Post #4 – The WestConnex: Roads are for Chodes

Roughly two weeks ago I dragged my girlfriend along to a rally in the middle of our Christmas present shopping/hangover recovery walk through Newtown. It was essentially an occupation, the likes of which I’ve never quite seen before – in a skinny suburban street in the centre of St. Peters. Although the mood was jovial – with drum’n’bass DJ’s and pugs with sweaters aplenty – the reason for this rally was very serious indeed. Hundreds of people had gathered to occupy a main thoroughfare (and a park) in the centre of St Peters that is set for demolition (or so I’m told) if the state and federal government’s get their way. What the government is proposing looks a little something like this:

  1. a widening of the existing M4 Motorway from Parramatta to North Strathfield from two or three lanes each way to four;
  2. cuttings (or “slots”) along Parramatta Road from Strathfield to Taveners Hill;
  3. a tunnel from Tavener’s Hill to St Peters;
  4. a viaduct from St Peters to Tempe;
  5. a tunnel from Tempe to Bexley North; and
  6. a widening of the existing M5 Motorway from Bexley North to Beverly Hills from two lanes each way to four.

All sounds good once the proposal is summarised into numerical point-form as such, does it not? Who would be opposed to a new road, especially in such a congested, car-loving city like Sydney?

The two fellows that I referred to in my previous post also make an appearance this time around. Mike Baird, the Premier of NSW, and Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of ‘Team Australia’ – both wholeheartedly embrace the WestConnex. And to let history repeat itself twice, I’m going to say that these two can get fucked, and I remind you that they are both manipulative arseholes. It’s a terrible idea and I will briefly tell you why in 10 easily digestible points.

1. More roads = more congestion – This is simple arithmetic. Behavouralists refer to it as ‘induced demand’. Freeway opponents have found that freeway expansion is often self-defeating: expansion simply generates more traffic. It follows that even if traffic congestion is initially shifted from local streets to a new or widened freeway, people will eventually begin to run errands and commute to more remote locations. Over time, the freeway and its surrounds become congested again as both the average number and distance of trips increases. The Sydney Morning Herald summed it up best when the concept of the WestConnex was first bandied about, where they commented on a suppressed report warning it would create more congestion:

The proposed underground motorway is so big, however, it is likely to cause congestion across Sydney, the report says, with any benefits for Parramatta Road quickly negated by a new wave of demand.

2. There has only been one independent review, and it was damning of the whole damn thing. I’m assuming to make it easy reading for our idiotic politicians, the whole report was simplified into a colour coded system mimicking traffic lights – green means ‘go’ or ‘good’ – red evidently meaning ‘do not go’ or ‘terrible fucking idea’. To give you a brief synopsis, no aspect of the project was given a ‘green light’. The whole project, according to the report, was deemed a dud.

3. The area where this WestConnex will rear its ugly head (i.e. where the tunnel channels the traffic) is actually really nice. The area encapsulates a nice little park with 100 year old fig trees. The surrounding area contains the typical style of Victorian era dwellings that typify the inner west, plus a quiet, groovy industrial section with boutique factories and some really funky street art. It wasn’t until I attended the rally that it really struck me – this was all at risk if the WestConnex were to be built. The scene that I have described to you here – the architecture, the culture, the community – has taken decades to foster. With one foul swoop this government plans to destroy the very edifice, the very thing that makes the Inner West the Inner West. Where the rally was held is the supposed site of the exit ramps for the WestConnex. This may have you thinking – well if it is quiet and serene there, as you say – but still central to the Inner West (and therefore close to the CBD) is this not a good place for the WestConnex to have its exit ramps? But this is trickery, as this little area is bottled in by Edgeware Rd, King St and Enmore Rd. Anybody who knows the Inner West knows how vital those arterial roads are, and also knows how vital it is that those roads are not clearways. The niche boutique stores that litter the laneways and promenades of the Inner West depends on the ability of vehicles to stop on these roads – either for a delivery, a sticky-beak in a store or to grab a quick bite. What the parking on roads like King St does also is (as evidenced in cities like Copenhagen) it creates a buffer zone between the pedestrians and the traffic. You can walk around an annoyingly slow-walking couple by straddling the curb with confidence you won’t be collected by a speeding truck in the outside lane. The parking on roads like Enmore Rd also have the effect of slowing down the traffic – this has a double effect. The first is that it makes people question whether they really want to sit in slow moving traffic on these roads (as opposed to walking them and taking in the sights and sounds the strip has to offer) and it also creates a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere, as slow moving vehicles are much less intimidating than a swathe of vehicles barreling towards you at break-neck speed.

4. Look at the shop fronts on Parramatta Road. Now look at the shop fronts on King St. Now back to Parramatta Rd – now back to King St. What do you see? I’ll tell you what I see – I see two roads that are approximately the same width (in some parts) and the same distance from the CBD. I see shopfronts with similar interior layouts, same sizes, same designs and roughly built in the same period (Federation-era light-commercial buildings, you know the ones – ornamental shit on the top, usually two-storeys high with the year it was made emblazoned on the front (why do they do that, by the way?)). Essentially the same width for the sidewalk and both are covered well by public transport. So if they are essentially carbon copies of each other, why does Parramatta Rd suck, and why does King St thrive? I think a lot of different factors come into play here – but the main one is the traffic. I never feel safe on Parramatta Rd. I feel that, as a pedestrian, I am at the mercy of the car. The vehicle dictates the terms on Parramatta Rd – I must navigate around what they are doing. This is best illustrated by the closed, graffiti-ed shopfronts that litter the road and the painfully long time it takes for the lights to change in the pedestrians favour. Furthermore, the concrete and steel fenced barriers constrain the pedestrian to make sure they do not venture on to the road. There would be uproar if the movement of the pedestrian were to be constrained on King St in the same manner as Parramatta Rd.

5. We pay for this! On top of that – it will be completely tolled! What’s the go with that? You’re essentially paying for the fucking trip twice – once through taxes and again with the beep of your e-tag. Did the government not learn anything from the Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel – which were also tolled and eventually evolved into white elephants? Evidently not.

6. The argument that it will help public transport in Sydney is simply wrong. I struggle to see how spending $10 billion on tolled tunnels on a route not adequately covered by public transport assists the already strained and under-funded public transport network in Sydney. If anything it re-directs much needed funds from public transport and hinders the growth of public transport infrastructure for the benefit of cars. It is a zero-sum game, if roads get more funding then public transport gets less – it’s as simple as that.

7. Our health is paramount (or so says Healthy Harold). So it’s a little disturbing that the best our society can come up with to negate the deadly concentration of exhaust fumes in vehicular tunnels is to create the modern day equivalent of smoke stacks in suburban areas. Would you like to have one right next to your house? I doubt it. The NIMBYism in this particular instance is real, with the housing market already depressed in the areas that may be affected. The serious health effects from vehicle emissions are already well documented, so why are we attempting to concentrate them even further and release them into the air we breathe?

8. In Australia we have hit peak car. Granted, we still have a fascination with our vehicle, but for the first time since the advent of the motor-car, we are driving less. Furthermore, the up-take of a drivers licence, especially amongst the Y-generation, has dropped. With the combination of peak car, climate change, peak oil and an increased density in Sydney in the near future, the viability of WestConnex must be questioned.

9. Freeways and motorways just aren’t cool anymore. From cities as diverse as Seoul and Boston, freeways are being ripped up and replaced by boulevards, or reclaimed for public use to encourage urban intensification. Sydneysiders are known for their willingness to take a punt with urban design that falls outside the box (see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as examples) so why are we being such sqaures’ about this? Let’s challenge ourselves to create something better.

10. Put simply, the people don’t want it. Groups from a diverse background – including real estate agencies, businesses, green and environmental groups, councils, historical groups, concerned residents and members of the public are all in unison to their opposition to this project. They vote and pay taxes too, and their voices should be listened to. No means no, it’s as simple as that – and a good government listens to the concerns of its’ constituents.

So there you go. My 10 points outlining the very basics as to why the WestConnex should not go ahead. Being a kid from out west who has moved into the Inner West, I feel I’m in a unique position to understand the intricacies of the debate around this project. I know just as well as anyone else in Sydney that the traffic sucks, and something at some stage needs to be done to alleviate the pressure on our roads and our infrastructure. However, as I have attempted to outline, WestConnex is not the answer.

But on that note, tell me what you think. Do you concur or flat-out disagree with me?

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