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Zetland Avenue and Geddes Avenue are new tree-lined boulevards in Green Square, the much-praised regeneration area 3km south of Sydney’s city centre. They have extra-wide footpaths, elegant bronze street furniture – and some extremely high-quality separated bicycle paths.

Zetland Avenue and Geddes Avenue connect people and places in the new town centre, including community facilities such the library, plaza and aquatic centre. (Image: City of Sydney)

However, people walking and riding are frustrated by long wait times at traffic signals in the precinct

“The area around Green Square Library and the Drying Green is exceedingly rarely used by motorised traffic,” says Bicycle NSW Member Alisa. “Yet for some reason there are continuous red lights for pedestrians and cyclists here. This makes it incredibly hard to use the active transport infrastructure effectively.” 

“Forcing pedestrians to wait for multi-minute-long cycles is especially problematic when you consider that large street trees are still limited in this area. The dark footpaths here are exposed and baking on hot days.”

But Green Square’s streets promised to put people first!

The 2013 Public Domain Strategy set out plans for the network of streets in the town centre. A decade-long building blitz would transform the heart of Green Square into a people-friendly destination.

The 2013 Structure Plan shows the network of new pedestrian-priority streets and dedicated cycleways. The large primary school under construction is shown in blue (Image: City of Sydney)

Walkers and bike riders would be prioritised with pedestrian-only zones, separated cycleways and low-speed streets. A ‘movement hierarchy’ with pedestrians at the top, followed by bike riders, buses, heavy rail and (in the future) light rail, would inform every planning and urban design decision.  Private cars would definitely not be favoured.

“When the Green Square town centre is complete, it will be home to around 7,500 residents and 8,600 workers,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said as the project began. “We want to make sure the area is easy and enjoyable to get around, whether you’re travelling by foot, bike, or on public transport. These plans put people first on Green Square’s streets, making the town centre a lively, accessible and welcoming place for everyone.”

A concept design image of Geddes Avenue with a bi-directional separated bicycle path and dense tree canopy (Image: Green Magazine)

Although the trees are still small, the streets emerging from the rubble are very similar to the concept design. At least in the mid-block sections.  

The cycleways are of a very high standard. The City of Sydney has laid out a ‘green carpet’ with a clear invitation to ride.

And locals are taking to two wheels in large numbers 

The flat topography and close proximity to the Sydney CBD make Green Square a prime location for active transport. Green Square has relatively high levels of cycle commuting. According to the 2021 Census, 4.0% of residents who travel to work use a bicycle, compared to less than 1% of residents across Greater Sydney.

Unfortunately, walking and cycling trips are not as smooth as they should be 

At the intersections, car-brained planning prevails. The roadways are widened to accommodate turn lanes. People walking must cross wide expanses of asphalt. Multiple traffic signals make people outside cars wait…. And wait. 

For a place that is meant to put people first, there is still a LOT of space for cars at this intersection of Portman St and Zetland Avenue (top, looking east, bottom, looking west) (Image: GoogleMaps)

And yet there are very few cars in the precinct!

Studies have been conducted and preliminary data shows that up to 95% of pedestrians and bike riders ignore the lights.  This is not surprising when is so little traffic.

A pedestrian crossing Paul Street on red. “The green for cars is constantly on despite there being NO CARS, and pedestrians have to press a beg button to cross,” says Alisa. “The lights switch quickly right back to green for cars and the next pedestrian is given a red again!”  (Image: Bicycle NSW Member Alisa)

Alisa sent feedback to Transport for NSW. “The reply I received after many months was mind-boggingly irrelevant and anger-inducing,” says Alisa. “Apparently ‘Network Operations has reviewed the site, and all timings are according to the guidelines. The operation of this pedestrian crossing is similar to many other intersections in NSW whereby turning vehicles must cross the path of pedestrians’. I was not impressed.”

Bicycle NSW joins community stakeholders in calling for urgent change in this area

It is clear that the mode share for active and public transport has exceeded Transport for NSW expectations. It is time to revisit the transport planning for Green Square and redesign the intersections for a low-car future.

The simple solution is to adjust the lights so they are ‘default green’ for pedestrians and bike riders.

“The entire network of streets around the Drying Green would HUGELY benefit from all the intersections being switched to give a green scramble crossing for pedestrians and cyclists as a default at all hours. Such a change would be in full alignment with Transport for NSW’s Future Transport Strategy and Active Transport Strategy.”

The famous rainbow crossing at Taylor Square is a triumph. It gives fair priority to the most numerous (10,000 a week!) and vulnerable citizens without requiring them to ‘beg’. The lights only switch to green when a vehicle is detected (Image: Katherine Griffith/Daily Telegraph)

This ‘dwell on green’ treatment is recognised in the Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 9: Traffic Operations to support pedestrian priority. Timings can be adjusted as the relative levels of pedestrian and vehicle activity change throughout the day and week. Innovative Green Person Authority signals have been rolled out in London with great results.

“The impact on motorised vehicle traffic will be extremely minimal,” says Alisa. “Compared to the massive boost in safety and amenity to the elderly and disabled, the young families with prams, and all the residents of nearby apartment blocks who are trying to walk to the library, Green Square Station and Gunyama Aquatic Centre.”

And, of course, all the children who need safe access to the beautiful new 600-student Green Square Primary School that will open on the corner of Portman Avenue and Zetland Avenue in 2025.

But are traffic signals needed here anyway?

A longer-term solution would be to remove the traffic signals and rebuild the entire space as a raised intersection which vehicles negotiate very slowly.

A set of shared intersections in the CBD of Port Macquarie has been operating safely since 1995. Kerbs were removed and street infrastructure and vegetation introduced to create a low speed, place centric environment. Time for more of this in NSW! (Image: GoogleMaps)

Help us campaign for better intersections!

Traffic signals are controlled by the State Government. Although the City of Sydney advocates harder than other councils to prioritise pedestrians, change is glacial! There are so many frustrating intersections in every corner of the state that need attention. 

Lots of data has been collected by citizen crowdsourcing project Better Intersections. Recent analysis shows that many intersections across Sydney have pedestrian wait time of over 120 seconds. The project is ongoing so please add measurements for traffic signal that make you wait for too long.  

Bicycle NSW is working with Better Streets and Walk Sydney to advocate for terrible signal phasing to be addressed. Our 2023 article Pedestrians Are Fed Up With Begging explores some very significant barriers to change. We made several recommendations for Transport for NSW.

One problem is the small, stretched team managing NSW’s signals. And the engineers are steeped in decades of prioritising maximum vehicle throughput. Other road users are not routinely considered.  

We ask Transport for NSW to implement a great model from London. Significant resources are allocated to reviewing the optimal phasing of every light, every 5 years. The Timing Review Programme (TRP) adjusts 1200, or 20%, of the city’s traffic signals annually. Time savings for pedestrians and bus passengers are the key metric used to determine success. 

A systematic approach like this would be a game-changer for NSW.

Before you go….

If you are not already a Bicycle NSW Member, please consider joining us. Not only would you support our advocacy for better infrastructure. You will ride with peace of mind knowing that you are covered by our comprehensive insurance and enjoy many other Member-only benefits.

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