|Guardian Express, 26th November 2013|
Twenty years ago, community consultation on what was then called the City Northern ByPass clearly said that if the road were to be built it should be put in tunnel and a coherent urban form re-established over the top. As a result, we now have the 'Northbridge Link', which has brought life and amenity back to an area that had been subject to traffic and planning blight for decades.
This regeneration has included reducing the traffic function of Newcastle Street and creating a more people-friendly environment and has led to retention and reinvigoration of heritage buildings and attractive new residential and commercial developments.
None of this would have happened if the traffic function of Newcastle Street had remained predominant.
Earlier this year, the Northbridge Tunnel was increased from two to three lanes in each direction to provide additional east-west traffic capacity across the north of the City.
Yet now we see proposals (http://www.perth.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/events/Council_agenda_131119.pdf, pp122-129) to provide yet more east-west traffic capacity on a road that already has problems at intersections with north-south arterials. The proposal would require changes (= reduction) to footpath widths, loss of trees and restriction of right turns to turn back the clock ten years. As the City of Perth's report says, this would be returning the cross-section of the street to what existed ten years ago and operating the kerbside lanes as clearways.
It is all the more disturbing that the initiator for this was a statement in the Department of Transport's Perth Central Business District Transport Plan 2012 that the operation of Newcastle Street to run two lanes of traffic in each direction during peak periods be considered. Is this the same Department of Transport that is trying to get people to use cars less (through TravelSmart) and to walk and cycle more? Has it lost it concern with 'moving people' as distinct from 'moving vehicles'?
To be fair to the City of Perth, it's report does acknowledge the detrimental impact on pedestrians and cyclists, especially with regard to crossing Newcastle Street, but it proposes to deal with this by formalising crossing points (including a signalised crossing for cyclists at Palmerston Street), but anyone familiar with the area knows that it is the ability to cross safely at many places, not just those designated by the traffic engineers, that makes it work as a place rather than a highway.
Inner-city areas in many cities were almost destroyed by traffic in the second half of the 20th century. Newcastle Street was in a state of limbo for decades. The new proposal runs the risk of turning this part of Northbridge back into a place dominated by traffic and would devalue the amenity and property values of the people and business-owners who have turned the tide of decay that previously characterised this important area.