A more people-friendly city? Sydney to restore visitor confidence by prioritising pedestrians

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Sydney photo credit: City of Sydney

The City of Sydney has announced plans to turn more of George Street into a pedestrian-only boulevard – transforming the city for residents, visitors and businesses.

The project aims to create new spaces for businesses to operate, attract visitors back into the city centre and ensure everyone can move around comfortably, while maintaining physical distancing. Fourteen new coronavirus cases have been confirmed for New South Wales today, following a cluster linked to the Crossroads Hotel in the outer Sydney suburb of Casula, hotel quarantine cases and two more who picked up the virus in Victoria.

The temporary street closures start today with funding from the NSW Government.

The City will propose making these changes permanent and will soon place the plans on exhibition for community feedback. Lord Mayor Clover Moore says the COVID-19 pandemic called for a reimagining of public space and streets to prioritise people.

“As we cautiously return to the city, while seeking to maintain physical distancing, wider footpaths and more space for people will be critical to opening up new opportunities for businesses and, crucially, to provide places for people to gather and get around safely,” says Moore.

“Areas around Haymarket, the Rocks and the city centre have been significantly impacted by the loss of workers, tourists and international students. Since the start of this pandemic, there has been an estimated 90 percent drop in the number of people on central Sydney’s streets.

“We need to rebuild confidence and promote the return of activity in the city. To do that we need to prioritise access for people to safely move around – so that we can remain vigilant and prevent a second wave of the virus.”

Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes says the NSW Government is backing the demonstration project in George Street with $130,000 in funding. “We are working with councils to support projects that deliver better pedestrianisation and improved access to quality open space for residents, workers and visitors,” he says.

“COVID-19 has really highlighted the value of walkable public open space, and projects like George Street will not only make it safer to move through the heart of the city, but also help in boosting foot traffic for local retailers and businesses.”

Temporary traffic changes over the coming weeks include:

  • extending the current southbound lane closure of George Street between Bathurst and Campbell Streets to Rawson Place
  • closing the northbound lanes of George Street between Ultimo Road and Bathurst Street
  • closing Campbell Street at George Street
  • closing the westbound lane of Hay Street between George and Sussex streets, and
  • making Ultimo Road one-way westbound between George and Quay Streets.

The City will also change parking in surrounding streets to improve loading opportunities while local access to properties will remain.

The Sydney Business Chamber says that the city’s small businesses in particular has been severely impacted by COVID-19, with the once-vibrant hospitality sector “doing it tough”.

Executive director Katherine O’Regan says the local economy will see an immediate benefit from an increase in foot traffic along George Street.

“Extending and opening up pedestrian access along George Street through to Haymarket will greatly encourage more people to come to the city, and come safely, providing that much needed boost to businesses in this area,” O’Regan says.

“Many companies are developing their return to the workplace plans, and this initiative will support more people returning to work in city offices, as well as supporting domestic tourism.”

The initiative has been welcomed by the World Square retail hub on George Street.

“As the Sydney city centre navigates the recovery from the impact of COVID-19, this will enable Sydneysiders, our city workers and returning tourists to come to the city with confidence,” says World Square general manager Paul Morgan.

The City is now working with businesses and cultural groups to activate key sites in the city centre to help reinvigorate the area.

The City will take a number of additional steps to further support businesses recover and attract customers. These include:

  • prioritising the business concierge service to support businesses to open and operate safely
  • cleaning public places and streets to a high standard
  • promoting safe alternatives to single-use items to address emerging waste issues, and
  • continuing the waiving of any outdoor dining fees along the light rail route until 30 June 2021 to encourage activation of space for community, cultural and commercial use while maintaining accessibility.

Image credit: City of Sydney

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