing so. Transport’s ‘Active Travel to School’ program will partner with the Department of Education and key stakeholders to improve access to schools and make walking and riding the first choice for short trips.
The dispersed nature of local streets means much of the implementation must be council-led. Local community and political support must be won. Local partnerships like the emerging Better Streets movement will prove crucial. While the benefits of traffic calmed streets seem clear to many, there is a noisy minority of NIMBYs to convince. Fine-grained implementation must be supported by community engagement and targeted public education. Hitting locals with stiff fines for exceeding 30 km/h in these zones is no way to win support
Transport is working with Wollongong City Council to introduce lower speeds in the city centre. On Crown St the speed limit has been reduced from 50 to 30 km/h, as part of a trial to create a safer and more walkable environment, featuring parklets and wider footpaths. This gives more space for planters, public bench seating and places for businesses to introduce outdoor dining. Community groups such as 30please have helped achieve this breakthrough.
Funding is critical to making progress on the ground. Local councils are cash-strapped so the bulk of funds must come from state and federal sources. Transport co-ordinates different funding sources to provide small-scale infrastructure, including from: ‘Get NSW Active’, the ‘Liveable and Safe Urban Communities Initiative’, the ‘Safer Cities Program’, the ‘Safer Roads Program’, ‘Streets as Shared Spaces’, and ‘WestInvest’ (for Western Sydney). Federal road safety funding is available to councils and the federal ‘Infrastructure Priority’ list is another opportunity.
However, the scale of these programs is dwarfed by the vast sums building Sydney’s motorway network, revealing governments’ never-ending efforts, at great expense, to meet the demand for car travel.
The release of the Active Transport Strategy shines a light on governments’ role in taking us to a carbon-free future and the role of overall transport strategies in doing this. The Strategy offers a first cautious step on a path to a future of net-zero carbon emissions, based on public transport, active transport and micromobility, (including electric bikes and scooters). While there is a common misconception that electric cars are a panacea for sustainability, it seems clear they may play a role but are likely to bring more traffic casualties, traffic congestion and competition for car parking space.
Impediments to an active transport revolution in NSW are easy to find. Not least is the imminent retirement of the Minister for Active Transport, the Hon Rob Stokes. He has given us a glimpse of the visionary political leadership needed. WalkSydney senses there is substantial latent support in the community for change, with many people recognising that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the car.
WalkSydney welcomes the idea of an Active Transport Strategy. It brings clear recognition of the opportunities available across health, amenity, sustainability and liveability of our suburbs, towns and cities. However, the commitment and support needed from the government is not yet apparent.