Light Rail's Time Has Come


It seems inconceivable for many young Sydneysiders who have flocked to places like Newtown, Surry Hills and now Marrickville and Alexandria, that the streets of the inner-city were once dominated not by cars but by trams. We must remember that these are still the children of the great modernist vision of a city where the car is central to life, the very embodiment of their freedom of movement and perhaps even their freedom to express themselves. 

But a great shift in their thinking is underway. The NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics released a report back in 2010 which found that about a quarter of train, ferry and taxi users are 25-34-years old, representing the largest age band for these modes of transport. This is backed up nationally in a more recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report from 2012 which stated that ‘Young people were the most likely to take public transport (28%) to work or study, compared with older age groups’.

Now if we consider that rail trips to the city are expected to increase by almost 25 per cent by 2031, and that already large younger age bracket will almost definitely increases in size, we will have more young people choosing public transport of than ever before.

The problem is that with more people coming to the CBD there will be more people moving around within the CBD. At the moment, each morning a conga line of more than 1600 buses enters the city centre, though perhaps the term ‘conga line’ makes this sound more fun and festive than it actually is. Our CBD streets simply cannot cope with the extra buses needed to meet Sydney’s forecast growth. It is not sustainable.

Light rail on the other hand will remove up to 220 buses from the CBD in the morning peak, moving more people using less street space and removing a major source of congestion for other road users. It has always been the best option for Sydney. In his report for the City of Sydney in 2007 Danish Urban Planner and Designer Jan Gehl, pointed towards this as the obvious way forward for any major rearrangement of Sydney’s heart. He reported that this single piece of infrastructure would help us make the best use of Sydney’s natural assets, and rescue pedestrians from clutter and an over-reliance on cars. George Street in particular he described it as ‘overloaded’ and ‘no longer functioning efficiently for either pedestrians or vehicles.’

George Street is the main ‘spine’ of our city and, as it is in the study of anatomy, if your spine does not function properly, you’re in deep trouble. That is why the Government has progressed with the CBD Light Project despite the howls and scaremongering of the opposition.

The George Street project could be thought of as a form of urban surgery that will reinvigorate this city. It will turn George Street into an efficient transport spine, a pedestrian focused boulevard. As the Premier and Transport Minister have alluded to previously, there will be pain. City shaping projects like this cannot occur without disruption. But the long term gains will absolutely outweigh the short term pain. In fact, I would -perhaps boldly- predict that at the completion of the CBD and South-East Light Rail Project, commuters really will be wondering why we ever got rid of trams in the first place.