In this term, Council has adopted a revised Bike Plan and first-ever Pedestrian Access and Mobility Plan (PAMP). Masterplans are prioritising people over cars in town and village centres. These changes will help improve amenity, reduce demand for parking and encourage sustainable transport choices, but will they be enough to ensure that our communities are not overwhelmed by an inevitable growth in traffic volumes?
Under business-as-usual conditions, traffic growth is inevitable. Our biggest challenge is most traffic originates from outside the Shire, particularly in the coastal corridor north to the border. Two features of our local and regional transport networks highlight the difficulty in meeting the challenge.
Firstly, within the corridor there is no alternative infrastructure to the Pacific Motorway and poor public transport. Car dependence will continue to be the result.
Secondly, there is an over reliance on the motorway as the sole connector for all regional and local movement between north and south, hinterland and coast. This concentrates traffic at limited intersections. At the Ewingsdale interchange, the problem is compounded as it also intersects with our east- west corridor to Lismore, and is an important jobs and services connector in the daily lives of residents.
Expensive ‘fixes’ of motorway infrastructure, such as the $78million proposal to shift cars off the M1 onto elevated ramps and local roads, entrench rather than reduce car dependence and provide no alternatives to car travel. This approach is temporary at best with ever-larger sums of money required for solutions that perpetuate dependence. Business as usual also draws scarce funds away from local roads and other community priorities. Council’s current infrastructure backlog stands at $78million for roads and community facilities, in large part owing to the levels of visitation.
A sustainable long-term strategy is to diversify transport links in the coastal corridor. We need Council and community leadership to articulate a local and regional need to be planning for a rail connection to Queensland, noting that over the border, the M1 and local road networks are already supported by a rail link. More immediately we need strong advocacy and action for a substantial improvement in public transport connectivity.
Activating the rail corridor locally for multi-use is an opportunity to expand public transport and active movement that bypasses the M1 and diversifies movement choices in the coastal corridor. With collective action from Council and the business community this ‘Way to the Bay’ can be developed into an experience that visitors choose. Importantly this means a broader range of transport needs can be met, as well as making a real difference to ensuring our town centres remain safe, accessible and pleasant places to visit.
‘Moving Byron’ is a vision for a sustainable transport vision from our community’s perspective that anticipates long-term challenges to guide transport investment choices that we make today. By comparison to business as usual, the Multi-use Rail Corridor Study undertaken by Council estimated that the Mullumbimby to Byron Bay section could be reinstated for lightweight shuttles, walking and cycling for $12.3million (page 28, Final Report). This would be a first step circuit breaker investment that brings many near-term benefits for the community, as well as tackling induced car dependence.
The Moving Byron strategy contains actions on public transport development, adapting planning controls that support sustainable movement choices in future development and safe access for all road users among a range of issues important to the community. Together these actions support Council’s ability to undertake its most important function; financially sustainable maintenance of the road network.
The draft Strategy (Report 13.22) has been adopted by Council and will shortly go on exhibition. It can be viewed at https://byron.infocouncil.biz/Open/2021/11/OC_25112021_AGN_1273_WEB.htm.
Cr Basil Cameron, is Chair of Council’s Transport and Infrastructure Advisory Committee (TIAC).