BACK TO SCHOOL: and its Carmageddon along Old Northern & New Line Roads again.
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
“75 Million trips per day are taken by private car in Australia, with an average of 1.1 persons per car. More than 50% of those trips are for distances of 5km or less.”
Stephen Hodges: (Director, We Ride Australia) ABC Life Matters May 2019
One way to alleviate traffic congestion and create more parking spaces is a critical mass of individual decisions to take less, or no short trips by private car. The paucity of car parking at some NW Metro rail transit hubs, for instance, might be a subtle push toward such changes in commuter behaviour...
‘Active transport’ isn’t just about biology or an anti-car conspiracy theory- it has grown into a global social movement, benefitting leading cities and the environment the world over. Anyone who is privileged enough to travel overseas, would agree that you don’t see enormous parking lots along, say, the Paris Metro, or the busy Hammersmith transit hub in London. But what you do see are highly efficient public transport services, orderly bike share scheme docks and extensive networks of dedicated or shared bicycle lanes or footpaths; all radiating out for 20km or more to and from every transit hub. Cyclists and pedestrians have priority over motor vehicles- particularly at busy traffic intersections, while obstructive regulations and petty police ‘crackdowns’ on bicycle or pedestrian ‘offenders’ are conspicuously absent.
NSW State, however, currently has over 100 draconian demerit fines, custom crafted and updated in 2016, which obstruct bicycling in NSW, starting at $112 right up to a shameful $448. Pedestrians only have a modest 41 demerit fines to worry about and pay $75 for each ‘offence.’ This criminalisation of ordinary citizens just trying to do something very positive is depressing if you're trying to engage with your external environments and live an active, healthy lifestyle. It also completely undermines and contradicts the State’s own commitments to active transport and health.
Every beautifully designed and landscaped new station on the NW Metro rail link is a model example of how to use public and active transport to get from A to B. But around two of them, namely Castle Hill and Cherrybrook, the good work is only within a small radius. Further infrastructure for cycling and walking is still to be retrofitted around these stations because they are both perched upon confined, steep-sided ridge lines traversed by Castle Hill Road and Old Northern Road. Although a brand new shared path has been built along Castle Hill Road, the busy arterial that is Old Northern Road currently accommodates no other personal transport option, except a fossil fuel assisted one. Fortunately, the other NW Metro Stations are not on ridge lines and have been ‘future-proofed.’ Surrounding geography is fairly flat and they are quite easy and safe to access on foot, or with a bicycle because this has been included with previous and existing infrastructure developments in areas surrounding Showgrounds, NW, Bella Vista, Kellyville, Rouse Hill and Tallawong rail stations.
But for those residing west of Galston Gorge in the vicinity of Arcadia, Galston, Glenorie, Forest Glen or Kenthurst and beyond- we are all just a bit too ‘far’ away (ie: more than 10km- but ‘far’ is a state of mind!) to regularly benefit from the nearest rail stations. So we’ve developed a culture of driving everywhere by default, as we have had to be self-sufficient ‘out here’ for decades. We decided to live what used to be far away from city crowds and consistent metro services. Besides, nothing beats the convenience and luxury of having a personal car to use whenever you like. However, change is here now and it’s irrevocable. How we manage that change to future proof our environment- and us as a community- is key. Ensuring that we all have access to cheap, efficient and safe alternatives to private car use will become a critical quality of life factor in the not too distant future.
South-bound commuters, no matter what bridging transport they choose, still face several obstacles to access the NW Metro, and it appears we have not been considered in transport plans doing the ‘have your say’ rounds of 2019 & 2020.
Old Northern, Newline and Castle Hill Roads all have frustrating bottlenecks and some rather lethal intersections. Road upgrades are way overdue and not scheduled for the next decade !
There are seven schools along this ridge line alone and thousands of scholars are chauffeured to and from school every day in convoys of private cars. ‘School Traffic’ and parking woes in the vicinity of these schools are just hopelessly accepted as part of the daily ritual while perpetuating a quarterly cycle of dangerous traffic conditions for everyone around these schools- but what other alternatives are there currently? Primary and high school kids (and their parents) should have the choice of safe, active transport routes to schools and work, because they think they are safer in their cars, but statistically, they are not: There were 140 driver/passenger deaths in motor vehicles as opposed to 8 cyclist and 34 pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2019 in NSW.*
Local bus services are still too infrequent and many don’t go direct- enormous, mostly empty buses are not very appealing or efficient and will not coax us out of our cars either. We need smaller shuttle busses and many more frequent services to transit hubs. And, it is 2021 but Greater Sydney still has not a single bus service which has bicycle racks fitted on busses for the 'last mile' and bridging transport options. Why?
Pandemic anxieties are also keeping more of us 'safe' inside the bubble of our cars. Mask wearing, surveillance, tracking and close contact with fellow travellers make the thought of using public transport not only frightening, but simply too onerous for many of us. And the pandemic is why bicycling increased by a staggering 300% in 2020. Shame, then, that pop-up cycle lanes and educational campaigns to encourage more of us to use that shiny new bicycle, are conspicuously absent in Hills and Hornsby LGA's, let alone throughout NSW State.
It would take a very average cyclist just 45 minutes to cycle commute from Galston to Castle Hill (12km) or Cherrybrook (11km) via Old Northern Road. If you own an E-bike to assist you up the hills, your NW Metro cycle commute will take under 30 minutes from Galston ! A bicycle uses a fraction of the road space that a car does, so one can bypass any traffic bottlenecks, and there are many, enroute. But, cycle commuting south to NW Metro and back along Old Northern Road may be quicker than driving there in peak hours, but is the mental stress and threat of road rage, driver bullying, injury or an untimely death, worth it? Due to our inadequate access roads, no cycle path networks, no driver education campaigns re vulnerable road users and steep off-ridgeline gradients- Old Northern Road is a difficult and dangerous route to ride.
A safer bet, if commuting in by car from the semi-rural north, (or any transit hub for that matter) might be to compromise and consider parking a good 2 to 5km away from the popular car parking areas and the associated Ranger Danger circling train stations. Research and plan your route, choosing a suitable station. Extract your bicycle from the car and enjoy cycling through quiet suburbs, business parks or along any cycle paths you might find, whilst safely and efficiently bridging that proverbial ‘last mile’ to and from your rail station of choice. But do remember, we are one of only three countries in the world that mandates wearing a bicycle helmet. (aka ‘foam hat’) The penalty is an incommensurate $337 fine if you don’t wear one or perhaps just forgot to fasten the strap !
All new rail stations have adequate bicycle parking for the brave few who currently cycle commute, but some of it is still being rolled out. Cyclists have a choice of exterior racks, free bike sheds or hire lockers for that hero $12,000 Colnago or e-Bike ! Station lifts can take up to five bikes at a time if you need to take yours with on the train, but rail network travel conditions apply.
LOCAL CYCLE PATH MAPS
Cycling maps researched online, related to planning a NW Metro cycle commute, were not up to date and difficult to find at time of writing. *Hills, Blacktown and Hornsby Councils all have active transport plans. Have a conversation with them to request the latest information, relevant to your location or the routes you plan to ride.
*NOTE: Hills Council in particular, is to be commended for building the most extensive cycle paths network in Sydney- a staggering 85km as of 2019 & more being added with every DA.
NW METRO ACTIVE TRANSPORT PLANS
For excellent information regarding all present and future active transport infrastructure plans for the NW Metro, download this comprehensive 180 page document:
BICYCLE ADVOCACY GROUPS
BICYCLE NSW https://bicyclensw.org.au
BIKE NORTH: https://www.bikenorth.org.au
WE RIDE AUSTRALIA: https://www.weride.org.au
NSW ROAD SAFETY
Road safety demerits and associated fines: https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/roads/safety-rules/demerits-general.pdf