Plans to transform Sydney's car-choked city centre into a vibrant pedestrian boulevard get underway

Written by Elena Collins on 12 April 2013

Sydneysiders have a chance to see how a car-choked George Street will be transformed into a vibrant pedestrian boulevard in an exhibition of designs for the city’s major thoroughfare. The exhibition, Next stop: 21st century George Street, is arranged like a movie set to show Sydneysiders the detailed plans to remake Sydney’s main street and to seek their feedback on key design issues before they are finalised.

Image of the Town Hall today and the proposed redevelopments.

The City is contributing $220 million to the NSW Government’s light rail project to make George Street one of the world’s great plazas, with 25,000 square metres of roadway turned into a huge, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard.

“Light rail gives us a chance to revitalise the entire city centre, not just transforming George Street but also the laneways that run off it, making the city an exciting place to explore,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“At the moment, George Street is choked by day and drab at night. This exhibition shows we can make it a wonderful wide boulevard where people will want to walk, shop, dine and meet up with friends.”

“To get it right demands good design. That’s why we are asking people who live, work and visit the city to come to the exhibition, to see the designs and tell us how we can make them the best they can be.”

The City and the NSW Government are working together on the project. By August, they will have finalised a development agreement defining how much of George Street will be reserved for pedestrians only.

The City and the State have approved a Memorandum of Understanding that includes the City’s interest in expanding the pedestrian area from Liverpool to Bridge Streets along George Street and we remain optimistic that both pedestrian and traffic benefits would be enhanced by slightly extending the pedestrian area to the north and south.

The architect of converting George Street into a 21st century boulevard, leading Danish urban designer Jan Gehl, first called for removing cars from George Street seven years ago. He said the pedestrianised area should be made as big as possible because international experience showed that’s what people want.

“We’ll see a whole promenade culture in Sydney, which we already have in a number of cities around the world – most notably and remarkably in New York. There, they have closed greater parts of Broadway and turned a major traffic street into a major people street where thousands of people now sit, relax and dine, rather than shuffling around,” he said.

“People will start to ask for more quality in more places, and we’ll see this new way of treating the city centre expanded to other parts of this major street,” he said.

Image of the QVB today and the proposed redesign.

Tourism and retail groups are delighted by the designs to return George Street to people.

Chairman of the Tourism and Transport Forum, Bruce Baird, said the changes will, “transform George Street from a fume-filled, congested and noisy road into a pedestrian-friendly retail boulevard befitting Sydney’s status as a global city.”

Chief executive of the Australian National Retailers Association, Margy Osmond, said her members were “very excited about the prospect of a much more glamorous George Street which will be a magnet for local shoppers and our visiting tourists.”

And Committee for Sydney chief executive, Dr Tim Williams, said removing cars, “will be the revival of a delightful city. At the moment, we are killing the virtues of George Street – these changes will liberate them.”

Visitors to the free exhibition will be able to give their views on the plans. Feedback includes how much of George Street should be closed to cars, whether the light rail should operate with no overhead wires in pedestrian areas, and whether it can operate safely without pedestrian barricades as do trams in Melbourne.

The upgrade of George Street will see over 200 new trees planted, a five-fold increase in the tree canopy. Plans for avenues of deciduous Zelkova trees will help make the street more appealing, giving shade in summer and allowing in the sun in winter.

Lighting designed to make the street visible for motorists will be replaced with a variety of lights to create a more dramatic and appealing night-time ambience for George Street. New street furniture and public art installations will add to the area’s appeal.

Categories: Transport, Environment, Sydney