Aslan Shand, acting editor
Cars, cars, everywhere, and nowhere to escape.
How Byron Shire approaches the issue of transport in, around, and into the Shire is no longer just a question for Byron Bay.
The simply ridiculous situation that has prevailed for more than 20 years in accessing Byron Bay is now having a serious impact on the rest of the Shire. The once-far-quieter towns of Brunswick Heads, Bangalow, and Mullumbimby are feeling the increasing ripples out of the Bay, not only in higher property and rental markets but also in the increased volume of traffic and consequent parking issues.
In England and throughout Europe, where towns often have narrow streets, lack parking, and have significant heritage values, the key traffic solution has been Park and Ride. Cities like Cambridge in the UK have reserved town centres for pedestrians and cyclists – with exemptions for taxis, buses, and a select few local vehicles. Even large retailers are prepared to accept that the benefits of limiting the times they can have deliveries etc outweigh the challenges.
So if a town like Cambridge, and numerous other cities around the UK and Europe, can have Park and Ride at the key entrance points to the city or town from the highway, why is it such a challenge for an apparently green shire like Byron?
The implementation of the Byron transport and bus hub is highlighting the fact that a whole new approach to how the Shire engages with visitors’ needs to be considered. While access is a key element, how that is managed is even more important.
Many would consider ideal a transport hub four kilometres from Byron Bay, the Cavanbah Centre, providing mini-bus transport, a cycle and walking path into town and a walking track to the solar train. Yet the state authority Transport For NSW sees this distance as a reason not to have the transport hub at this location.
For comparison, two key Park and Rides in Cambridge are around three and six kilometres from the town. They provide regular and reliable bus services to people visiting the town for both work and shopping.
Controlling the number of visitors and changing the way they access and interact with our towns and the broader Shire will be key to ensuring that our towns retain their individuality and unique flavour. It is these elements that make them a place people will want to come to in the future as well as places we want to live.
Being driven into accepting a transport hub in Byron Bay that doesn’t reflect the local area and not thinking ahead for the other local towns will mean that we end up overridden in the look, culture, and feel of the places we call home.
Dynamically managing this space for tourists and locals alike needs to take into account innovative ways to take cars out of our towns, slow down our visitors, and enhance the important elements of the region. This needs to involve park and rides, creating pedestrian areas in some of our towns, charging visitors a damn fortune to park in our towns if they don’t want to use our park and rides, and limiting access to ecologically fragile areas and ecosystems.
How we do this fairly and with equity for all is the real test of Byron Shire.