Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Unfit for public roads

 The Randwick trams will be 45 metres long, fifty percent longer than the existing trams shown at left. There is no other place in the world that runs light rail carriages of this length through city streets, let alone through shared pedestrian/cyclist areas or past children's playing fields.

The traveling billboards of Sydney
It is intended that the trams will be privately operated and so will be under the same profit motives as the existing trams and the monorail before they were taken over by the NSW government.

Advertisers have figured out how to cover the windows with advertisements that are opaque from the outside and semi-transparent from the inside, and trams and the monorail carriages make extensive use of these advertisements. This hardly matters because they do not run though shared spaces for any length of their route. Public buses are more responsible with these kinds of billboard advertisements.

Buses pull into the curb to discharge passengers so a child who alights from a bus has to pass in front of the bus to be hit by an unseen vehicle traveling in the same direction. The driver, who has a rear-vision mirror, can toot his horn as a warning. Children are also instructed on what not to do.

With the Oyster Card (I refuse to rebadge it as the Opal Card) passengers can enter and leave trams and buses by any door. Someone passing behind a 45 metre tram with opaque windows would not get any warning and would not see or hear much before being hit by a tram passing through in the opposite direction. Tram stops with pedestrian islands on both sides and with rails set in the road encourage pedestrians to make these crossings.

Trams have low friction between the small steel wheels and the steel rails, which is why they cannot travel down inclines greater than 7%, and they take a long distance to stop. The distance taken depends on the mass of the carriage of course. Clover Moore wants to weigh the carriages down even more with batteries to operate without overhead wires in the CB. God help us.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Ward Park

Northcott Place
Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to Northcott Place on March 4th,  the final day of her Royal Visit in 1963. The towers were occupied and she was taken to visit a family on the 14th floor. She looked down on Surry Hills and remarked to the Housing Minister Landa "You have a lot more slum clearance to do here". Prince Philip commented that the towers were bigger than any single flat group in London. Their son would grow up to rail against these buildings and to delight in manning wrecking balls to demolish them.

Northcott Place had been designed according to "the latest Swedish ideas in flat design" and had been acclaimed by Landa as "an outstanding example of what could be done in slum clearance". Only 43 of the 288 families that had been living in the terraces that were cleared were rehoused in the blocks and the new residents would never develop a sense of community. Taxi drivers refer to them as suicide towers.

Riley Street North
Riley Street South

Riley Street passes just to the east of the tower blocks. Only children's playgrounds and barbecues lie on top of where it once passed. The connection was removed so residents of the flats would have ready access to playing fields where they could grow up healthy and disease free. Devonshire Street was extended to link Riley Street to Bourke Street as well as Crown Street instead of Cleveland Street. Now that link is to be obliterated on the whim of a Public Servant. So will O'Farrell be re-establishing the connection in front of the blocks? Nobody can obtain any information other than two crude street maps with a line of dots on them.

Ward Park is to be remembered as the name of a tram stop. This is ironic as the trams turn the playing fields of hope in the 1950s into killing fields.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The dot that ghettoized Surry Hills

Transport for NSW had assured "stakeholders" in October 2012 that all routes considered for light rail had been discounted except for a tunnel under Surry Hills. A little over a month later they released a glossy brochure showing the tram lines passing along Devonshire Street with a dot between Riley Street and Crown Street. The Deputy Director General Chris Lock has since proclaimed this dot to be the raison d'etat for running the rails along the streets of Surry Hills.

It has been impossible to obtain any further information about this dot other than the name. It is called Devonshire Street Ward Park, ironically since it shuts down Devonshire Street as a through connection between Riley Street and Crown and Bourke Streets. It is in fact the stops that caused the trams to be removed from Sydney Streets in the 1950's. With a paired rail system the pedestrian areas for passengers to alight close down a lane of traffic. When the street is narrow as Devonshire Street you end up with what the City Council proclaims as pedestrianization.

Riley Street originally connected Woolloomooloo with Cleveland Street, a street to rival Crown Street. A section was obliterated to give residents of Northcott Place ready access to Ward Park. This was OK because Devonshire Street gave Riley Street access to Crown and Bourke Streets. Now without any consultation or warning the access is obliterated with a dot of a Public Servant's texta.

Devonshire Street is the only connection between these roads south of Albion/Foveaux Streets and its closure creates two ghettos - the Ghetto south of Devonshire Street, the public housing ghetto, and the Ghetto west of Crown Street.

And it gets worse, much worse. The O'Farrell Government has secret agendas that will make access to Surry Hills west of Crown much more difficult from every direction except the Eastern Suburbs, with devastating consequences for all businesses in the area. We will have to prize admissions from the Government before we can discuss these matters.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Shutting down access to Riley Street

Sydney Council released plans to shut down the tortuous but vital route from Liverpool and Goulburn Streets into the Surry Hills grid west of Crown Street on 18th October 2012. A bus shelter with a billboard was to be placed in the roadway, forcing buses to block traffic when discharging and loading passengers, and the crucial right-hand turn into Riley Street was eliminated.

The period for lodging objections ended on 3rd December 2012. Within two weeks of this deadline the State Government released its plans for the Light Rail Project which obliterated the connection between the south end of Riley Street and Crown and Bourke Streets. Riley Street, which is the only street that connects all the roads of Surry Hills West, was to be effectively blocked off at both ends. No one in Surry Hills had been given any inkling of what was planned for them, although the consequences for Residents and Businesses west of Crown Street will be devastating.

Sydney Council staff had been made aware in late 2011 that Transport NSW was considering options for light rail routes. In a written answer to questions from Councillor Scott on 13th May 2013 it was revealed that route options had been discussed by Transport NSW at "Round Tables" held in early 2012. This had not deterred Council from pressing ahead with plans to block access to the northern end of Riley Street. City Council's written response to the questions can be viewed at the People Unite Surry Hills Facebook page.

I lodged an objection to the Council plans for Campbell Street before anyone had any knowledge of the State Government's plans. If interested you can view the letter here.

Monday, 20 May 2013

How the Surry Hills Society saved Surry Hills

The Surry Hills Society was also holding meetings during the Stephenson Inquiry. Clover Moore breezed in on one of the meetings. The only thing I can remember her saying was that she just did not enter parks after dark. Stephenson held meetings in a building across the road from the Clock Hotel but I never saw her again while the fate of Surry Hills was being decided.

The Surry Hills Society had long been campaigning to drive News Corp out of Surry Hills so when the enlarged City of Sydney was dismissed in 1987 and, following the Goran Report, had the CBD hived off, the boundaries were set to keep News Limited properties including the motel at Oxford Square (the intersection of Oxford and Riley Streets) inside the CBD. The South Sydney Council could not block off Riley Street which was part of the boundary to past the Police Centre. Further attempts to block off Reservoir Street were made but this had to be east of Mary Street and were knocked back.

When the Carr Government abruptly dismissed the two Councils and undid the change, the Loonies of South Sydney would regain control of the CBD, the Golden Goose.

The first thing to go was the right-hand turn into Riley Street from Oxford Street. This was replaced with a right turn lane from  Liverpool Street into Wentworth Avenue with a little sign on a lamp-post pointing to Surry Hills down the Avenue. To reach the Surry Hills grid you have to turn into Goulburn Street then Hunt Street then Campbell Street, then finally you could make a right-hand turn into Riley Street. Riley Street is crucial to accessing the road systems of Surry Hills west of Crown Street. Commonwealth Street ends in a left-hand turn into Albion Street and Mary Street does not get you any further and can only be accessed from Goulburn Street by an illegal U-turn in Campbell Street.

When a former Fascist held a Youth Rally at Randwick Racecourse this right-hand turn from Liverpool Street was closed down. Literally the only legal access to Surry Hills was the right-hand turn from Flinders Street into Short Street. I had escaped to Mudgee and came back after the Rally, but the faithful were conducting pilgrimages through Surry Hills. It took hours to get from Parramatta Road to Liverpool Street - a harbinger of what will be happening 7 days a week if trams take over George Street. Mea culpa, I made an illegal right-hand turn from Oxford Street into Riley Street.

The route from Liverpool Street to Riley Street is tortuous but it is the only access residents and businesses in Surry Hills West of Crown have. Then in October 2012 Sydney Council released plans to close this crucial link down.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Surry Hills Ghetto

The Environmental Impact Study should have been straightforward but I checked it out and looked on it with stunned disbelief. Concerned citizens were closing Riley Street at Oxford Street and Reservoir Street at Elizabeth Street in a vendetta against "rat-runners". The only entrance to Surry Hills from Liverpool and Oxford Street was a right turn from Flinders Street into Short Street, a short street between Flinders and Bourke Street.

They were shutting down the exclusive bus roadways in Moore Park for non fathomable reasons. One of the cross-sections of the tunnels showed a bus stop at Drivers Triangle. I pointed out that anyone who alighted there would have nowhere to go but to commit suicide by jumping into the mouth of the tunnel.

In the end I had raised, I think, eight objections to the EIS. Fortunately it was an EIS and the objections were professionally assessed. All the objections to road closures an narrowings were upheld, and we were spared videos of motorists intercut subliminally with shots of rats running through a maze.

Surry Hills had survived. But psychopaths are remorseless, and in the end the residents of Surry Hills had as much chance of avoiding their suburb being turned into a ghetto as the residents of Muranow had had in 1940.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Finally an Eastern Distribubor

There would be two changes of government before construction of the tunnels would begin. The entrance to the north-bound tunnel had been moved south with an entrance at drivers triangle for traffic from Moore Park Road and Anzac Parade and a separate entrance from a sunken carriage-way along South Dowling Street. The Liberal Government had done polling on whether motorists would be prepared to pay a toll and had called for expressions of interest from companies to build a tollway.

Carr won the election in March 1995 promising to build a toll free Distributor and to reimburse commuters for tolls paid on the Western Motorway from the public purse. He reneged on the first promise. A consortium of Leighton Contractors and Macquarie Bank had retained its interest in the project and put a proposal to the Government. The Government accepted the proposal but stipulated that the consortium had to pay for improvements to the Darlinghurst and Surry Hills grid. It was this stipulation that allowed Clover Moore to run amok.

The design was impeccable: the grade-separated carriage-ways for through-traffic allowed South Dowling Street to distribute local traffic into the South Sydney grid "diffusely"; this allowed the intersection at Taylor Square to be simplified by closing Bourke Street on both sides; Crown Street, Darlinghurst would become two-way to distribute local traffic to Surry Hills.

Clover Moore was grandstanding and chairing interminable meetings of concerned citizens, but I thought what harm could she do. I sadly underestimated her capacity for evil.

A Second Letter to the Minister

A consortium of banks had proposed to build a tunnel under Sydney Harbour and Brereton was reported in the press as saying there were three possible destinations for the southern end, one of which would allow the demolition of the Cahill Expressway. I wrote to the department to suggest the fourth alternative: to merge the output from the tunnel into traffic at the eastern end of the Cahill Expressway. The combined outputs would make it economic to build the Darlinghurst Tunnels and grade-separated carriage-ways along South Dowling Street from Moore Park Road to Southern Cross Drive, giving Sydney the much needed grade-separated North/South spine from Chatswood to the shores of Botany Bay and potentially beyond.

I received a letter from the Department thanking me for the letter "and the interesting suggestions it contained" two days before the final plans for the Sydney Harbour Tunnel were released.

Clover Moore effused at the end of the Surry Hills Light Rail Forum on April 15th, taking advantage of her position as Chairperson, that they had not wanted to submerge the carriage-ways or make Crown and Bourke Streets two-way and she had had to fight for this. In fact grade-separated carriage-ways from Moore Park Road to Southern Cross Drive had been a given from the time of conception of the project and were crucial to the private equity funding that eventually allowed the tunnels to be built.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Stephenson's Eastern Distributor

I had already made a submission to the Stephenson Inquiry. The Main Roads Department was using tubes fixed to roads to count vehicle movements. The boxes that recorded the pneumatic blips were chained to posts and were not linked to traffic lights. They recorded how many vehicles passed along Flinders Street say, but could not distinguish whether they came from Oxford Street or Bourke Street.  System designers were free to make any assumptions they liked about vehicle flows, and did. However someone in Main Roads had recognized the inadequacy of the data and they had employed students to count vehicles at several complex intersections, including Taylor Square, over a period, on an annual basis. The Surveys had been discontinued for a few years but were archived in the Engineering Library. They confirmed my off-the-shoulder observation that the traffic from Oxford Street to Flinders Street could not be funneled into one lane.

Blip counting does not distinguish between vehicles, a bus carrying sixty people is just two blips like a car carrying one person. However the students had recorded the types of vehicles - cars, buses or trucks. This data confirmed that the Taylor Square intersection was doing a good job in separating south-bound vehicles heading for Port Botany along Flinders and South Dowling Streets, from cars heading for garages in South Sydney. I did an informal count that confirmed that the volumes of traffic had increased since the last survey but the mix was much the same.

My submission was for a south-bound underpass under William Street between Palmer Street Wooloomolloo and Bourke Street and for a north-bound tunnel from the west side of Flinders Street to William Street and under William Street to Palmer Street, which would take traffic out of Crown Street. I pointed out that this was downhill and could have a steeper gradient so all the buildings between Bourke and Palmer Streets, Darlinghurst could be preserved.

Traffic in Crown Street in 1970's
The Minister released Stephenson's report on the Thursday before Easter. I bought the Sunday papers at Midnight on Saturday from the news stand outside the Oxford Hotel, still no reports. I had to wait until after Easter to view the Scheme.

The plan was in three stages: an underpass under William Street was stage one. Stage two was to extend this in a tunnel to Moore Park. Unfortunately a north-bound tunnel from Flinders Street to Palmer Street was Stage Three.

Stage one was built, but the volume of traffic that the Cahill Expressway could deliver would never justify the expense of twin tunnels and the other stages would never be built.

That all changed when a consortium of banks proposed to build a tunnel under Sydney Harbour using technology developed in Hong Kong.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Easter Distributor project published 1971

Bear with me while I establish my um street cred. I became involved in controversies more than 30 years ago when Roads Minister Laurie Brereton announced an Eastern Distributor model that he said definitely would be built. There were several plans for the Distributor archived in the Engineering Library at Sydney Uni, one of which is shown above. The Brereton plan had open cut carriage-ways between Bourke and Palmer Streets from Woolloomooloo and Taylor Square, like the previous models, but saved money by dumping two lanes of traffic in each direction into the middle of Flinders Street north of historic St Michaels Church at Albion Street. Brereton's Plan has disappeared from the face of the earth.

I viewed it out of curiosity and a young department officer started talking to me. I said the traffic from Oxford into Flinders Streets could not be funneled into one lane and bus services would be wrecked. There would be congestion in South Dowling Street from traffic turning right into destinations in South Sydney rather than separating into Bourke Street at Taylor Square. He suggested a more diffuse pattern might work - "Rot".

He asked me to write to the Minister with my objections. I laughed - yeah sure, but he insisted "Write to the Minister". He was pleading, so I wrote to the Minister. I brought up his political past: "the tanneries  are not the only things in South Sydney to create a stink". I was evidently not the only one to express concerns because the Minister announced that Professor Stephenson would head an expert group to advise on a design for the Distributor.

The English-born Professor had, with Hepburn, signed off on a metropolitan plan for Perth that would have seen Freeways along about half the extensive foreshores of the Swan and Canning Rivers, so things were not looking all that promising. I joined up with a community group in Wooloomolloo that met regularly to discuss action plans. Professor Stephenson turned up at a meeting when the period for making submissions was ending and told the meeting that "the Minister had pulled a plan from a drawer at the Main Roads Commission and said 'build it'". There was light at the end of the tunnel.