The health and economic vitality of Parramatta Road is profoundly important to residents in the inner west, including those living in my electorate.
For many, Parramatta Road is just a traffic jam on their way across Sydney, but for the inner west it is so much more. It is where we live; it is where we work; it is how we see our families or get to child care on time; it is how we get anywhere in the city. For most, it is also a lost opportunity.
Parramatta Road was once the heart of the inner west, supporting thriving businesses that drew people from across Sydney. These days many shops are boarded up, with traffic at a standstill.
When the Baird Government first spruiked its revitalisation of Parramatta Road, it was sold as a move towards a tree-lined boulevard—Sydney's very own Champs Elysées. We can picture it as a shady, tree-lined stretch of cafes, shops and pedestrians; a place to meet friends, with thriving businesses and a vibrant night life; and an inviting and generous gateway to our city.
Since then, those dreams of a sweeping avenue have been abandoned by an unimaginative Government scared to try something innovative. The Government's current plans—artfully named "New Parramatta Road"—foresee 40,000 extra dwellings along the road, but with no plans for new schools, new childcare centres, new medical facilities or much-needed recreational space.
Local residents understand the need for greater density but also want the matching amenities that make our suburbs liveable, and that includes public transport.
In his approval of the M4 East, Mr Rob Stokes, the Minister for Planning, made the right call in designating two lanes of traffic for public transport. As much as I think WestConnex is a destructive and ill-advised project, I welcome the Minister's decision to inject some provision for public transport.
But it has to be the right kind of transport if we are to do the right thing by Parramatta Road, the inner west and greater Sydney.
The Government has made noises about rapid-transit bus services along the road which would be a mistake.
The vision of Parramatta Road as a boulevard—or anything less than an east-west polluting divider to our city—is a pipe dream if those two lanes are given over to buses rather than to light rail.
Any transport expert will tell members that light rail can carry many more people than buses, and do so more safely.
They will also tell members that any rapid bus service would be best suited to go in the WestConnex tunnel—where it might help reduce travel times. Rapid buses would run along the outside of the road at high speeds, cementing Parramatta Road as a divider of our communities. Buses are also very, very noisy. Would members want to have a coffee sitting next to a road that has buses flying past every few minutes?
By contrast, light rail runs along the centre of the road, slowing traffic and improving pedestrian and cyclist safety and connectivity; and all while running quietly. Running light rail along the centre opens up opportunities for parallel parking, outdoor dining, cafes and people, building the sense of community that would make Parramatta Road again a great place to live.
Parramatta Road is the perfect place for light rail and offers broader benefits to Sydney's public transport network.
By connecting Central Station to Strathfield along Parramatta Road, the line would interchange with the existing inner west light rail at Taverner's Hill. This would create a vital north-south, east-west connection across the inner west—a connection that our heavy rail lines do not currently provide in the area. It also provides an opportunity to create a much-needed stop at the University of Sydney, which is publicly calling for Parramatta Road light rail after missing out to Waterloo on a Sydney Metro City and Southwest stop. It would also improve connectivity around the Royal Prince Alfred [RPA] Hospital, enhancing the Camperdown health and learning hub.
Most importantly, light rail could be a part of delivering the long-held promise of a boulevard that once again connects suburbs along its spine creating liveable spaces supported by multiple transport modes.
If we are to build a truly liveable city, and position Sydney as a global liveable city, fixing Parramatta Road is a priority, but it has to be fixed in the right way.
We have to commit to the vision of a tree-lined boulevard that delivers more than just density. We need parks, we need businesses, we need schools and we need childcare centres.
If we want Parramatta Road to be more than a characterless, polluting, noisy, log-jammed road that divides the inner west in two then light rail is the answer.