A police blitz on jaywalkers and cyclists has begun in the CBD, despite ongoing concern about the lack of pedestrian-friendly design in the car-dominated inner city.
The crackdown is part of Operation Pedro, launched by NSW Police at the end of last month.
An Alternative Media Group employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, reported seeing clusters of police at Town Hall last week, handing out $67 fines for pedestrians illegally crossing the road. The employee told City News that an officer had said around 85 jaywalkers had been fined by about 7.30pm that day.
The crackdown appears to reinforce the dominance of vehicle traffic in the CBD. This conflicts with calls by councillors and experts to make the area more amenable to the 600,000 pedestrians who make their way through the city centre each day.
“It’s my strong preference that we … encourage people to get on their bikes and to walk where possible,” said City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott.
“I think always in the first instance, seeking to make the city safer and a friendlier place for pedestrians and cyclists would be far more preferable.”
Fellow councillor Angela Vithoulkas is also strongly critical of the operation.
“People are actually very terrified and upset when they get pulled over and issued a fine for walking across the road,” Cr Vithoulkas said.
“Pedestrians are not the menace … most of the city is not pedestrian-friendly and we do our best to get from one side of the street to the other.”
In NSW, pedestrians can be fined if they cross against the red signal, if they cross the road less than 20 metres from a marked crossing, or if they obstruct traffic, according to Pedestrian Council chief Harold Scruby.
“It’s a pedestrian-hostile city,” Mr Scruby said. “You’ve got to get people walking through cities and you’ve got to make it feel like the pedestrian is king, not the car.”
Mr Scruby argued that shifting the city planning focus from cars to people would give business a boost.
“People don’t shop from cars, they shop when they walk,” he said.
Despite calling for greater harmony between pedestrians and motor vehicles, the Pedestrian Council has worked extensively with NSW Police in developing Operation Pedro.
Police issued 346 jaywalking-related infringements alone on May 29, the first day of the operation, across the Sydney, Parramatta and Liverpool CBD areas. However, police reported issuing only seven infringements for jaywalking-related offences the following day. Cyclists were hardest hit, with 174 infringements issued for riding offences that day.
The city’s hostility to pedestrians was underscored during a 2007 visit by renowned Danish city planner Jan Gehl. His report to the City of Sydney found pedestrians, who make up 90 per cent of all trips in the CBD, often had to wait up to two minutes to cross.
“We do sympathise with pedestrians who find it hard to wait that long at an intersection,” Mr Scruby said. “But at the same time, we don’t advocate breaking the law.”
Buttons at pedestrian crossings do not have any effect between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday, and the timing is controlled automatically based on vehicle traffic flow, rather than pedestrian numbers.
Mr Scruby supports the anti-jaywalking measures as a move to save lives, following three pedestrian deaths in Sydney over the last six months.
A 40km/h city centre speed limit has also been announced by the state government in an effort to prevent more fatalities.
“The City is working on a range of initiatives to make Sydney a safer and more attractive place for pedestrians,” the Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.