Congestion is a hassle draining our time, will to live and accelerating global warming. But for Transurban, it’s a licence to print money.
In the last financial half year, Transurban recorded monster profits on the back of record traffic and inflation. Outgoing CEO Scott Charlton beamed,
“We have seen record traffic in Brisbane, as well as in Sydney. Around 68 percent of Transurban’s toll revenue is linked to CPI escalations, creating inbuilt inflation protection.”
This is wonderful news for toll giant Transurban, now worth $43 billion, and investors who have reaped returns of 289% (SMH, Business Briefing). But not so good if you’re an ordinary person driving on any of its roads, haemorrhaging money out of your tailpipe. And for pedestrians, cyclists or people in wheelchairs, wondering why so much is invested in a treeless, private motorway with zero to offer, this is the answer.
We don’t get inbuilt inflation protection
What we get is WestConnex and the Western Distributor ‘improvements’. According to the Review of Environmental Factors, these improvements are required to ‘accommodate future traffic as the population grows’ and improve road safety. Both claims however are bad jokes made in poor taste. The first ignores induced demand, the fact that building more roads brings more cars. This is a universal law understood by planners and economists since the 1960s.
A notorious example of ‘induced demand’ in action. Katy Freeway in Texas was widened in an attempt to alleviate congestion and now has 26 lanes in places. And yet congestion got worse. Warringah Freeway in North Sydney is not so different…. (Source: Brent Toderian)
And as for safety, with only 35 crashes in a 13-year period, the Western Distributor’s record for (car) safety is gold standard. Conversely, adding motor lanes and taking out pedestrian infrastructure won’t improve safety for people walking and cycling in Pyrmont.
When a motorway through an urban area is increased and pedestrian access reduced, the impacts to safety are obvious.
The City of Sydney, pedestrian advocacy group WalkSydney and Bicycle NSW have all submitted that the Western Distributor proposals have no redeeming features.
The proposal to ‘improve’ the Western Distributor between Anzac Bride and the Sydney Harbour Bridge involves adding to its vehicle capacity and inducing even more vehicle trips (Image: TfNSW)
“Bicycle NSW seeks transport equity”, says Bicycle NSW CEO, Peter McLean. “During a cost of living crisis, such projects only benefit corporations already rewarded with massive toll profits and motorists unfazed by rising transport costs.”
“The Western Distributor proposals will lock in urban sprawl and transport poverty for everybody else. Which is why we are calling for it to be halted and the money spent on active transport projects that will actually benefit NSW”.
WestConnex was conceived to channel through traffic underground, leaving the City of Sydney free to progress excellent plans to activate Pyrmont and the CBD with a vastly improved public realm that enables more walking and cycling.
Harris Street during City of Sydney’s Summer Streets event in 2022 (Source: Katherine Griffiths). The Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy (PPPS) proposes a future Harris Street with reduced traffic lanes, widened footpaths and increased tree canopy. The street would once again be Pyrmont’s high street. The Western Distributor project completely overrides this agreed vision by funnelling much more traffic onto Harris Street.
“Either this is an admission that Westconnex will fail before it is online, or the Western Distributor improvements are unnecessary. You can’t have both,” says Peter McLean.
To stop induced demand we need to invest in reduced demand
TfNSW has fantastic Active Transport and Future Transport strategies to increase safety, improve our health, lower carbon emissions and reduce sprawl. They just need to use them.
Fed up with toll giants profiteering from pollution and congestion? Better streets are not going to happen by wishful thinking. Sign up to the Better Streets coalition and find out how we can all make a change.
Join Bicycle NSW now.