Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Shoots through the foot like a Bondi tram

The former Albury Hotel, Oxford Street
The Albury Hotel was an iconic gay hotel famous for its drag shows. The art deco facade inspired the facade of the adjacent St Vincent's Private Hospital. It was closed down and the ground floor was converted into retail shops in 2000. This has not turned out to be a propitious move. Retail establishments in Oxford Street, Paddington, once the most fashionable retail strip in Sydney, have been struggling since the opening of the Westfield centre at Bondi Junction - all the premises in the former hotel are up for lease.

Now the O'Farrell government has decided to deliver the coup de grace to this century-old retail strip with a stroke of a purple texta on a map. The modus operandi of the government is well established. A brochure is published two weeks before Christmas with lines and dots drawn on indiscernible maps. In this case, the publishing date was particularly auspicious - two days after the last "information session" on the EIS and two working days before the cut off for submissions. The maps are prepared without any consultation with anyone who will be affected by the decisions and decisions will not be open to change.
I have another whim
To wipe out the Paddington shopping strip
Just as there had been separate tram services to Circular Quay and Railway Square more than 130 years ago, there have been separate bus services along Oxford Street. Commuters from Bondi and Bronte have been switching destinations at Bondi Junction for generations. With the opening of the Eastern Suburbs railway commuters to the east of Bondi Junction have had fast direct routes to more destinations. The Oyster (aka Opel) Card makes switching destinations much easier. For commuters who pass through Bondi Junction, the 378 service to Railway Square would be used only to transfer to the Broadway bus services.

The Oxford Street bus services are needed by commuters whose journeys begin or end in Darlinghurst/Surry Hills, Paddington and Waverley west of Bondi Junction. Most journeys can be made on whichever bus turns up first. The 378 service to Bronte from Lee Street reduces by about a third the number of Oxford Street buses passing though the mother of all "pinch points" in Elizabeth Street northbound, and the Phillip Street terminus.

If O'Farrell gets a second term on March 28, 2015 that will all change. TfNSW has declared a presumably end-to-end BRT from the Manly ferry terminal to Bondi beach. In fact, the purple line is obscured by the yellow blob of "global Sydney" but the text in the 9/11 2012 brochure, SCCAS proclaimed that all bus routes that service the South-Eastern suburbs will only use Elizabeth Street en-route to and from Circular Quay.

Declaring a "rapid bus route" from the Manly ferry wharf to North Bondi means

  • "wider spaces between stops - bus stops generally every 800 metres to one kilometre. All buses travelling on a rapid route will only (sic) stop at the new rationalised bus stops".
  • "Average five minute wait for the bus, all day every weekday" and they all pass through the "pinch points" in Elizabeth Street northbound.
TfNSW's insistence that a "rapid" bus service from Bondi Junction to Circular Quay will compete successfully with the Eastern Suburbs railway is preposterous, but merchants in Paddington will be callously wiped out without a second thought. The 380, 381 and 378 services which serve the local communities are effectively wiped out, leaving only the limited stops 333 service between Circular Quay and North Bondi. I will break this post into two.

The Member for futile petitions

Businesses in Oxford Street, Paddington approached their local Member of Parliament, the Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich (I did not vote for him). He was asked to lobby the Transport Minister to have the hours of operation of the bus priority lanes in Oxford Street reduced to allow kerb-side parking to operate for longer. He set up a petition. Nothing more was heard until two weeks before Christmas when the Minister published the brochure indirectly outlining the planned fate for Paddington.

Greenwich was an activist for marriage equality for homosexuals before joining Clover Moore's ticket for the Sydney City Council elections - in which he was unsuccessful. He won the by-election for Moore's seat when she was forced to resign. Now the High Court has unanimously ruled that this is a matter for the Federal Parliament, leaving him a one-issue politician without a purpose.
 Greenwich's submission on the EIS is nowhere to be seen on the Planning & Infrastructure NSW web site which is now listing the submissions received: CBD and South East Suburbs Light Rail. Did he request anonymity or fail to lodge the submission or have I just failed to see it in the 19 pages with 22 submissions each page? The relentless push-polling TfNSW engaged in for months failed to elicit much support.

Greenwich has published his submission on his taxpayer-funded web site. He starts with the assertion that congestion in the CBD costs business around $4 billion a year and by 2020 that cost is expected to double to $8 billion. The Clover Moore ticket belongs to the Bjelke-Peterson school of politics - think of a number then double it. In fact, the EIS (3.1.2) states, without any data to back it up, that this is the cost of congestion across the metropolitan area.
AM peak timetable variance
The figure left from same segment of the EIS (chapter 3.1.2) confirms that the Flinders Street bus services are the least affected by congestion of the services entering the the northern CBD - except for the express services from the south east that are even less congested. The most congested route is Elizabeth Street northbound. Clearly forcing bus passengers from the least congested route onto trams that have exclusive access to George Street and displace buses that cannot avoid using Elizabeth Street northbound will dramatically increase bus congestion in the CBD and the "cost to business". But if Community Independents were capable of elementary arithmetic they would be productively employed.

So where did the push to eliminate bus stops in Oxford Street Paddington, where he has his taxpayer funded electoral office, come from. The EIS submission from Sydney City Council explains everything.

The "Executive Summary" at the head of the submission states:
"The following outcomes have been agreed with Transport for NSW in the Development Agreement.
"The Project will provide:

  • The project design will not preclude future expansion of the Light Rail network to Oxford Street, Walsh Bay/Barrangaroo and Green Square".
In fact, TfNSW has no intention of ever running tram tracks along Oxford Street. Chris Lock ruled this out in front of Clover Moore at the Community Forum in April. The third brochure published two working days before the cut off for submissions makes it clear: In the longer term there could be investigation of Bus Rapid Transit for the route.

TfNSW are just humouring the bitches. The elimination of bus stops in Oxford Street is just to keep them in a state of delusion. O'Farrell does not care at what cost this will be to businesses in Oxford Street and to the local communities.
In fact the project design does preclude expansion of the tram network along Oxford Street. Tram services from Oxford Street and Flinders Street have always travelled along Elizabeth Street to Circular Quay. Liverpool Street west of Elizabeth Street never needed to be widened, and now can't be widened.

It can not carry two rails without pedestrianising the street. The ludicrous maps that TfNSW produced to convince people of the Herculean efforts it had made to consider alternative routes for the light rail showed one rail going west along Liverpool Street to George Street and the return rail going west along Goulburn and Campbell Streets.

The closure of Rawson Place makes Liverpool Street west of Elizabeth Street the only entry to Darling Harbour for vehicles from Sydney's south, and the pedestrianisation of George Street would make Liverpool Street the preferred route for displaced traffic to return with a vengeance.

The capacity of Clover Moore and her community independents for self delusion is breathtaking. We are not dealing with sane, rational human beings.

If O'Farrell is not returned for a second term on March 28, 2015 the charade is over. The City of Sydney is saved from destruction and the damage can be repaired.

If the voters in the Sydney electorate elect a representative who will look after their interests and not the interests of people who only want to pass through the area as quickly as possible, then Greenwich will not qualify for the generous superannuation and pensions that politicians award themselves.

As the saying goes they will have shot themselves in the foot.

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