Some trams are more equal than others

STONE the crows! But it’s good to see the Greens protecting us from the global warming, meat eating, capitalist conspiracy that is – light rail.

Yes the Crows are cawing correctly – Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich is off his trolley over trams. In particular Mr Greenwich is leading the charge against the planned South East Light Rail [i] [Oh do keep up, Clover Moore was thrown out of Macquarie Street by the O’Farrell Government legislation which required her to be either Sydney city mayor or MP but not both. Mr Greenwich now occupies the living.]

Sticklers for consistency might wonder how this sits with Alex Greenwich’s previous endorsement of light rail, “The State Government and the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, have made a great investment in the future of Sydney”.[ii]

But the Crows can see a point to his protest. This plan breaks the long standing convention established by Bob Carr in the 1990s, that all public transport projects are announced multiple times then cancelled.[iii] Given the Coalition only released the plan for a lightrail, from Circular Quay to Central and then on to Kingsford with a spur to Randwick, late last year there should be at least three more media stunts to come, before the project is quietly canned.[iv]

And yet Minister Berejiklian says the six-year project will start in 2014.[v]

So, why aren’t the comrades in the Peoples Republic of Surry Hills dancing in the streets to celebrate a victory for natural fibre fans everywhere? Here’s one hint – the tram will run up Devonshire Street, from Chalmers to Bourke, which can only end through traffic on this all but impassable rat-run.

And, guess what? “Residents will suffer noise impacts over many hours each day, with loss of access and parking.”

Parking? Surely the sandalistas can do better than the standard complaint about development used by people in the (sneer) suburbs. In any case, isn’t the point of public transport to stop people in the inner-city needing cars?

Rhetoric wise, warning that a tram will “create safety risks for the large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists in this village” is not up there either with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Fair Trade Coffee Consumers.

It all strikes the Crows as a bit overblown. On the Trappist scale of silence, Devonshire St doesn’t score. As for safety, the Crows will bet their beaks that the cyclists who take their lives in their hands among the thick and flying traffic on parallel Cleveland St would much prefer tackling trams three blocks north.

There is of course another reason, and what a surprise. It is about protecting the interests of an increasingly affluent, inner-urban area, as distinct from those of people who slog their way along Anzac Parade and then down to Cleveland Street from less flash suburbs. The route, Alex Greenwich warns, will require the “compulsory acquisition of homes and destruction of historic parklands.”

That it will. But not many houses, just those between Devonshire at Bourke Street through to South Dowling Street.

As for parkland, yes there will be tracks on a section of Moore Park, to take the route on to the old tram corridor down Anzac Parade. But what Alex Greenwich does not mention is that a tram from Central Station to the Cricket Ground/Sydney Football Stadium/Entertainment Quarter/Horden Pavilion will stop Moore Park being used as major event parking.[vi]

So what does urbanisti Alex advocate? He wants the plan scrapped and consideration of “other routes, including those previously used for tramlines”. Which presumably means Cleveland Street.[vii]

Ah yes, Cleveland Street – where motorists take 16 minutes to travel three kilometres. Now, that’s just the road where trams could run.[viii] Or Oxford/Flinders Streets, which would take passengers to UNSW, Randwick and the suburbs beyond, way out of their way.

Unless Alex Greenwich means a tunnel under Surry Hills, which would leave Devonshire Street as is and save seven minutes on the journey. Of course, it would cost an extra $100 million to build and, without the extra expense of underground stations, be inaccessible to everybody in Surry Hills.[ix]

Inevitably and understandably, people who like the status quo are upset and, being the inner city, they are as organised as they are outraged.[x] But it is hard to see the political case for the government spending a bomb more money in an electorate it does not hold and is unlikely to win to assuage the concerns of not many people along a 1.2km corridor

It’s an excellent example of O’Neill’s Law that all politics is local, – “If a constituent calls you about a problem, even if it’s a street light out, you don’t tell them to call City Hall. You call City Hall.” [xi]

And of the Crows’ corollary to Tipp’s: thinking globally and acting locally can require holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.

Light rail is good, except when it is built where the people who approve of it live.



[i] Alex Greenwich, “Petition calling for a sustainable south east light rail route,” nd @ recovered on March 23

[ii] Alex Greenwich, “Greenwich welcomes Sydney Light Rail Plan,” December 13 @ recovered on March 23

[iii] Premier of NSW, Carr government unveils the future of Sydney transport,” November 23 1998 @ recovered on March 23

[iv] Jacob Saulwick, “Now premier has to get on and build it,” Sydney Morning Herald, December 13 2012

[v] Transport for NSW, “CBD and south east light rail,” March 19 @ recovered on March 23

[vi] Centennial Parklands, “Parking at Moore Park,” July 23 2012 @ recovered on March 23

[vii] Gary Wotherspoon, “Trams,” Dictionary of Sydney, 2008 @  recovered on March 23

[viii] Hon Shaoquett Moselmane, Questions without notice: traffic congestion, Legislative Council Hansard, November 21 2012 @ recovered on March 23

[ix] Jacob Saulwick, “Light rail tunnel for Surry Hills proposed,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 25 2012

[xi] Tip O’Neill, All politics is local and other rules of the game, (1994) xvi