Kings Cross, Sydney – and how urban planning can reduce drunken violence

Kings Cross, Sydney. Image: Sardaka/Wikimedia Commons.

Tragically, another young Australian life has been lost in an alleged one-punch assault, this time in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

These assaults are frightening occurrences in themselves, but also they pose much deeper questions regarding our approach to some very complex societal problems facing the country. So far, debate has centred on state liquor law reform – but that’s only half the story. Queensland MPs may also draw some lessons from a recent project by the Designing Out Crime research centre that aimed to tackle similar problems in Sydney’s Kings Cross district.

A fresh approach to an old problem

Sydney’s Kings Cross is historically renowned for its vivid nightlife and, more recently, for its alcohol-fuelled violence.

Over the years, the local and state governments have attempted to reduce this violence by ever-tightening regulations and increasing the police presence in the area. As a consequence, revellers are treated like (potential) criminals rather than young partygoers seeking a good time.

These law and order solutions solve some problems but create others. NSW’s 2014 lockout laws were successful in reducing inner city violence but have led to the closure of many of Sydney’s treasured venues. Residents of other suburbs report fear that lockouts just displace the problem.

In 2012, focus on the precinct intensified after 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was killed by an intoxicated stranger in a one-punch assault. After that incident, designers at the Designing Out Crime research centre, alongside the City of Sydney, took up the challenge of decrypting the Kings Cross nightlife to devise solutions to minimise violence in the area.

The design team approached the problem by imagining Kings Cross as a music festival. The aim was to identify areas of improvement that would create a safer environment while keeping partygoers happy.

A music festival is an organised event that attracts tens of thousands of attendees to a central location to have a good time. Music festivals provide revellers with access to amenities, transportation to and from the event, support and continuous entertainment, while allowing them the necessary freedom to choose activities, socialise and express themselves. This metaphor for an “organised” approach to Kings Cross paved the way for suggested areas for improvement.

Distraction and extraction

The researchers focused their design exploration on two themes: distraction and extraction.

It was clear that every night in Kings Cross, pubs and clubs were emptying vast numbers of intoxicated patrons onto the main strip at roughly the same time. Footpaths became congested, retinas were battered with an assault of neon stimuli, patrons were forced to transition quickly from a fun indoor environment to an outdoor “void” atmosphere where there was nothing to do, and nowhere to sit down and sober up. It was a recipe for tension.

They needed distraction.

So the researchers suggested softer outdoor lighting and, on weekend evenings, closing a main street in the Cross to allow patrons to walk on the road and alleviate footpath congestion. We suggested food stalls along this street, new sitting areas and outdoor entertainment in the form of street performers and interactive games. The idea was to promote a process of “unconscious sobering”.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Kings Cross was attracting a peak influx of young people arriving at 1am, with the last train leaving shortly thereafter. Revellers were all but stuck in the area, or else waiting in an hour-long queue for an expensive taxi ride.

This fuelled frustration and impatience, paving the way for physical and verbal assaults. Access to toilets was sparse and did not meet demand. In contrast, music festivals are well equipped with portable toilets and access to public transport.

As a result, night buses were improved, amenities added, and volunteer guides were present at peak times to ensure partygoers were well informed and feeling safe. The Safe Space initiative came into fruition to provide support to those who required first aid, a charged phone, transport home or a comfortable place to wait for friends.

Some of the implemented solutions are still in place today, although the legislative measures imposed since have transformed Kings Cross into a less active area.

Lessons for other cities

Sydney and Kings Cross are not alone in facing these issues.

When faced with complex social issues, it is important that time is spent understanding the core of the problem from multiple perspectives before devising solutions.

It is easier said than done, but we need to think away from knee-jerk reactions – where branding an incident as “alcohol-related violence” naturally puts the focus on policies around alcohol service restriction. There is so much more that can be done to keep young people safe at night.The Conversation

Kees Dorst is director of the Designing Out Crime Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.


It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).

Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.