Friday, May 15, 2009

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STEPPING off the footpath in the centre of Sydney can be a perilous exercise. Even in a city usually choked with traffic, cars still manage to tear past. The alternative - waiting at a major intersection up to three minutes for traffic lights to change - is ignored by 70 per cent of pedestrians.

Now, the City of Sydney wants to take control of several main arteries through the central business district, rip out the traffic lights, strip the streets of safety signs, impose a speed limit of 10 kmh and give pedestrians the right of way.

The proposal for "naked streets" - the term used in European cities where streetscapes devoid of lights and signs are common - is designed to discourage driving in the CBD, without imposing financial disincentives, such as the congestion charge that is levied on motorists entering the centre of London during the day.

"We need to reclaim the city from the dominance of the car," said Councillor John McInerney, who chairs the council's traffic and transport committee. "The roads are public spaces that should accommodate pedestrians, cyclists as well."

At the moment, the city has only one such road, Barrack Street. Despite its appearance, the street is open to traffic. But its paving, street furniture, speed limit and general ambience causes most motorists to avoid it.

The council wants to expand the concept to Castlereagh and Pitt streets, which run almost the entire length of the CBD, and to O'Connell, Bent, Philip and Loftus streets at the northern end and to Hay, Harbour and Sussex streets and Eddy Avenue, at the southern end.

Cr McInerney says the key to the success of "naked streets" is the appearance. The paving for pedestrians needs to be the same as for vehicles. "That in itself sends a message to the driver that this is very much a shared space," he said.

The proposal has won the support of Ian Faulks, a former director of the NSW Parliament's StaySafe Committee.

Mr Faulks, now a consultant to interstate and overseas governments, says even a 20-30 kmh speed limit would be acceptable, as it would allow cars to stop quickly without hitting any pedestrians. He also says the European and North American experience shows drivers unconsciously slow down - and do not seem to mind - because of the surroundings.

"The trick is to make the road look like the sort of place where you need to exercise extra caution,"


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