Friday, September 21, 2007

Where Australia is not Pedestrian Friendly

I arrived at my Sydney hotel to overhear the front desk staff discussing the near fatal injury of a hotel guest. The guest had been run over by a city bus. Actually, I was not surprised to hear this. I had already walked the streets of downtown Sydney, and concluded that whoever approved the design of Sydney's bus lanes must hate pedestrians. Watch this pedestrian stand back as a Sydney bus clips the sidewalk. This reflex is an all-too-familiar sight in Sydney:

Anti-Walking Politics
This article presents one expert's observations about Sydney, but it applies to other towns I have visited in the Australian state of New South Wales:
At present, Sydney's roads, footpaths and traffic light configurations all conspired to favour the car, Professor Gehl said. They were a product of traffic engineering that was refined in the 1960s and '70s but never reviewed.
Why are Sydney's streets so unfriendly to people who choose to walk? Road improvements in Sydney have to be approved by the Roads and Traffic Authority. The city council can't do anything about the roads without this state agency's approval.

Here's the political calculation behind RTA decisions: to the majority of voters living in the state of NSW, vehicle access to the city is the top priority, whereas making the city livable is not so critical. That's the political equation that dictates RTA decisions effecting the metropolis, rendering the city inhospitable to pedestrian traffic. Effectively, downtown Sydney is hostage to out of town motorists.

The Brighter Side of Australia
At my travel blog, I write that Sydney could learn a lot from a less famous Australian metropolis that is stealing the hearts of Australians and foreigner visitors.