NSW’s first Active Transport Minister has used his address to a Committee for Sydney Summit to announce the Government will build a walking and cycling parkway connecting the Sydney CBD to Parramatta.
The Minister for Active Transport, Infrastructure and Cities, Rob Stokes told the conference, held on 7th February, the parkway would be an example of how new major infrastructure would form the arteries of a whole network of walkways and cycleways across Sydney.
No further details about the project are available at this stage.
Mr Stokes also told the summit the State’s funding for walking and cycling infrastructure should be more than doubled during the next few years.
He said the approximately $950 million earmarked for walking and cycling infrastructure over the next five years is not enough to achieve the transport transformation needed for Sydney and the State’s other major urban centres.
“It’s time to start rebalancing our infrastructure priorities,” he said.
“Major roads are important. Which is why we are spending $23 billion over four years on major road expansions.
“But if we can find $23 billion to benefit 5.9 million registered vehicles in NSW, then we need to spend more than a fraction of this amount on the active mobility paths, shared paths and cycleways that can benefit the 8.2 million pedestrians in NSW.”
“We now have a monumental opportunity to truly re-shape cities as places for people.”
Rob Stokes MP
Mr Stokes told the summit the “perfect storm of economic, social and environmental disruption and dislocation” current confronting NSW as a result of COVID “provides a time of terrible risk and incredible opportunity for urban society”.
“Now is the moment to be developing the big ideas that will support the future of metropolitan NSW, and the great urban centres around Sydney, the Central Coast, Newcastle and Wollongong. We now have a monumental opportunity to truly re-shape cities as places for people,” he said.
“If infrastructure is to help drive our economic recovery out of the pandemic, it needs to do so in an intelligent and thoughtful way reflective of our post-pandemic world. Multiple minor projects rather than major megaprojects might be a more appropriate method of building sustainable cities.
“And active transport projects – walking and cycling infrastructure – are smaller projects with big benefits.”
The NSW Government added the Active Transport portfolio to its cabinet in December last year. It comes after NSW Labor introduced an Active Transport Shadow Spokesperson role in 2019, then scrapped it during the Opposition’s June 2021 cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Stokes said the $950 million already earmarked had been increased from around $700 million in recent months.
“Over the past financial year, we’ve delivered 55km in new cycleways,” he added.
“We have a policy of incorporating active transport into all our major infrastructure projects. Nearly two-thirds of our active transport budget is new walking and cycling links leveraged alongside major infrastructure projects.
“This represents the largest commitment to active mobility in the State’s history. But it isn’t enough.
“Our pedestrian and cycling networks are true public goods – non-exclusive and non-rivalrous. It is contingent on government to provide these services because as public goods, there is little incentive for the private sector to do so, and because these services generate a multitude of benefits for the whole community.”
Mr Stokes told the summit that roads have “divided our cities and suburbs” for too long, “making them less safe, less attractive and less accessible”.
“The challenge before us is to make today’s generation of risk-averse parents feel more confident allowing their kids to walk or ride bikes to school or around the neighbourhood, rather than spending their spare time staring at screens” he stated.
“And for all of us to consider walking or bike riding as the primary mode of transport for local trips, rather than using a private vehicle.
“We’ll be talking to transport planners, infrastructure experts, city leaders and the community about the opportunities and obstacles for active transport across NSW.”
He quoted US planner Jarrett Walker, who observed how transport planning is primarily about spatial geometry.
“Cities exist where people come together – yet if we all arrive in a two-tonne, 10 square metre metal box, there simply isn’t space to accommodate the benefits of cities. The very vehicles that bring us together end up keeping us apart,” Mr Stokes said.
“Our traditional methods of transport planning are built on forecast models – essentially forcing people into modes and directions of travel that our major infrastructure is designed to cater for, not for where people may choose to go.
Active Transport Brings Freedom
“Instead, we need to bring freedom into how we talk about transport – active transport allows citizens of all abilities and means to be free to choose where they want to go.
“Active transport is a powerful means for people to experience public life. Public space isn’t just the green spaces and open plazas, it’s all those connections where we see, hear, and feel like we’re part of a public process – not trapped alone in the airconditioned, desensitised sterility of our private cars.”
“By providing for individual mobility and autonomy, we are letting the citizens of NSW be free in their own cities and towns.”
“I strive to see our cities boast active transport infrastructure so good that walking and cycling become more popular modes of transport than using a private vehicle for local trip.”
Rob Stokes MP
The Minister highlighted the work of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Paris’s active transport infrastructure now comprises half of the city’s infrastructure investment budget – creating 659 new kilometres of new cycleways in the wake of the pandemic – and 72% of the city’s on-street car parking spaces have been removed.
“Do investments like this mean we’ve won the battle of hearts and minds, and bike lanes will be welcomed everywhere across the State? Absolutely not,” Mr Stokes said.
“Beyond investment, we also need to appeal to and convince those people who don’t choose active transport methods today.
“As Active Transport Minister, I do not need to do much to convince more middle-aged men in lycra to pick up cycling. But across our State, people who’ve previously shunned bike riding and seen it as the domain of inner-city elites, are increasingly riding bicycles for exercise or getting around – and demanding better connections in their neighbourhood.
“For other segments of society, the risks of active transport are perceived as too great. Think about people who don’t feel safe riding in shared roadways, or walking alone at night.
“Think about people trying to manage getting whole families around, who may not have the convenience of end-of-trip facilities at their workplace. Parents are worried for their children’s safety sharing road space with others.
“We need to make people feel comfortable, confident and safe while undertaking active transport.”
The Minister said regulations on e-scooters and electric skateboards needed to be “cleaned up” because they no longer reflect what society demands.
“And we need to make pathways safer and more attractive to people living with disabilities. They have the same rights to access active mobility as everyone else,” he said.
“We can’t create an inclusive city without providing access for all.
“I strive to see our cities boast active transport infrastructure so good that walking and cycling become more popular modes of transport than using a private vehicle for local trips.
“We need to look not only at the major projects but also invest in the pinch points that break up active transport links.
“While the big, major projects are the ones that get the headlines, just as important are the missing links and local projects that stitch our city together.”
We Ride Welcomes Speech
The Director – National Advocacy of peak cycling lobby group We Ride Australia, Stephen Hodge, said he was extremely encouraged by the Minister’s address.
“No Minister has ever said anything like this before, so it’s really good,” he said.
“We are trying to figure out how to ensure those words are followed up by action. The biggest barriers to getting stuff on the ground is through the bureaucrats as often as not, so that will be an enormous piece of the puzzle.”
He said We Ride was looking at incentives that could help turn the Minister’s words into action.
“When a Minister comes out with such a brilliant speech, we have to create an environment where these statements are seen to gain an enormous amount of support because that’s the only way we will win the agenda.
“We have to celebrate it when we get it and we have to find ways to leverage it even more.”.
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