By Joe Bourke
A rally of around 300 people was staged in Sydney’s CBD last week protesting the removal of the College Street cycleway.
The state government announced at the end of May that it would be removed despite a Castlereagh Street replacement lane not being complete, breaking a government commitment.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore was responsible for the creation of the College Street cycleway just over three years ago, and slammed the proposal to rip it up.
“The NSW government’s own City Centre Access Strategy clearly stated that the College Street cycleway should not be removed until a safe alternative route along the length of Castlereagh Street was opened,” a spokesperson for the Mayor told City Hub.
“Removing the College Street cycleway without a safe alternative puts people’s safety at risk.”
Rob Berry organised the rally and told City Hub that the point of the rally was to highlight how many cyclists would be displaced once the cycleway was taken out.
“We had a few hundred cyclists show up in the morning and ride up the road on College and Macquarie Streets. I guess the reason why we did that was to show what was going to happen when the cycleway went,” he said.
“We built it for five million dollars three years ago. It’s just a monumental waste of money.”
When announcing the removal of the cycleway at a press conference in late May, Transport Minister Andrew Constance asked for “patience” from all commuters.
“Cyclists make up about 6000 commuters coming in and out of town every day. What we have responsibility for is around 630,000 people who have to commute to and from town every day and we need to make this city work,” he said at the press conference.
Mr Berry said that the majority of cyclists supported the addition of light rail to the CBD but that it didn’t have to come at the expense of infrastructure like the cycleway.
“There definitely has to be a change in bus routes, but we question why it has to come at the expense of one of the most successful pieces of cycling infrastructure, and why you wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to further discourage private motor vehicle use in the city,” he said.
As well as transport concerns, the impact on businesses is still a major issue for those directly affected by the construction.
Transport for NSW (TfNSW) said that “businesses will be offered a range of assistance including toolkits, workshops and drop-in sessions to support staff making changes to their journey to work”.
TfNSW also said businesses will be offered help to reduce the impact of construction, and that the construction schedule has been designed to minimise time spent in each area of the route.
Last week, several City of Sydney councillors told News Corp media they would support a rate reduction for businesses directly affected by construction, with one councillor stating they did not think this would be enough for small business.
Independent Councillor and owner of Vivo Café on George Street, Angela Vithoulkas, told City Hub a rate reduction would not be enough, as most small business owners on George Street are not directly billed for rates.
“I also don’t believe that will be enough for what we’re about to face. From the small sample of construction that is actually happening, the dust is thick and dark and the noise is shocking and this is just a small section that’s happening currently,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor said the City of Sydney already has fair rates but that they were working with the government to help George St businesses.
“The City and NSW government agencies including the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Transport for NSW are working with the Sydney Business Chamber on programs to support businesses during the construction and operation of the light rail,” the spokesperson said.
“The City of Sydney already has very low rates for businesses and residents.”
Clr Vithoulkas said she was extremely concerned about the future of small businesses on George Street given their close proximity to construction.
“If businesses are 2-3 metres away from those jackhammers and those machines for many months, how are they going to stay open? And if they lose a year or two years trade because of the noise and the dust, how exactly will they stay open for business?” Clr Vithoulkas said.
“Because I don’t know any business which can face a dramatic downturn for one to two years and still stay open.”
TfNSW said that access to businesses and properties would be maintained throughout construction and operation of the light rail.