Wednesday, November 02, 2005

East Sydney street closures

Council on Monday night dealt with many difficult issues from a controversial new Chicken shop application in the Rex building Kings Cross (deferred for more consideration but opposed by myself on behalf of 60 local residents) to the final design and tender for the Redfern Street upgrade. I blogged on the latter earlier and will update on the positive outcome another time.

But along with dozens of bouquets comes the occasional disgruntled constituent. Green Councillor Chris Harris has consistently driven political wedges into Clover Moore's local community support base by cleverly exploiting the opposition to some of the street closures in East Sydney. A Green that supports more fossil fuel burning cars on inner city streets seems a contradiction. The Greens clearly have an agenda to turn Bligh (now Sydney) into another Marrickville or Port Jackson with a long odds Green opening and see pulling their Green supporters away from Clover Moore as their only chance. Councillor Harris has already announced his Green candidacy for the seat in 2007 and is feverishly at work.

When I spoke on this issue on Monday night I commented that it must be the 100th time I have spoken about East Sydney traffic management. The future of street closures and traffic changes in East Sydney is a vexed and contentious issue. Linked with the emotion and anger about the secret Cross City Tunnel contract and related traffic changes the issue is another local political hot potato! Harris had moved the motion that 'Council resolves that the Lord Mayor intervene on behalf of residents and businesses in East Sydney to call on the RTA to re-open Bourke Street at William Street immediately.'

The debate that ensued reminded us that the trial closure of Bourke Street at William Street was a direct result of the Woolloomooloo community concerns regarding the RTA's proposed 'G' loop directing west bound William Street traffic seeking to enter the Eastern Distributor ramp on Bourke street around the block through residential streets of Woolloomooloo. This was unacceptable to the local residents. Four solutions were proposed. The one most favoured by residents, businesses and motorists was a right hand turn from William into Bourke Street (north) and direct entry to the ED ramp. However the RTA advised that this was only possible with the closure of Bourke Street south in order to maintain traffic flows and reduce waiting times at the lights. It also eliminated two pedestrian crossings thus improving road safety.

I attended the public meetings over the past two years to debate the options and they overwhelmingly endorsed this proposal. It was then implemented on a six month trial basis. Council subsequently resolved to monitor the current street closures and traffic activity for a six month period and to have the results assessed and reported back to Council for further consultation and implementation of a traffic management plan. A process nearly half completed.

I was lobbied by some to immediately reopen the Bourke Street trial closure. Something not in my power to deliver. I indicated I was open minded on the Harris motion and would hear the debate. That has since been misrepresented as my agreeing to support the Harris motion. I was also lobbied by local residents and businesses to support the trial closure. Respected planning expert and city Councillor John McInerney moved the following amendment which replaced the Harris motion:

Council Notes that:
(A) following consultation in response to overwhelming community opposition to “G-Loop” access to the Eastern Distributor around Palmer, Cathedral and Bourke Streets Woolloomooloo, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) proposed a trial closure of Bourke Street south of William Street to enable direct right-turn access to the Eastern Distributor from William Street;
(B) the Minister for PlanningÂ’s approval for the closure of Bourke Street south of William Street is for a trial only, with the RTA to monitor the change and undertake a formal review six months after the closure is implemented;
(C) the RTA and Council have commenced traffic studies to monitor the impacts of the Cross City Tunnel, including the Bourke Street closure; and
resolves to continue work with the RTA to assess the impact of all Cross City Tunnel traffic changes, including the Bourke Street closure, to achieve an equitable outcome for local residents and businesses that addresses traffic congestion and displaced traffic due to the Cross City Tunnel.

The motion explains the process adopted by Council after community participation. I supported the alternate motibecause believeive a trial is a trial and Council needs more facts to make informed and appropriate decisions. When I spoke on the motion I indicated that I approach this trial totally open minded and I am totally prepared to have Bourke Street re-opened if the information we collate indicates this is the right thing to do. However there are also strong advocates for retaining the closure.

As a Councillor on South Sydney City Council directly elected by the East Sydney community and having run a local retail business and lived in the suburb for several years I am well aware of the issues and emotions surrounding street closures. For many years residents and SCEGGS school campaigned for limited closures to protect the school and residential streets from the devastating impact of street prostitution and related kerb crawlers.

The member for Bligh and the local police commander at the time strongly backed our decision to close Forbes Street at St Peter's Lane and St Peter's Street. The benefits of that closure have been sustained and appreciated by local residents but continue to be strongly opposed by advocates of so called sex industry rights. Their hard left political agenda is at play on this issue as well.

The right time to determine the future traffic managementent in East Sydney is after the six month traffic study and when the CCT has bedded down and the William and Oxford Street upgrades are completed - for better of worse. Only then will we be in a position to make long term and logicdecisionsons. Until then knee-jerk changes in direction will only compound the confusion and problems.

Images top to bottom:
1. Concrete barriers at trial Bourke Street south closure.
2. From closure looking east on William - note red car making right turn into ED ramp lane a pedestrian safely crossing closed street.
3. Not all street closures were invented by Clover Moor - Riley Street closure at least 20 years old. Creates pleasant plaza.
4. Pedestrians on William street will have more enjoyable walk with wider footpaths and new trees.
5. Kerb side parking bays will be installed all along William Street to benefit local businesses.

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