Stopped cars more important than moving buses in Sydney
- I guess Sydney's not going carfree any time soon -
Parked cars turning buses into snails
Linton Besser Transport Reporter
November 12, 2007
TENS of thousands of commuters are enduring slow bus trips through the
city centre despite a decade-long campaign to remove kerbside parking
and allow mass transit-style bus lanes.
The State Government, transport planners and the bus drivers' union all
say faster bus trips would be possible along major arteries such as
Clarence, York and Elizabeth streets if not for street parking.
They blame the City of Sydney council's reluctance to remove parking as
one of the stumbling blocks to reconfiguring city streets for swifter
In the past four years, the council has collected more than $99 million
from parking meters and enforcement fines.
On Elizabeth Street, State Transit says parking causes obstacles to 167
buses every day, delaying the journeys of 4600 people.
And on Clarence Street, parking for a handful of cars creates havoc for
325 buses in the afternoon peak. State Transit says delays cost
passengers on this route 194 hours in wasted time each day.
The acting head of State Transit, Peter Rowley, said the council was
preventing the free flow of buses. "Thousands of bus passengers are held
up daily by CBD parking spaces, which on some streets cater to a handful
of people per hour," he said.
In 2005, the Government revealed its CBD Bus Strategy, but it was only
on October 12 this year that the Transport Minister, John Watkins,
formally announced the first plank in its bus priority program. Bus
priority lanes would be extended by three hours around the morning and
The council has estimated the new hours will cost about $100,000 a year
in lost revenue from meters.
"We have, over the decade, made repeated representations to the council
about giving us a free flow through those streets," said the former head
of State Transit, John Stott. "But it has been reluctant to reduce
The Government has highlighted congestion on York, Castlereagh, George
and Elizabeth streets as highly problematic for bus services. In
2006-07, the council earned an estimated $1.8 million in parking meters
on these streets.
A council report in July said "the city is concerned about long-term
proposals to remove or significantly reduce on-street parking from the CBD".
"It provides an essential facility to effectively service the
functioning of the retail and commercial activity at the core of the
CBD. In the short-term, pedestrian amenity is adversely impacted through
the loss of parking which acts as a buffer between moving traffic and
Jeff Lewis, a spokesman for the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, defended the
council. He said it backed extended bus lane hours.
"The city has also advised the state that it is prepared to forgo
parking where there is a net benefit to the community, for example the
recent bus lane extensions, for the provision of light rail services and
for the provision of cycling facilities," he said.
Other traffic problems are slowing bus services in the city. A lack of
bus terminus parking throughout the city centre means dozens of buses
are forced to circle city blocks while waiting for the next trip to begin.
Mr Lewis said it was bus layover areas that were clogging the city.
"[The city] is continually receiving requests from the STA for the
provision of additional on-street layover spaces for the exclusive use
of buses … [that] are not being used to provide services, and the spaces
could otherwise go to supporting the commercial activity of the CBD."
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union wants greater traffic priority given to
buses, even isolating bus lanes, as is done in London.
"The first thing we need is to reduce or eliminate the number of streets
where cars turn left and block the lane," said the union's bus division
secretary, Raul Baonza. He also called for concrete dividers to separate
bus lanes from general traffic. Bus lights would control the lane, and
cars wishing to turn left would do so from the centre lane when given
the appropriate green light.
A Roads and Traffic Authority spokesman, Adam Berry, said concrete
barriers caused problems for buses wishing to overtake each other, and
posed challenges for delivery vehicles.
Mr Stott said buses and light rail posed similar challenges and required
similar infrastructure. "They need guaranteed right of way, with
separation from traffic and priority through intersections," he said.
The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has made no secret of her dislike for
State Transit's noisy buses: "More and more buses do not make a
strategic integrated transport solution for the City of Sydney," she has
Cr Moore and the council has called repeatedly for an extension of light
rail through Sydney, and pointed to the 2004 State Government report
into light rail that found it was a feasible solution.
The State Government shelved the report and has since declared that
buses remained the transport of choice for the city centre.
Transit-style bus lanes were preferred, the report said, if they were
installed along the centre of the street.
Such centre lanes were "safer for pedestrians and can avoid delays from
obstructions, such as left-turning traffic, illegal parking and drop off".
- =v= This is precisely the problem in San Francisco, as well.
San Francisco nominally has a Transit-First Policy, which was
at first nonbinding and existed mostly to be criticized by
politicians as they approved parking for a thousand more cars
here and there. Then it was made into law by the voters (as
part of the ballot initiative process), so politicians don't
criticize it any more; on the contrary, they mention it when
trying to puff up their green credientials; but they continue
to impose a cars-first policy on the city.
=v= Bus service has suffered in lockstep with an influx of cars,
which park in bus stops (and crosswalks and on sidewalks) with
impunity. Their idea of improving it is to space bus stops
further apart, so as to create "more" parking for the cars that
are already illegally parked there.
=v= The surface rail also suffers. At many stops the doors open
and riders have to step out into parked cars, wending around
them to get to the sidewalk. The most heavily-used stop in the
city is encumbered by three parking spaces that are considered
too precious to sacrifice, so onboarding/offboarding is delayed
quite a bit. (After over a decade of complaints, one space was
freed up, but the police use it as their personal parking spot
while they grab coffee and hamburgers.)
=v= When a new surface rail line opened along the waterfront,
there was a big celebratory event that came to screeching halt
because somebody parked an SUV in the way. Hey, new parking!
(No ticket was issued.)
The cars below knew nothing. People in cars weren't New Yorkers
anyway, they'd suffered some basic misunderstanding.
-- Jonathan Lethem, _The_Fortress_of_Solitude_