While other levels of government have control of transport policies, the City of Sydney has used the power it does have to sustainably reshape mobility in the city and its villages.
In 2004 when I was elected Lord Mayor with an independent team majority, the City was going through an extraordinary time. A new council was created with the amalgamation of the City and South Sydney councils, and Glebe part of Leichhardt Council, which led to new council boundaries. Along with the new council, a new vision was needed.
I led the development and implementation of the City of Sydney’s strategy, Sustainable Sydney 2030. This was the first long-term strategy for Sydney since the 70s and has not only led Sydney to becoming more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable, but has elevated Sydney to global-city status.
The development of the strategy in 2008 – which has inspired other cities to develop comparable plans, interestingly including Wuhan in China – involved the largest consultation in the City’s history with the involvement of close to 180,000 people. Overwhelmingly people told us they wanted a city that was smarter, more open, more inclusive and environmentally sustainable. Around 97 per cent of people said they wanted us to address global warming – and that has been a key focus ever since.
Sustainable Sydney recognises that exceptional liveability drives prosperity and economic growth. City neighbourhoods where people want to live are also the places people want to visit, work and set up businesses.
Its successor, Sustainable Sydney 2050 was adopted by the Council just last month, also following extensive consultation. Its targets include:
- By 2030 net zero emissions across the LGA.
- By 2050, 9 out of 10 people working in the city centre and 2 out of 3 people working in the rest of the local area will commute by public transport, walking or cycling.
- And by 2030 every resident will be about a 10-minute walk to what they need for daily life.
Importantly in 2007, the City joined the C40 global network of 97 cities that are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide proven models that other cities and governments can adopt. This network represents more than 700 million people and 25 per cent of the global economy.
The City had the mandate from our community, the support from world cities, and the urgency of the climate crisis to reduce emissions. We set our goal to reduce emissions in our own operations by 70% by 2030 and we achieved that goal in 2021, 9 years early.
In terms of size, cities occupy only 2 per cent of the world’s land mass. But in terms of climate impact, they leave an enormous footprint. Cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions – mainly from commercial buildings and transport.
Today as you requested, I’ll talk about how reducing emissions from transport is transforming the liveability and health of our cities and neighbourhoods, and helping to address social and equity issues within our communities.
While we have completely decarbonised our own operations and are developing an electric vehicle strategy, the greatest reduction in transport emissions will come from people shifting from using cars to walking, cycling and using public transport. So we are building a connected cycleway network, widening footpaths and improving public spaces where more people can safely walk and cycle. And we are continuing to advocate for mass public transport, as well as more effective vehicle charging.
As cars are responsible for roughly half of Australia’s total transport emissions, the City of Sydney has procured one of the country’s largest hybrid and electric vehicle fleets, and we are trialling electric garbage trucks and street sweepers.
The City’s electric vehicle strategy will improve access to charging stations to encourage people and businesses to switch to electric vehicles. The strategy will support public, off-street electric charging ports by facilitating their installation on Council-owned land and in appropriate public locations as well as the new residential developments.
Since 2007 we have installed 25 kilometres of safe, separated cycleways, 60 kilometres of shared paths and 40 kilometres of other cycling infrastructure so now more than 7000 people safely ride to work in the city centre – the equivalent of 7 full trains or 116 full buses. We are currently building cycleways along King Street, providing a key east-west link through central Sydney, and Castlereagh and Oxford streets are in advanced planning with funding from both the Federal and State Governments.
These bike paths could eventually be shared by e-scooters, which could make an important contribution to our sustainable transport mix. But this is not possible currently because they are illegal to use in public, and because we have not completed our cycleway network so there would be significant safety issues on our densely populated footpaths, especially in the CBD.
The quality of our walking environment is important for maintaining the city’s global competitiveness and reputation. Walking is how people experience a city, and it is a key part of reshaping mobility.
Walking accounts for 92 per cent of trips within central Sydney or about 1.15 million journeys each day. However, only one-third of the city’s road space had been allocated for pedestrians.
We successfully lobbied for the pedestrianisation and light rail along George Street and provided $265 million for the public domain works on 34,000 square metres of roadway that has been reclaimed for people. This once noisy, congested main street in the heart of Sydney now has tree canopies that provide shade and comfort; new street furniture and lighting encouraging people to linger; transformed laneways, public art and small bars that activate streets and attract a high-spending demographic – all improving the status and competitiveness of the main city street of Australia’s only global city and bringing private investment of more than $8 billion.
In other parts of our City, we are widening footpaths, landscaping and planting trees for shade, and building ramps and other accessibility features so our paths are more walkable for all people including people with disability, the elderly or those with prams. In addition, we are asking the NSW Government to reduce delays at signals for people walking, and we are identifying areas across the network where improved infrastructure would support people walking or wanting to walk.
Our Active Transport Survey from 2021 found that 91 per cent of residents support walking – up from 83 per cent six years earlier.
Just 4 kilometres south of the CBD, at Green Square, 50 new apartments are completed every week. This $13 billion renewal area – which runs from Waterloo in the north, South Dowling Street in the east, North Rosebery in the south and Alexandria in the west – already has 44,000 residents, and by 2030 will house 70,000 residents and 22,000 workers.
Addressing the current congestion and transport capacity constraints as well as future demand is essential. Green Square urgently needs dedicated surface transport, and the City has spent $40 million preserving the Eastern Transit Corridor for light rail. This surface corridor connects Green Square town centre and the train station north to Waterloo, Redfern, Surry Hills and the city. While light rail was committed to in 1996, governments of both persuasions have failed to act, so we are now seeking electric buses in the immediate term and supporting the metro’s extension to Zetland and Randwick.
Providing better public transport is the only sustainable way of improving access. Anyone living so close to central Sydney should not even think about driving there.
Metro and Cross City Tunnel
In central Sydney, there is still too much through traffic. Congestion costs in Sydney will rise to $12.6 billion by 2030 if nothing changes.
Drivers who bypass the city using the Cross City Tunnel pay more than $6 per trip. But drivers going through the city, adding to congestion, do not pay a toll.
I call on the State Government to create a more effective system for reducing east-west vehicle movements across the city. By removing the toll on the Cross City Tunnel and adding a charge for surface traffic, thousands of cars could be removed from the city streets each day, alleviating city congestion.
In the past I’ve held the view that we need better public transport before we can move to congestion charging so people have genuine alternatives to driving – and now with the completion of city light rail and the construction of metros, circumstances have changed. But we still need to ensure people making deliveries, tradespeople and service suppliers are not disadvantaged.
Any revenue raised through congestion charging should be directly invested in better public transport such as electrifying buses and extending the metro to Green Square.
Removing the toll on the Cross City Tunnel would also enable the City to transform Park Street – a crucial east-west link – into a green avenue. This could be pedestrianised like George Street and beautified with increased tree plantings and spaces for people.
As a green avenue, it would unite the two sides of Hyde Park and create more space for people; provide public transport such as electric buses and eventually light rail from the Eastern Suburbs; and provide an appropriate edge to a future Town Hall Square. We have similar proposals for Oxford Street, Botany Road and Broadway.
By prioritising walking, cycling and public transport, we have reshaped mobility, transformed our local neighbourhoods and created a city of villages. We have main streets and other public places that are thriving hubs with their own distinctive characters and strong focal points for social interaction, encouraging a sense of community.
Our focus is on creating better neighbourhoods that provide a great quality of life and keep our communities healthy and safe. We do this by working with all levels of government, and by integrating land use and transport planning.
Not many international cities have been building tolled motorways in the 21st century – at the same time as the accelerating global warming. But as our Government has chosen to do this, it now must provide ways to mitigate the impacts of motorways as they interface with urban neighbourhoods.
For example, with the final stages of Westconnex due to open in 2023, we need to ensure the interface between driving on a high-speed motorway and urban, densely populated areas – with 40- and 30-kilometre speed limits – is safe for residents and neighbourhood amenity.
One of the best ways to improve liveability and keep people safe, not just in the City’s LGA but across metropolitan Sydney, is to reduce speed limits to 40 kilometres an hour in all urban areas, and 30 kilometres an hour in village centres.
The City has worked with the NSW Government to reduce speed to 40 kilometres an hour in central Sydney, and now we want this extended across our villages.
Reducing the speed limit is just one part of making streets safer. An overall lowering of traffic volumes as well as prioritising people walking, cycling and using public transport will make our streets even safer.
We are in good company with these reforms. Across the world, cities like San Francisco, London, Paris, New York and Milan are now prioritising people and places, rather than the movement of vehicles. They are reallocating street space to people walking or spending time (and money) in their cities. They are building large networks of connected safe cycleways. And they are continuing to shape their cities with public transport.
These moves were underway before the COVID pandemic. Now they are accelerating as cities look for the best way to bring life and activity back into their streets, and to underwrite their global competitiveness. As additional benefits, these same actions provide more spaces for tree planting to help cope with the heat effects of the climate emergency.
Changes to Transport legislation
One of the major differences between some of these cities and the City of Sydney is the amount of control local government has over its roads.
I am flagging today, that the City will advocate for changes to NSW transport legislation, and the operation of processes such as traffic committees, and we can support this with extensive technical and strategic input.
City governments often have closer relationships with their businesses, residents and institutions than state and national governments, allowing new policies to be implemented quickly and decisively.
When I became Lord Mayor, I changed the name of our traffic committee to the Local Pedestrian, Cycling and Traffic Calming Committee to better reflect the priorities of our community.
The City needs more control on roads to implement sensible road engineering and management approaches including:
- setting speed limits
- installing new pedestrian crossings
- building cycleways
- managing traffic signal phasing
- and changing parking controls.
Councils with appropriate capability and capacity like the City of Sydney are better placed to understand the complex interface between movement and place and the community on local networks, and manage the balance between walking and cycling infrastructure, parking and vehicle access.
Making such councils responsible for roads in their local government areas frees up the NSW Government for managing congestion and safety on non-metropolitan roads, and for looking after the interests of councils in the regions.
Is another area you wanted me to cover. The City of Sydney has been progressively addressing equity and accessibility issues to create a liveable and inclusive city – a place for people of all ages and abilities.
An inclusive city is about providing residents and workers with equitable access to jobs, services, parks, facilities, and community activities. We do this through advocating for the reallocation of road space that will best serve our community; the removal of barriers for people to access public transport; and the provision of convenient, affordable and reliable transport for people who don’t own a car.
While cars are still important to many people, this is changing in the city where public transport is accessible; where good, safe cycling and walking infrastructure is provided; and where car sharing is available. About 40 per cent of households in the City of Sydney do not own a car. We would like to make that possible for even more households.
We estimate there will be 115,000 more residents, 56,000 new dwellings and 200,000 more jobs across our local area by 2036, half of the jobs will be in the city centre. Each new job or resident creates demand for more transport and more public space, as well as more demand for freight and servicing, potentially one daily trip for every 20 people. So transport connections, infrastructure and public places must continue to increase.
One thing we can’t do is create more surface space to support growth, so we must use the space we have more equitably, more effectively and more sustainably.
Streets are valuable public places. As the American writer Bernard Rudofsky wrote in his 1960s book Streets for People, streets are not just for cars, they are for people too. Streets are a key part of the public realm. In urban areas they take up more than 80 per cent of public space.
Since 2013 we have worked alongside the NSW Government, studying every street in the city centre to find ways to balance the needs of the growing number of people living, working and visiting the city.
One fundamental principle developers apply on land or property is ‘highest and best use’. Are we, the public, getting ‘highest and best use’ from our streets?
Reallocating road space
We can create more space for people and places by using our road space more efficiently and equitably. There is great economic and social value in providing places for people to gather, spend time and socialise.
To address equity, we balance the movement of people and goods with the amenity needed for good quality neighbourhoods. This involves prioritising the most efficient transport modes – from walking to cycling, to public transport to vehicles – depending on place and purpose.
It can mean a shift away from prioritising space for private vehicles, which take up a disproportionate amount of road space and cause major social impacts from congestion, emissions, noise and traffic accidents.
No city has been able to build its way out of traffic congestion, and, like other successful global cities the City of Sydney is prioritising walking, cycling and public transport – modes of transport with lower emissions, which are more equitable and use less public space.
Accessible public transport
To prioritise public transport, it needs to be accessible and safe for everyone. The City has long advocated for reducing barriers so that all people – including people with disability and the elderly – have easy access to public transport. We have been improving paths to public transport nodes such as stations and bus stops, and our advocacy is resulting in lifts finally being installed at Redfern, Erskineville and St Peters rail stations.
Parking and car sharing
By allowing less car parking we have improved amenity, made village high streets more attractive and, in some cases, made housing more affordable.
Since 1996, we have been approving apartments with reduced car parking in areas where public transport is available. Each car space in a new development is worth about $60,000. We set maximum rates based on development type, apartment size and accessibility to public transport. Developments can provide less than the maximum, or no private parking. Also, apartment approvals now include spaces for car share vehicles as well as electric charging facilities.
The City has the largest car sharing membership and network of vehicles in Australia. And we have provided 850 parking spaces for car sharing on the streets, which is 2 per cent of all on-street parking. It has been estimated that on average, one car share vehicle in the City replaces up to 13 private vehicles.
Again, this reduces the need to own a car for personal, daily transport; reduces the need for a second car; helps drive lower parking rates and avoids the associated costs for individual housing.
Out-of-centre retail development is strongly discouraged, as this relies on car access and parking, and competes with the viability of walkable centres.
Our vision of a more liveable, sustainable and prosperous city is progressing as we continue to reduce emissions and prioritise walking, cycling and public transport. We have come a long way since 2007 when international urbanist Jan Gehl, our consultant on Sustainable Sydney, found that Sydney was dominated by traffic congestion and crowded street crossings.
Our city of villages policy and the successful transformation of George Street have brought many economic, social and environmental returns and provide us with the inspiration and a template for redesigning quality places that mitigate the impacts of climate change and help to provide social justice.