WalkSydney: Mar 2021

As we walk into the new year, the shape of our cities and streets continue to evolve.

This year, the WalkSydney group started meeting more regularly both online and in-person to workshop and move our strategies forward.

Events and achievements

Draft National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030

Every ten years federal, state and territory governments agree on a set of priorities to reduce road user fatalities and serious injuries. WalkSydney has submitted to the consultation and our full submission is available online.

Glebe Island Bridge active transport connection

WalkSydney wholeheartedly supported the campaigning late 2020 to restore the Glebe Island Bridge as a pedestrian path and cycleway. We were happy to see the announcement of the reopening of the Glebe Island Bridge to pedestrians and cyclists at the centre of the NSW government’s White Bay plan to transform Sydney’s industrial harbour into a business, leisure and tourism precinct.

Local 30km/h speed limits

In February, WalkSydney and 30please.org wrote to 33 local governments in Greater Sydney asking when they would introduce a 30 km/h speed limit in residential neighbourhoods. Slow speed is the easiest way to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety. It also allows many road users to share the same space and is therefore inexpensive to introduce. (Read the letter.) We have received varied responses which we plan to follow up.

Blog posts

Walking infrastructure steps up

We published a popular post about how Parramatta Council recently researched the national guides and proposed a new approach for installing pedestrian crossings based on a method used in Victoria.

The post raised an important question around NSW’s current use of traffic engineering concepts and whether they’re still relevant for the cities we want today.

Future

Some upcoming strategies we are looking to address this year:

  • NSW local elections - 4 September 2021

  • Advocating to local and state gov for additional deployment of 30km/hr safe street neighbourhood zones

Join

You can join WalkSydney and get involved with activities and ideas to make Sydney safe and pleasant for pedestrians. We advocate for improving the walkability of our city. People-friendly streets are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities. 

Help make walking in Sydney better.

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A big year for walking

It's been a very big year for walking and cities - its probably too close to have any decent perspective on what it all means in the long-term. But WalkSydney has had some key accomplishments this year.

Peak.

Critically, we've firmly established WalkSydney as the peak walking advocacy group in Sydney. We are a member of Cycling and Walking Australian New Zealand (CWANZ), and now part of the International Federation of Pedestrians (IFP).

Also, on the 18th of November, Independent member of the NSW State Parliament Alex Greenwich tabled a Community Recognition Statement in the parliament that congratulated WalkSydney and acknowledged our role as the peak advocacy group for walking and as a member of the International Federations of Pedestrians.

Recent events and achievements.

WalkSydney got a mention in the SMH defending the rights of people to cross new public transport space at Redfern Station without having to tap on and off. 

Our submission to the NSW Government about the airport Gateway Project was part of a broader and successful community effort to make sure pedestrian and cycle connections were improved and not reduced by the big new road to the airport.

We spoke at a rally to support the protection, restoration and re-opening of the Glebe Island Bridge as part of new pedestrian and cycle routes. As the City of Sydney is supporting here.

Join

You can Join WalkSydney and get involved with activities and ideas to make Sydney safe and pleasant for pedestrians. We advocate for improving the walkability of our city. People-friendly streets are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities. 

Help make walking in Sydney better.

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WalkSydney October Newsletter

The battle between walking and pollution

This WalkSydney newsletter takes a look at the relationship between walking and the pollution generated from private automobiles, and provides an update on WalkSydney’s recent activities,

Walking and pollution

One of the reasons we all support walking and why the movement to prioritise walking is becoming so strong is because it addresses so many of the critical issues of our age: efficient transport, justice, sustainability, the liveability of cities, and the health and wellbeing of people within them. But what stops us from walking more? Why do we have to form an organisation to promote walking in Sydney? 

In this newsletter, I will look at how pollution from cars affects walking and restricts so many of the benefits it might otherwise bring. 

It is common for pro-walking and cycling groups to state that they are not anti-car, and indeed the car is an incredible invention that offers extraordinary amenity and convenience. However, there is a real tension between realising the benefits of walking (in terms of health, wellbeing, efficiency, and economy) and the dominance of the car in modern cities. We need to be honest about the factors involved. 

Climate emissions

The combustion engine that drives almost all private vehicles is a major source of climate emissions both in Australia and internationally. The 2018 IPCC report argues that we have ten years to massively reduce emissions. All levers need to be pulled to achieve this; lower speeds, shifting to electric, massive increases in public transport, prioritising walking and cycling over shorter distances. Large investments in roading projects like WestConnex are not only lost opportunities for building better non-carbon intensive modes of transport, but they also lock in existing habits for another generation, and we don’t have that long. 

Transport is the fastest-growing source of emissions in the country and private cars make up half of this. A 2017 Climate Council report says that: “Australia lags well behind the global pack on tackling transport emissions. Australia’s per capita transport emissions are 45% higher than the OECD average.” The report argues that this problem is caused by a lack of standards, long travel distances, low investment into and use of public transport.

While climate pollutants do not directly impact on the experience of the city in the same way that noise and air pollution do, increased heat from climate change does threaten to make parts of Australian cities uninhabitable, and heated roads themselves create more pollution. This risks creating a negative spiral in which more people travel in cars to avoid the heat. We need to break this cycle. 

Air pollution

Localised air pollution is another major problem stemming from car use, and new research suggesting a much bigger impact than previously thought. In the UK an estimated 40,000 people per year are killed by air pollution, ten times the amount of drug overdoses.  Melbourne University's Energy Institute has developed research suggesting that the death toll from air pollution caused by cars is greater than car crashes and impacts, for example, in 2018 1715 died from the former and 1224 from the latter. To put these figures in context, Australia has had 904 deaths from COVID this year. Fatalities from air pollution isn’t just one of those aging diseases affecting the elderly, but one that impacts on life long learning and health damage to children. Recent research also identifies a link between depression and even low levels of pollution.

Air pollution is a problem for walkers (although this research suggests the exercise from walking and cycling is still worth the risk) and those of us that might want to spend time outside in cities, but also impacts people driving in traffic and users of public transport

There is also preliminary evidence forming around a link between COVID morbidity and pollution from cars

Technologists will frequently cite electric cars as being the solution to the pollution of the combustion engine. However, there are problems with this. Firstly, Australia is moving too slowly in the transition to electric cars, and more critically, cars produce other highly dangerous types of pollution. Over 60% of the air pollution caused by cars isn’t from the engine (tires, break pads etc). 

While electric vehicles will provide some help, it is only by reducing the total amount of traffic and lowering speeds that we will reduce pollution, and make cities more enjoyable for walking and public transport. 

Noise pollution

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report published this year says that “Long-term exposure to noise can cause a variety of health effects including annoyance, sleep disturbance, negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system, as well as cognitive impairment in children.”  The report argues that noise pollution from roads is the second most harmful environmental problem behind air pollution from cars. 

It’s notable that the damage caused by cars is caused less by the occasional loud cars, and more from the exposure to sustained background road noise above 50 decibels. Levels which over 65% of Europeans and over 90% of Americans are exposed to.

Walking is in direct conflict with noisy traffic. Busy roads are unhealthy to be near, unpleasant to be around, and induce stress from the constant activations of fight or flight mechanisms. Walking, alongside cycling, and better public transportation are key partners in the transport and mobility revolution we desperately need. 

The return of the city 

Local noise pollution and air pollution are not existential global threats in the same way that climate change is. However, they illustrate how we have allowed our cities to become entirely dominated by the logic and the aesthetic and experience of noisy, polluting cars. It doesn’t need to be this way. 

When taken individually, some of these issues can point to other solutions. More often than not, short term solutions involve small adaptations to existing dominance of the private automobile: put up fences to keep pedestrians and roads separated, or replace combustion engines with electric. When we look at walking holistically in relation to the broader set of issues to be addressed, it’s clear there is a central conflict with the dominance of the car and cities being great places to walk and live.  

One of the small benefits of COVID is, transformation in cities like London, Barcelona, Oslo, and Paris are showing us that large parts of cities can be shifted to prioritise walking with great success; pointing to improvements in economic performance, improved health and wellbeing and the return of conviviality to lively active public places. ARUP recently published a report summarising the 50 benefits of walkability in cities

Recent proposals to create an 80km walking route from the CBD to Parramatta and to transform the central city by replacing 800km of less used roads with pedestrian zones have received positive publicity recently, and match the ambition of our recent idea to implement Barcelona style pedestrian precincts in the central city

In a recent SMH article Elizabeth Farrelly makes the case for slow cities and the prioritising of walking and cycling: 

“Living close enough to walk to school, shops or movies doesn’t demand towers. Even three-storey villages allow us to shrink our physical footprint, rebuilding wilderness as Attenborough prescribes. They mean we share more – pools and libraries, bars and gardens – which is fun and connective. And in all these things, they limit climate change, restoring the jungles, icecaps and oceans on which our lives depend. But there are also immediate benefits. A good walking city doesn’t just allow walking but incentivises it with charm and pokability. A certain picturesqueness is implied; nooks and crannies, surprise and delight, nature tangled with culture.”

A better city is possible, we just need to make it. 

WalkSydney Update

WalkSydney is now a voting member of The International Federation of Pedestrians (IFP) and a member of the peak body Cycling and Walking Australia (CWANZ).

The WalkSydney AGM took place last month. At the AGM the board was (re) elected with a few small changes. We’d like to thank two members who have stepped off the board after a great year of strong effort and leadership helping to establish the organisation. Special thanks to David Levinson who is staying on the board but stepping down from the President position. David led the establishment of the organisation and 18 months later we are a registered charity, have over 50 members, an active newsletter, and have been accepted as the peak advocacy group for walking in Sydney. 

We’d also like to welcome two new board members Nicole Badstuber, who is the Mobility Research and Policy Director at the Committee for Sydney, and Lena Huda, the co-founder of 30please.org

A full list of the current board and positions can be found here.

At the AGM we discussed some broad goals for the year including: 

  • Developing a relationship with and supporting Sydney’s Aboriginal Land Councils

  • Supporting membership activities and building the walking community

  • Campaigns – eg. 30km/hr areas, improving traffic signal treatment for pedestrians

  • Strategic partnering with organisations to promote walking projects

  • Produce a document that profiles key walking projects and opportunities in Sydney

Thank you for your support and we look forward to walking alongside each of you as we improve conditions for walking in Sydney.

Barnaby Bennett

President, WalkSydney

Recent posts

Small wins

A Call for pedestrian precincts

A 13-year study shows more people walking every day in NSW

Isn’t a raised pedestrian crossing the same as a continuous footpath?

Local Councils upgrade light rail spaces

Welcome to the new WalkSydney committee!

Rambling on a Sunday

Residents campaign for second entrance to stations to increase patronage

30 km/h Please

Lines of Desire

Kerb Ramps

Overgrowth: Thinking about 3-Dimensional Pedestrian Paths

Pedestrians win – UK Highway Code review

Triangles

Join

Join WalkSydney and get involved with action and ideas to make Sydney safe and pleasant for pedestrians. We advocate for improving the walkability of our city. People-friendly streets are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities. 

Help make walking in Sydney better.

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WalkSydney - July 2020 newsletter - COVID-19 Special

It’s been three months since the last WalkSydney newsletter (about 5 years in normal time!). We couldn’t have possibly have realised how important walking would become this year, and how much our experiences of our own neighbourhoods and the central city would change, but here we are. In many ways, the events this year have reinforced the core of what we all strongly believe here at WalkSydney - walking is the future. As an important New York times feature published a few days ago says ‘I’ve seen a future without cars, and it’s amazing’.

This newsletter provides an update on COVD-19 related news in Sydney and further afield, and also provides some local non-COVID updates. In the final section, we’ll explore some of the broader trends that this is all playing into.  

WalkSydney is turning one in a few months, and we will be having our Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the 7th of September. Details about joining us at WalkSydney are at the end of the newsletter. We want more members!

1. Some wins and losses for Sydney

Firstly, the sad news. While the road toll between Jan and May was substantially lower than previous years, reflecting the enormous drop in traffic volumes, tragically pedestrian and cycling deaths have increased over the same period. Data from Road Safety at Transport NSW shows two extra cyclists and a shocking ten more pedestrians have died between January and July this year. During this same period, New York’s pedestrian death rate decreased from 10 per month, to no deaths over two months. NSW is getting something deeply wrong here and these statistics clearly illustrate the urgent need for immediate changes for people walking, especially as the slow return to work continues.  

There have been some successes. 

Way back in late March the State government announced the gradual automation of push buttons in the centre of the City, and in health districts located, around the state. We sincerely hope these stay. This is one of those small emergency changes that quite radically shifts the prioritisation and power balance between motor vehicles and pedestrians.

Removing traffic from Centennial Park has been a huge success and made the space much more welcoming and human friendly. As Christopher Standen writes in this excellent article ‘It was meant to be the people’s park, not a car park’

In May the City of Sydney and NSW State government announced the creation of 6 new temporary cycleways, which was also paired with a reduction in traffic speed limits in associated areas to 40km/h, illustrating the beneficial relationship between cycling and walking. The first of these opened on Sydney Road and Henderson Road in Erskineville in early July. The City of Sydney has its own programme across the central city, although Regina Haertsch from WalkSydney has pointed out a few design flaws in the new plans. New research supports the observations that cycling has increased in the city since the beginning of the year. 

NSW Planning recently launched the Streets As Shared Spaces program but we’d love to see a more significant rollout. 

In non-COVID-19 news. WestConnex has announced their revised plans for the Crescent overpass. Sadly, the unnecessary overpass is staying, but they have dramatically improved the plans to cut off direct pedestrian access between the Glebe waterfront and Annandale. WalkSydney’s submission can be seen here. Also a few weeks ago Penrith announced the lowering of speeds to 40km/h, Liverpool just announced new 30km/h areas. Foreground has put together a collection of recent award-winning pedestrian projects from around Australia. Manly has cut most of its street speeds to 30km/h and become ‘the slowest suburb in NSW’. Change is happening. 

WalkSydney’s president published a small photo essay recently capturing the day-to-day reality of poor design and upkeep of our footpaths. NSW could immediately embark on a footpath and maintenance upgrade programme to improve accessibility around the state. 

The #SpaceForHealth campaign pushing for prioritising public space during the pandemic launched in May and continues to build momentum. Check out the excellent resources on their page

An article in The Conversation at the beginning of May expressed the belief many of us share for the urgent need for a ‘global public space revolution’ to protect people in the short term, to improve cities, and as an urgent part of adapting to and mitigate against climate change over the next 5 years. Next we’ll look at the unfolding revolution that actually is occurring in many cities around the world. 

2. Different approaches and different countries

Sydney’s relative success (so far at least) means transport has been the main focus (hence the cycleways). Overseas the closure of shops, transport, and other amenity has meant a much larger and more radical configuration of public space. This really is a public space revolution and will last long after COVID-19 and into the coming climate crisis. 

Restaurants around the world have been spreading out onto streets, changing their by-laws, and creating the kind of emergency experience that we can’t help but wish was the norm. An Open Restaurants on Open Streets program has just been launched in New York. Tel Aviv has converted 11 streets into pedestrian zones. London was quick to establish an expanded plan for cycling and walking. Barcelona is removing carparks for new cycleways. Athens’ Mayor has promised to ‘liberate public space from cars and give it to people’ with a plan to transform tens of thousands of square meters into space for safe cycling and comfortable walking.

The excellent resource called Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery has been released by NACTO’sGlobal Designing Cities Initiative. Another extraordinary resource is this article about the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic’: ‘At great and regrettable cost, the COVID-19 pandemic has arguably, and temporarily, placed the world under a very Dutch assumption that sufficient walking space, and sometimes cycling space, should exist everywhere.’ 

New Zealand was the first country to fund bicycle popup lanes, but perversely their success in suppressing the virus has meant public life and full public transport returned before many of the projects were implemented. 

Permanent changes are following. Seattle has declared that 20km of its residential roads will permanently close to most traffic. The re-elected mayor of Paris has a bold vision and is putting green ecology at its heart, halving car parks, banning diesel engines, and implementing 30km/h speed zones across the city. It’s visionary, and clearly part of the larger urban shift that needs to take place to respond to climate change. Milan is implementing a similarly bold and permanent Open Streets plan. Research across 21 cities in 6 European countries shows that residents want to keep the new open space transformations and keep cars out. 

Even US cities are adapting to COVID-19 and confronting their radically car-based cities and culture. This excellent New Republic article sums it up well ‘This is a remarkable turn of events. Projects that in the past might have been delayed by years of study or vociferous objection from car drivers are now being installed in a matter of weeks or days. Mayors who once might have equivocated about balancing transportation needs are firmly declaring that streets that prioritise pedestrians and cyclists are not cute amenities, but necessities for a happy populace and a thriving economy.’

3. Bigger trends

Disasters are interesting because rather than introducing radical new ideas, they tend to either implement or accelerate ideas that are at hand or pending renewal. It’s becoming clear that COVID-19 is rapidly shifting our expectations of cities, the role of government, and the values and sensibilities of business.

We are seeing a profound shift in governance and economics with concerns for personal and public health and wellbeing now starting to supersede the singular focus on economic growth. Walking is closely tied to this. Early evidence suggests that high rates of COVID-19 deaths are associated with air pollution, and walkable cities are producing big gains in public health, reducing blood pressure and reducing stress. 

There is clearly a complex entanglement of climate change, urban form, economic growth, transport, land values, housing, cars, and of course walking. Supporting walking with good infrastructure and design is one of those rare and simple actions that solves multiple complex problems at the same time. 

So, let’s get on with it. 

Barnaby Bennett

On behalf of WalkSydney

Posts at WalkSydney

Join

Join WalkSydney and get involved with action and ideas to make Sydney safe and pleasant for pedestrians. We advocate for improving the walkability of our city. People-friendly streets are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities. 

Help make walking in Sydney better.

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WalkSydney: April 2020

Our last newsletter was at the end of last year, and who would have thought that the world could change so much in such a short time. This is first and foremost a health crisis and we share everyone else’s hopes that Australia can get through the worst of this time with minimum loss of life. 

It is also an economic and urban crisis. Never have our modern cities had such a dramatic, sudden shock applied to them across the board. Physical activity in Australian cities is down 80%, the economy is in freefall, and it looks like we have at least 6 months of this to go, if not a lot longer. 

We’ve divided up some important reading and campaigns into two lists. Firstly, are those urban and transport things that need to be urgently considered during the present crisis, and secondly are those that need to be looked at as part of the recovery of our cities. 

Walking during a pandemic:

1. Many of the country's press buttons are still manual and so acting as a public health risk. We’ve had some success in central Melbourne and Sydney where they have now been automated, However, this needs to happen around the country. We've started a campaign to have these changes implemented nationwide. 

Please sign and share this petition to ‘automate pedestrian pushbuttons to reduce the spread of coronavirus.’

2. There are increasing calls both overseas and in Australia to implement a 30km/h limit in cities. This is to protect the increased amount of pedestrians and cyclists using footpaths, and needing to give each other wide berth, but also critically to reduce accidents that lead to hospitalisation. 

3. WalkSydney features an article arguing for the closure of some streets and for wider walkways. Regina Haertsch writes: “It is becoming clear that more space must be created to allow for safe social distancing. Cities which are responding to this social need are organising some car-free streets for some times to enable people to move about with 1.5 to 2 metres between each other. New York and Philadelphia are such cities.” 

Walking during the recovery: 

The economic and health value of walking is now largely settled, and the challenge is instead budgets and implementation. The recovery of our cities is going to involve massive infrastructure spending to keep employment up, and this needs easy, tangible projects preferably high-value outcomes. 

1. Spending money on walking and cycling is some of the easiest and best spending possible and produces substantial gains for the economy immediately

2.  The steady removal of cars from central cities continues abroad with San Francisco being the latest to ban cars from key central city streets with good early results

3. We will argue in the coming months that the beginning of the recovery is the best time to make these changes in Australia. 30kmh in central cities, better walking conditions, and more car-free areas are the future of cities. People aren’t driving now so the habits have already been disrupted and this is an almost seamless moment to make changes that will benefit the short term economy and the long term well being of the country. 

If you are passionate about either the need to lower speeds to 30kmh or closing down some streets please get in touch with us or join WalkSydney. We are also keen to publish more articles and posts on our website so if you want to write anything please email: walksydney1@gmail.com

Join

Join WalkSydney and get involved with action and ideas to make Sydney safe and pleasant for pedestrians. We advocate for improving the walkability of our city. People-friendly streets are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities Help make walking in Sydney better.

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