I am a pedestrian in Sydney, living in a car-less household, so I have had a few months experience in the pedestrian environment. As nice as walking in Sydney is, walking in Sydney should be nicer. For a city with such high densities of people and shops, such a large number of parks, doors on the street, and gorgeous weather, and such terrible internet service driving people from their homes, walking should be the dominant mode. Yet there are barriers to living the motor-free lifestyle here (and undoubtedly elsewhere). Some that come to mind.
T-Intersections Intentionally missing crosswalk markings (and pedestrian signals) are quite common, especially at T-intersections, where pedestrians might only have markings and a signal on one side. While this undoubtedly makes cars go faster (the presumed purpose for this), it makes the walker’s life more miserable, reducing choice and potentially adding travel time. For longer distance trips, backtracking can be avoided by crossing upstream where the signal is available. For short distance trips, this is inefficient. The largest T-intersection I have encountered where this is an issue is City Road at Broadway, where to get from the east side of City Road to the north side of Broadway (which houses a nice shopping mall) requires crossing both streets instead of just one.
- Fences. Walking midblock is strongly discouraged on some roads. Presumably for safety and for traffic flow, but still creating a chaffingly regulated environment for the pedestrian who wants to cross the shopping street.
OBEY Pedestrians must obey traffic signals or risk getting run over. While almost all of the Pedestrian Actuation (Beg) Buttons work, the phasing of traffic signals is so chaotic as to be nearly unpredictable as to when the pedestrian has right-of-way without a light. The pedestrian phase is extremely, needlessly short, just enough for pedestrians already at the corner when the light changes to make it across on the green walking man, not enough for someone not there, even when the car phases would make it safe for pedestrians to cross. Drivers only look at traffic lights, not for context, so if you are in the crosswalk (marked or otherwise) you will very much risk getting hit (or at least the ire of the driver) if you do not have a green walking man providing moral and legal support. In many cases these are absurd.
Traffic can flow freely now because drivers can credibly threaten murder. AVs won’t be able to make that threat.
— brad plumer (@bradplumer) July 12, 2017
For instance the figure at Thai Tha Hai restaurant.
- Uneven sidewalks. For a variety of reasons, most sidewalks appear original, although wheelchair curb-cuts have been retrofitted in most places. While roads are periodically resurfaced, the sidewalks, which were likely fairly even when first poured, have unevened with the heave and ho due to poor construction, changing soil conditions, trees, recent construction and the like. Except for the few sidewalks that have been shaved, this leads to tripping hazards. While these hazards are easily identified (send out some interns), it won’t be solved unless someone develops a multi-million dollar robot to ride all the Sydney sidewalks and provide a report, with a large construction contract on the other end.
- Shared paths. Many sidewalks are marked as shared paths with bicycles. This isn’t as much of a problem for the pedestrian as it might seem, since so few people bike. That is a problem for other reasons.
Much of the network is circuitous (see ,,), missing links abound. I previously noted the lack of railway crossings, but there are other issues on the street network. I haven’t tested whether this is especially bad here compared to other places, but subjectively it is noticeable. So for instance my trip from home to work more or less as shown in the image could be much straighter than it is, were there a southern/western crossing of the tracks at Redfern station.
- Crowding. While pedestrian crowding is not common on most sections of sidewalk, there are times are places where this is a problem. (In the map, the path to and from Redfern Station gets crowded at peak times). Crowding is a problem for several reasons. Pedestrian speeds are slowed to the speed of the slowest traveler, so overtaking is required. The sidewalks are narrow in place, worse on trash collection days, when the rubbish and recycling bins are out. The crowding is especially a shame given the use of space to store empty cars on streets, space that could be reclaimed for more productive human movement.
Navigability. While soon our Augmented Reality glasses may make navigation an irrelevancy, in the meantime, I often try to figure out where I am. This requires looking at my phone because there are not street signs visible to pedestrians. The signs are aimed for autos, and on one-way streets for cars (which are still two-way streets for pedestrians), the signs all face the direction the autos are moving.
- Fumes and Noise. Cars and especially trucks and buses produce fumes and noise and other externalities that increase the unpleasantness of walking and lower the pedestrian’s expected lifespan. While electrification will eventually do away with both fumes and noise, trucks will be the last surface vehicles to electrify, so this will likely be a feature on the roads for decades. Given the rate of construction in Sydney, many of these are especially large, loud, and polluting construction-related vehicles.
All of that said, there are plenty of nice parts. Some of the best features of walking in Sydney are below:
- There are some pedestrian only streets (e.g. Kensington, shown)
- There is a lot of traffic calming within shopping streets and neighborhoods. (The effect of the traffic calming is to push more traffic to the signalized arterials, where it is controlled, but now more congested than it otherwise would be.)
- Drivers almost always obey the marked crosswalks if a pedestrian is waiting to cross (though what constitutes ‘waiting to cross’ is a bit ambiguous). (They will not yield at unmarked crosswalks unless the pedestrian is in the street, and even then only reluctantly and with ire.)