Disjointed development at Redfern station
Transport for NSW has revealed plans for a new southern bridge over the rail corridor at the western (or Newtown) end of the above-ground platforms at Redfern station. It’s hard to believe that, as things stand, the bridge will not accommodate cyclists. The state government argues the bridge is being provided only to improve accessibility to the station. But how, in a “world city”, can such a major facility be designed with such a narrow view of its function and opportunity?
Poor planning and poor governance.
It’s clear the station precinct needs a masterplan and a single-agency “place manager”.
The view over the handlebars gives early insight into just how disjointed the development of Redfern station is. The new secure bike locker has no legal bike paths leading to it. Despite being approved almost two years ago, the Lawson Street separated cycleway (planned by City of Sydney Council for the northern edge of the Lawson Street rail bridge) is still blocked by Sydney Trains. The recently upgraded riding paths at Gibbons Street have made things worse for cyclists, directing riders into parked cars at one end and pedestrians at the other. The deletion of the popular Gibbons Street station entrance has everyone walking into each other at the Lawson Street corner.
Further, the state government’s sale of the Australian Technology Park (now developed as South Eveleigh by Mirvac), has failed to deliver adequate cycling links through the site, despite being aware that Westconnex and the City of Sydney are developing a regional cycling route from Sydney Park to Redfern station that will direct riders through South Eveleigh.
Then there’s the state government’s 2016 promise of a cycling bridge across the rail corridor in return for development rights at the former ATP, which has never materialised.
It’s as if the dis-integration is strategic.
The hope is that the state government revises the station bridge design so it is made rideable and so it links directly into the Wilson Street cycleway (currently under construction). This ought to be easy enough. The bridge isn’t width-constrained, there is support from some key stakeholders including the City of Sydney, and there’s community buy-in on condition that the bridge runs south of residences in Little Eveleigh Street, so as to improve flow, minimise pedestrian conflicts and avert the need for building demolition.
If Sydney had its thinking cap on, the bridge could extend also over Gibbons and Regent streets to connect walkers and riders to Jack Floyd Reserve near the closest connecting/existing southbound bus stop, which would much improve pedestrian safety, amenity, connectivity, local commerce … and even Gibbons and Regent street’s traffic flows. This extended bridge could provide the central link of a cultural “ribbon” linking Sydney University to Redfern Park, encompassing the Abercrombie Street cafes, Carriageworks, South Eveleigh, Redfern station, Redfern Street eateries and pubs, and Redfern Park.
Had there been a masterplan and a single place manager, walking and cycling paths could have been created optimally and organically with no need for retro-fitting. They also would have been paid for by developers through the masterplan’s social infrastructure “value capture” mechanisms. As would have the cost of lowering Gibbons Street (and possibly even Regent Street) under Lawson Street which would shift the precinct to be people- rather than vehicle-focused. In this mode, Lawson Street would become a pedestrian and cyclist’s street (cars still permitted, as in Little Eveleigh Street and Lawson Square now), noise and stress levels would drop, local commerce would increase, safety would improve, and public transport use increase thanks to better walking and cycling links to the station.
The masterplan would ensure all of this is paid for by the developers of the many tall buildings surrounding, and invariably in future, to be situated over the station. Recall that the twin-tower development above St Leonards station included relocating the train station 100 metres to the north.
Despite these missed opportunities, a station precinct masterplan would still be valuable. But only if overseen by a single place manager, possibly the Greater Sydney Commission, or preferably if improbably, the City of Sydney, subject to it being granted development rights and sole control of development approvals. A radical idea for some.
Our congested big roads, delicate public transport and crumbling apartment blocks should focus attention on the scale of improvement we need in our design, planning, consultation and provisioning processes. In any case, we should be “design proud”. How about shaping the Redfern station bridge (alignment) as a boomerang, symbolic of its place and of integration?
By now, station upgrades alone should have provided several safe (for riders of any age) crossings of the rail corridor. Incredibly, even all the new bridge and underpass infrastructure at Central station couldn’t conspire to provide a crossing. Here, we’re faced with our last chance to achieve this. The effectiveness of the future regional cycling network is dependent on this opportunity.
The new Redfern station bridge must be made rideable.
David Borella is President, BIKESydney.