Walking and waterborne public transport

It is often said that every transit user is also a pedestrian. But planners of new transport infrastructure do not always pay enough attention to the walking part of transit journeys. This can lead to dissatisfaction with the overall experience, even if the passenger is happy with other aspects – service frequency, transit speed, cleanliness, smoothness of ride etc.

Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East
Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East

Take ferries for example.

Issues with the walk from the passenger’s point of origin to the land adjacent to a wharf are probably the same as they are for any mode. As far as possible, the walking corridor needs to be direct, delays at pedestrian crossings minimised and exposure to heavy road traffic should be avoided.

The last part of the walk to a ferry (or the first part in the case of disembarking passengers) is the transition between land and vessel via a wharf. This may not generally be viewed as a pedestrian issue, but surely it is an arbitrary distinction to treat the movement of passengers onto a vessel, and into their seats for that matter, as something quite separate from the rest of their walking experience.

The good news for Sydney is that wharf infrastructure is steadily being upgraded to comply with standards for disability access. The traditional wooden stepped wharves are becoming a thing of the past.

In Sydney, the ferry/ wharf interface works best for Manly Ferry passengers. The 1,100 capacity Freshwater Class ferries are specially designed for fast passenger exchange. Some of those features include:

  • Clear separation between boarding and disembarking passengers at wharves – egress from the boat is not blocked by crowds waiting to embark. If necessary, disembarkation can all be from the upper deck, while boarding passengers embark via the main deck below.
  • Wide hydraulic gangway ramps prevent the gangways from becoming bottlenecks.
  • Passengers do not need to tap off their Opal cards after disembarkation, thus avoiding a crush at ticket gate barriers. The Manly Ferry is the only mode of public transport in Sydney where this is the case.

The story is not so good for other vessel classes:

  • There is little attempt to create a physical separation of boarding and disembarking passengers, even at Barangaroo, the new western CBD terminal. This is not a problem if numbers are small, but where and when there are crowds, it certainly does adversely affect the passenger experience.
  • There is not a design standard for the vessel/wharf interface in the Inner Harbour and Parramatta River. Depending on which vessel the passenger is boarding, the freeboard (height of deck above water level) may be much higher than the wharf, creating a steep incline for the passenger to negotiate.
  • The design of passageways on the vessel may not facilitate free movement, causing bottlenecks.

These are just a few of the design issues which affect the ferry using pedestrian.  There are many more. Perhaps it is time to give more attention to the experience of pedestrians as public transport users. It may be a surprise how critical this element of design is to making public transport more attractive.

Manly Fast Ferry
Manly Fast Ferry in Sydney Harbour are faster but smaller than the the Freshwater Class Ferries
Pier Wharf Jetty Quay: A Definition
Pier Wharf Jetty Quay: A Definition. Source: Unknown

The Alexandria – Moore Park Disconnector

The Alexandria-Moore Park Connector (A2MP) is proposed as a set of road widenings that will attract additional vehicles to the sequence of roads: Euston Road, McEvoy Street, Lachlan Street, Dacey Avenue, Allison Road, which are being redesigned into  a single contiguous at-grade thoroughfare. It looks like a substitute for traffic from the M5 cutting over to the Eastern Distributor (Dowling Street, M1). The M5 has an exit at the airport and Sydney Park feeding Euston Road, while the Eastern Distributor  intersects Dacey Avenue.  In short, it is a shorter distance path between these two motorways. It will attract traffic. Once it is faster, it will attract more traffic.

McEvoy, transitioning to a shopping street.

These roads attract significant levels of traffic already, and are hardly pleasant to walk along or across. Signals are spaced for cars, which don’t stop for people trying to cross in the gaps between them.

While it is called a connector, it is really better thought of as a disconnector. Though it connects these roads in one direction, it disconnects the communities it traverses. With all of the mostly residential re-development in and around Green Square and Alexandria, these once isolated neighbourhoods have the opportunity to become one continuous urban community.

So while McEvoy is a nascent High Street in places (especially Alexandria between Fountain Street and Botany Road, where it has a few food markets, lots of restaurants and a good collection of clothing stores), it needs help.

The help it needs is not making it wider so cars can speed through from not here to not there, but making it narrower, so people  on foot can cross from shops on one side to shops on the other. In other words, it should be moved down rather than up the hierarchy of roads.  People should be able to cross these streets freely and without fear. McEvoy should be a destination, not a detour.

The propaganda in favour of this facility claims “Pedestrian and cyclist improvements for the length of the corridor.” The official update says:


The NSW Government is planning road improvements in the inner city suburbs of Alexandria, Waterloo and Moore Park to improve traffic flow and facilities for pedestrians and cyclists in one of the city’s fastest growing precincts.

The Alexandria to Moore Park Connectivity Upgrade includes improvements to traffic capacity at key intersections and pinch points to improve traffic flow and provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists. These improvements are being planned to integrate with the CBD and South East Light Rail and WestConnex New M5 projects.

By 2021 traffic volumes along this key corridor are projected to grow by 50% or more in peak periods.

The proposed improvements will support urban renewal along the corridor, and encourage motorists to use alternate routes away from the CBD, a key focus of the Sydney City Centre Access Strategy (Transport for NSW, 2013).

Key features of the proposal

    • Pedestrian and cyclist improvements for the length of the corridor
    • Clearways on both sides of the corridor for extended periods
    • Improvements at key intersections including –
      •  the ‘dog leg’ T-intersections at McEvoy Street and Bourke Street and Lachlan Street and Bourke Street will be rebuilt and combined to form a single more efficient four-way intersection
      •  South Dowling Street to be widened on the eastern side north of Dacey Avenue/Lachlan Street to provide an additional right turn lane from South Dowling Street into Lachlan Street and to improve the merge from
        the Eastern Distributor onto South Dowling Street
      •  Anzac Parade, Alison Road and Dacey Avenue intersection at Moore Park to be upgraded to a continuous flow intersection (see image overleaf)
      • A right turn bay to be added at Bowden Street and right and left turn bays to be added at Fountain Street, Wyndham Street and Botany Road
      • A median to be introduced along McEvoy Street
      • Lachlan St to be widened on the southern side to provide four lanes.

A map of the preliminary concept design is included in this project update.

The map is below.

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 10.40.27
Alexandria – Moore Park Dis-connector

Look at all those lane widenings! Each and every widening means pedestrians will have to walk farther across the street, likely confined to dangerous crosswalks, with a minimum of green time, hardly an improvement. Presumably what few street trees there are will be destroyed to promote the movement of cars, reducing the quality of the walking environment.

While shared paths improve conditions for bicyclists compared to no bike lanes and no shared paths, it is hardly the best that can be done, and does not constitute an improvement for pedestrians compared to a genuine third path.

Look at the forecast traffic, increasing by 50% in 4 years! That doesn’t happen by itself, rather, if it happens, it’s due to the project that was supposed to relieve congestion, WestConnex. (And undoubtedly, travel will be faster for some, just not here.)

Note I said “if it happens”, my research in the US has found that these forecasts are not generally terribly accurate, I’d be surprised to find different in Australia. If roads are indeed at capacity for a period of time, then the flow through them cannot increase during that time, that is what capacity means. Traffic is self-regulating, the slower the travel speed, the lower the demand; while the faster the speed, the higher the demand, creating congestion, lowering speed until a new equilibrium is found. This is the concept of induced demand. Expanding urban roads will undoubtedly induce new traffic. This of itself is not bad, people in cars from out of the area can now more easily travel through it, but it comes at a cost, more cars means more road danger, more pedestrian and bicyclist injuries, more air pollution, longer distances across streets for pedestrians, and a less pleasant neighborhood.

The City of Sydney struggles with this, proposing some new traffic calming responses in Alexandria. While this might be the best that can be done assuming the road project proceeds, better still is stopping the project in its tracks.

I am new to this country, I don’t know how what we in the US would call the ‘state highway department’ (officially renamed the state department of transportation, but in practice …) retains as much power as it seems to have. But this kind of urban road expansion is straight out of the 1950s, and not befitting a city with a rising transit mode share (and flat to declining vehicle travel).  Changes likes this need to be resisted.

See also:

Complaining in NSW 101

This post was written by a friend of WalkSydney who works for local government, but wishes to remain anonymous.

We want better environments and infrastructure for walking and cycling from our governments. Ordinary people like you and me can sometimes only get action on these issues from government by complaining. A little forewarning of how things are shared or carved up within government can help you complain more efficiently and effectively.

What is your complaint?


Do you want to make a complaint?

Is it about a specific place? Is it about a specific policy? Keep it tight and targeted. Being specific makes it quicker to assign to the right officer or team and you are more likely to be heard/read by people with relevant expertise.

There’s another school of thought which says you should bring in as many senior public officials as possible by tacking on many disparate issues that require cross-department referrals and input. In my experience of Local and State Government, a rambling complaint which travails across multiple issues and jurisdictions won’t have much effect. The person who ends up stuck dealing with such a request will probably be low in the pecking order because everyone else will have been able to delegate it away.

How should you make a complaint?

Complaints in writing generally have more impact because the response will generally have to be in writing too. A phone call can waste your time, because the switchboard operators will generally not be subject matter experts and not know who is best to help you. Petitions work for large issues where the numbers become overwhelming, but an equal number of individually written letters or emails will have a greater impact because of the implied effort required to prepare them.

The NSW Government Ombudsman’s Office has tools and information to help you prepare complaints and get them to the right place including this handy brochure with tips and contact information to help you.

Even if you intend to make your complaint by phone or in person, write it down first and leave it overnight. When you return to it you’ll have an easier time staying calm and coherent. Don’t be aggressive or abusive as this only makes the people who receive your complaint less sympathetic to you. Don’t make allegations of criminal behaviour or corruption unless you are putting them to the Independent Commission Against Corruption or the Police. Alcohol is not a performance enhancing drug when it comes to complaint.

Where should you complain?

Find out what level and part of the government is responsible for the thing you are complaining about.

  • Vehicle emissions, climate change or energy policy? Thats probably a federal government issue.
  • Road rules, public transport, major roads and big infrastructure? That’s probably a State government issue.
  • A local street, footpath or parking problem? That’s probably your local Council.

Where this gets tough is that many active transport issues have shared responsibility. The State Government through its agency Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has powers over all roads within a very broad remit. Under the Roads Act 1993 all “Freeways” and many other important types of roads are placed into the exclusive ownership and control of RMS. These “classified” roads are the arteries of Sydney’s internal road network and the intercity network of highways, freeways and motorways that connect it to the rest of the State. RMS and its roads have historically placed a higher priority on the movement of vehicles rather than the movement of people or the amenity of places. These roads are often the greatest barriers to active transport initiatives, and for historical reasons tend to run right through the centres of towns and suburbs.

In NSW most other roads and streets are the responsibility of a local Council. They have powers under the Roads Act 1993 to manage and control most streets and roads by default. This includes non-exclusive powers to open and close roads with all their associated street infrastructure like footpaths and shared paths. Ownership of the land within local streets allow Councils to regulate verges, street trees, footpaths and driveways which can enhance or detract from active transport. Further, RMS has delegated many of its traffic and parking management powers for local streets to Councils. Councils exercise these powers under the supervision of Local Traffic Committees which are made up of a single representative from each of the following organisations:

  • the relevant Local Council;
  • NSW Police;
  • RMS; and
  • the relevant local member of State Parliament or their representative.


To whom should you complain?

Again this depends on the specifics of your issue. You can complain directly to the agency or Council responsible. Your complaint will be noted in their Customer Relationship Management System (CRMS), assigned a time frame and then be passed around between departments and officers until it (hopefully) finds the right person to prepare a response. Given the volume of complaints and issues governments deal with, the mandatory response times can be long. Keeping your complaint focussed and concise is helpful in this process because the people directing it initially will not be subject matter experts.

Governments at all levels often have an Ombudsman to handle and investigate complaints about the conduct of government agencies. Generally, you would only approach the ombudsman if the responsible agency had not handled your complaint satisfactorily. The NSW Ombudsman’s website is a great starting point for complaining about State agencies https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/. Your local Council may have its own ombudsman.

Complaining via a politician can be advantageous in several ways. Firstly, by receiving your complaint the elected representative gets a better understanding of what issues matter to their voters. If they get thousands of letters about parking rather than pedestrians safety (and most of them do), then thats what they will prioritise through their decision making. Secondly, politicians will generally have a good idea which part of government is suited to respond to your complaint. This can help save time getting your complaint into the correct inbox. Finally, public servants generally have to respond to complaints from politicians with greater urgency.

Pick a politician with relevance, authority and proximity to the issue you’ve got. Politicians are more motivated as elections approach, so timing can be important. Mayors may not have the power to solve an issue, but they are often well connected and can use their profile to create media around a local issue. Your State MP has relevant powers through the local traffic committee and a role in law making through parliament. The State Ministers for Transport and Roads may be the most powerful of all because they control the powerful State regulations, policies and agency budgets, but your complaint is likely to be swamped in the sheer volume of correspondence they receive. Commonwealth members of Parliament will often refer your complaint on to the relevant agency, but most active transport matters are outside their jurisdiction.

What next?

If your complaint doesn’t get the response you want, there are other paths open to you. Community Action Groups, peak bodies, not for profits and political parties all have influence on the decisions of government. The decisions are made by those who turn up, so I encourage you to get involved.

If your complaint is about walking in or around Sydney, post it here at WalkSydney. Contact us to learn how.


Useful Links and Numbers

NSW Local Government

NSW State Government

Commonwealth Government

My favourite local walk

I am fortunate to live in a beautiful part of suburban Sydney, where I can walk out my front door, up the driveway, continue on down the road and enjoy the wonders of nature.

Native Hyacinth Orchid adjacent to Green Point Road
Native Hyacinth Orchid growing along Green Point Road

My walk takes me along pavements and road verges, across streets that are fairly safe to navigate, along bush tracks and over a creek via a footbridge. I pass a home, Lemon  Cottage that always seems to have a bright and cheery floral display. I cross the road and start to climb. It is now Spring and the bottlebrush are out in full splendor.

This footpath attracts a number of walkers
A frequently travelled pavement along Caravan Head Road. Sutherland Shire is known as the Bottlebrush Shire

The wattlebirds are clacking energetically and sometimes I inadvertently startle rainbow lorikeets who startle me. This section is going up a significant hill and I am relieved to reach the top where I cross another road and head on down towards the river. Here I start to pass some of the remnant bushland of the walk. If I’m lucky, I will see a blue wren flit across the top of the shrubbery. As I follow the bend of the road and descend, I stop to admire the hyacinth orchard that I only discovered recently when doing the walk in reverse. The hill is steep and narrow and sometimes I need to stop and pull over to allow vehicles to pass (the locals often beep their horns to let you know they’re on their way). At the base of the hill I turn slightly to the right to follow a track down through a bush reserve and to the water’s edge.

The path through Green Point Reserve, leading down to the Georges River.
The track through Green Point Reserve, leading to the edge of the Georges River. Volunteer bush regenerators supervised by Sutherland Shire Council look after the Reserve

I step on to one of the larger, flatter rocks, my ‘yoga rock’, and salute the sun. This morning a pied cormorant is fishing nearby. I am now about half way through my walk, as I turn back and start walking along a road parallel to the river.

Low tide on the Georges River, Green Point facing east
The Georges River at low tide, facing east

On my left is all remnant bush, I assume because the land was considered too steep for development. I am thankful. A few months ago a pair of whipbirds settled in the area – the first I had ever heard after over thirty years of walking this land. As I near the end of the road and the second bush track I pause briefly to check out the butcherbirds’ nest. It is now vacant, and both fledglings are exploring their new world. The track is rocky and I know to take care as I approach the creek. If the tide is low I glance down the creek each side of the footbridge in search of waders.

The footbridge is about to be replaced by Sutherland Shire Council, who have also just completed remediation work on the creek to improve water flow and quality
This footbridge is about to be replaced, and Council has just completed remediation work along the creek to improve water flow

This Winter we were treated to a Royal Spoonbill feeding frenetically in the shallows. It’s not the cleanest of creeks and it is remarkable that any wildlife can be found here. I’m well on my way home now. I walk across a small car park for local residents who live next to the creek, and users of the ‘dog park’, which I pass on my way. I listen out for the soft warble of the Olive-backed Oriole – it always seems to be in the same tree. As I near the end of the dog park I have a choice of two hills to ascend, a sharp very steep one or a longer more uniform climb. After forty minutes I am back home, ready for the day.

PS This walk is easily accessible to visitors via Como Railway Station, and you could incorporate a visit to Como Pleasure Grounds and Marina, then walk over the old railway bridge to Oatley Railway Station.Map of walk to Green Point Reserve

The old railway bridge with new bridge behind, taken from Green Point
The old and the new railway bridges, taken from Green Point

Sydney’s Refugee Crisis

Refugee children, trapped on a small island, trying to get to a better place, are challenged by a convoy of heavily armoured, multi-ton metallic objects moving within a mere 1 meter past their developing bodies at 50 km/h. What could go wrong?

Every day during the school year, hundreds of children visit the Seymour Centre at the corner of Cleveland Street and City Road on the University of Sydney campus, being educated and entertained with a variety of tales both historic and fictional.

Across from City Road is Victoria Park, with lots of room for children to run around and play, with some excellent playgrounds, and an excellent location to meet schoolbuses for transport back to school.

To get from A to B, one must cross the street. This is an act every urban child must learn. While we may wish away cars, we cannot wish away streets.

But here, one must cross not one, but two streets, for the convenience of automobiles, which enjoy some extra time here to admire Chippendale about a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon.

At least 20 people, most of them children, queued up like bowling pins, on a refugee island at City Road and Cleveland Street, Sydney. Other groups are held back at the Seymour Centre, or have been already ferried across City Road to Victoria Park. This is typical, but not good, urban design.
At least 20 people, most of them children, queued up on a refugee island at City Road and Cleveland Street, Sydney. Other groups are held back at the Seymour Centre, or have been already ferried across City Road to Victoria Park. This is typical, but not good, urban design.

First, the refugees must wait for a green walk signal to cross the two left turn lanes from Cleveland to City Road, to land on the Refugee island. Then they must wait as refugees on the refuge island, since the traffic signals to cross the left turn lanes are coordinated with crossing Cleveland, not crossing City Road. Then when the light changes (assuming someone remembered to push the actuator), they cross City Road.

Hundreds of children do this, but hundreds of children cannot fit on Refugee Island, so if they are accompanied by responsible adults, they must be ferried in small groups, first to the island, and then across City Road.

On the triangular island, they are arrayed like bowling pins, vulnerable to cars and trucks and buses and motorcycles to the left of them, to the right of them, in front of them.

Imagine the tabloid newspaper headline:

“Horror Crash at Horror Intersection: Roads Minister Warned of Problems and Did Not Act.”

Now lest you think crashes do not occur here, one occurred right across the street a couple of weeks ago (October 16, 2018 to be precise). The lack of tragedy to date on Refugee Island, is, as they say, pushing one’s luck. She won’t be right, mate.

Cleveland Street at City Road crash (across the street from the discussed island, adjacent to another refugee island, for free lefts from City Road to Cleveland Street). Fortunately there was guardrail, I guess. Speed limit, 50 km/h. The police officer was not pleased by the photographers documenting the failure of traffic engineering.
Cleveland Street at City Road crash (across the street from the discussed island, adjacent to another refugee island, for free lefts from City Road to Cleveland Street). Fortunately there was guardrail, I guess. Speed limit, 50 km/h. The police officer was not pleased by the photographers documenting the failure of traffic engineering.

So let’s consider the problem:

  1. The signal controlled “Free Left” is unnecessary to begin with.
  2. The left has two lanes, yet King Street in Newtown, where most of these cars turning wind up is only two lanes in each direction, with one of those devoted to parking.
  3. Tiny island which cannot accommodate the pedestrian flows safely.
  4. Two traffic lights required to cross one street
  5. City Road is too wide
  6. Cars are moving too quickly at some times of day.

Perhaps there are others.

I have not researched the history of this link, I assume it was reconfigured when the trams disappeared. The question is not how it got to where it is (there are numerous sites like this), it’s how to get it fixed.

What we do not need are more traffic signals, more fences, more guardrails. Think more creatively. Instead we need fewer cars, lower speeds, fewer lanes, narrower lanes, more space for pedestrians, no free lefts.

The location from Google Maps is shown below. Below that, a streetview.

Aerial view: Victoria Park in the northwest corner, Seymour Centre to the south.
Refugee Island in less stressful conditions. Seymour Centre to the left, Victoria Park straight ahead.

Some problems with Sydney traffic signals

When I moved to Sydney in 2012, I couldn’t believe how badly timed the pedestrian signals were. The almost entirely uniform 6 seconds of green time, the requirement to yield to turning cars and the nonsensical phasing can make walking here such an unpleasant experience. It’s almost as if the signals are telling you to get in a car, because if you’re in a car, the system will prioritise you.

My frustration led me to do some research. The system to control traffic lights in Sydney, Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System, and the hardware that supports it, measures how many vehicles move through an intersection through the use of inductor loops under the road. The data can then be used to adjust the signal phasing.
SCATS and the hardware that supports it have no way of measuring how many pedestrians move through an intersection. This is absurd in busy urban areas where you will have traffic lights programmed to move very small numbers of people through intersections in cars, and the same system which ignores the hundreds or thousands of people who might be walking through the intersection at the same time.
While there are limitations with SCATS and the hardware, they don’t tell the whole story behind the inequity of signal programming in Sydney. These limitations are made even worse by the fact that the lights are actually programmed to make walking difficult. Below I’ve extracted sections of RMS’s Traffic Signal Design Manual as examples, which show clear evidence of bias against pedestrians.
Section 7 – Phasing and Signal Group Display Sequence

RMS section 7.9
Source here

Read: if you push the button to cross the road and the traffic going the same way has a green light, instead of you being given a green man (it’s normally not defaulted to green in Sydney – more on that another time), the lights will go red for the traffic moving the same way, then green for traffic moving the other way for a minimum period, and then after that has happened, you will finally be given a green man. This could add minutes onto a short walk, and while the phasing is justified on the basis of safety (to avoid conflict), it doesn’t really make sense since turning vehicles are required by law to give way to pedestrians. I suspect the process is more about reducing delay
for cars.

RMS section 7.9.2
Source here

Read: that one person crossing the road has no business being there, and the drivers who might have to stop are right to be frustrated. This sends the wrong message – everyone who uses roads, including pedestrians, should be treated equally.

If RMS and the NSW government want to get serious about walking in Sydney, it’s time these manuals were reviewed and redrafted, and lights reprogrammed, to allow for the freer movement of people across the city.

WalkSydney – Taking Sydney in Stride

Welcome to the home of WalkSydney, a group of people aiming to improve walking from Wollongong to Newcastle and from the Pacific to the Blue Mountains.

We formed WalkSydney because we think the environment for walking in New South Wales can be better.  The issues we care about range from the operational: changing the signal from mostly saying “Don’t Walk” to mostly saying “Walk”, to the strategic: building infrastructure with a walking-first mindset, and everything in between.

The means we will use vary from this blog, to our social media (including Twitter and Instagram and Facebook), to testifying at public hearing and writing formal responses, to anything else that can create positive change — making walking, the first and best mode of transport, safer and more common.

We don’t need to reinvent the foot.

The great thing about walking is that it is done everywhere around the world, so we will find the best ideas and designs from across the globe and show what can be applied here. We have both complaints and solutions.

While the conditions are less than they might be, there is good news, it’s easy to make it better.

How you can help.

  1. Walk – Use the streets, footpaths, and crosswalks like you own the place. Assert your rights to the street.
  2. Balk – Don’t accept conditions as they are, imagine how they should be, and work toward that.
  3. Talk – Get in touch, (join the mailing list, follow us on social media), write for this blog, write your representatives, complain to government, testify, call, lead.

Thanks for joining us.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton