Will Sydney's new railway line benefit the locals – or will it just price them out?

Passengers at Circular Quay station, Sydney. Image: Getty.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking the new Sydney Metro rail line will turn the suburbs between Sydenham and Bankstown into an urban paradise.

Amid cheerful community facilities and cycle paths, the Department of Planning’s zoning brochure shows a colourful mass of new higher-density zones. Every town centre along the route – including Campsie, Lakemba, Canterbury and Belmore – is in line for a facelift. A raft of new apartment towers, pavement cafes and boutiques will crowd around the Metro stations.

All cities need renewal, and no-one would argue that this part of Sydney isn’t crying out for it. However, the government of New South Wales needs to explain what the changes will mean for existing residents. Compared with the rest of the city, they are typically poor, older and renters. What’s in it for them? 

And who’ll profit from the value uplift that will flow from the massive investment of taxpayers’ funds, both from higher land values resulting from the new density and from being snug up against a new Metro line?

A scale map of the proposed Sydney Metro, which will convert existing railways lines to automated rapid transit. Image: Strata8/Wikimedia Commons.

These are just two of the outstanding questions to which the government should already have articulated some answers. That’s because, as each day passes, developers are doing their maths based on the existing scenario set out by the Department of Planning. Soon it will be too late to retrofit any changes.

Where do existing residents fit in?

To understand the reality, it’s worth taking a closer look at the area along this stretch of the new Metro.

The Sydenham-to-Canterbury corridor is home to one of the largest concentrations of lower-income renters in Sydney, compounded by a large population of retirees on fixed, low incomes. Gentrification, the driver for urban renewal across much of Sydney, has not come knocking on these doors – yet.

So, what percentage of the 36,000 new apartments and other dwellings along the renewal corridor has been allocated for affordable housing? We can be sure they won’t be pitched at the pockets of those who live there now.


And as new investment comes in, so rents will rise. Without a significant affordable housing component, many of the essential workers who live there today – the mechanics, care attendants and shop workers – will be pushed further towards Sydney’s periphery. That will leave the rest of the city struggling to get the lower-paid workforce it needs to function productively.

In comparable renewal projects in cities like London and New York, a significant proportion of new stock is set aside as affordable housing, precisely to avoid such problems. It’s accepted as completely reasonable that lower-income working families should also benefit from new housing delivered as a result of public investment.

The government in Sydney must make it clear to developers exactly what proportion of the new homes will be set aside for this purpose – and quickly. The case for a zoning policy that mandates a proportion of all new homes as affordable has never been clearer.

The government also needs to show us where it is placing services, such as the new schools that the expanded population will need. With the government’s zoning map not identifying where these services will go, land-owners will rightly question any subsequent proposal for a school or park that would diminish their profits from possible residential development.

The state government has provided artist’s impressions of new stations, but no details of its treatment of expected value gains. Image: AAP/NSW Government.

The government has not yet provided any explanation of the expected amount of the massive value uplift that will come from the Metro and all the amenity upgrades.

Nor have we been told whether any of it will be used to fund the Metro itself or investment in the infrastructure that will be needed to make this extensive new precinct vibrant and liveable – let alone whether it will be used to provide for affordable housing.

A model for inclusive renewal

Let me suggest a way the government can tackle all this.

We need a new model of inclusive renewal. Why not establish an arm’s-length, non-profit corporation to work in consortia or joint ventures with councils, landowners, businesses, residents (particularly in older strata properties), developers and the community housing sector?

Innovative funding for new infrastructure could come through hypothecated value-capture mechanisms. These could take the form of up-front levies on land and property sales and public borrowing supported by the increased local rates that will be collected. In this way the value uplift will be properly shared and paid for over the longer term.

Planning should be devolved to the newly amalgamated council in line with the district plans being drawn up by the Greater Sydney Commission. Affordable housing would be the responsibility of community housing providers, working with developers and the new agency. The model would also apply to other town centre and corridor renewal projects.

The new Sydney Metro promises a revolution in mass transit. However, the accompanying renewal of this corridor will affect one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities in Sydney. Perpetuating – or indeed enhancing – that disadvantage through wide-scale displacement and unaffordable apartment building would be disastrous.

This new urban paradise must not be just for those with deep pockets.The Conversation

Bill Randolph is director of the City Futures Research Centre at the UNSW Australia.

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

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.