Proposed bike paths

9 August 2011 – Linking Sydney from north to south by cycle and pedestrian bridges would be a great enhancement for connectivity,  argues Richard Dinham.

The Bridges of Rome, Paris and London are an integral part of those cities.  Venice made an art of them, Buda and Pest lived apart until joined centuries later by the bridge that made the city of Budapest.  For Sydney, it was just short of one and a half centuries from European settlement, before the north and south shores came together and that  bridge is now both a landmark, a symbol of the city and an enhancement of the cityscape.

Sydney harbour is deep and robust, it swells quietly, unlike the rush of the Bosphorous separating Europe based Istanbul to its future on the Asian shore. Our harbour can be wide, but its shores are enticingly close, unlike those of San Francisco when it takes a good day to appreciate the opposite county.

The harbour of Sydney is big enough to support a pattern of islands, punctuating the body of water, making special spaces.  But now these places are generally not well used.

These and the shoreline have carried the weight of the harbour economy for 200 years, and now industrial obsolescence has changed their role in city life to places for recreation and culture and the potential for a stronger economy to support that.

Waterborne accessibility was part of maritime industry, now we have a disconnected city and inaccessible places. Ridges of land reach enticingly out from north and south, opportunities for only the local communities. The harbour shore is mostly closed to outsiders.

Linking north and south, stepping onto the islands and then to the further shore, opens paths for pedestrians and bicycles to spread the experience of harbour and for greater connectivity for communities.

A special opportunity presents for a new inner urban ring, linking Lane Cove to Northwood to Hunters Hill, under to Cockatoo, over to Balmain and from there over to Barrangaroo, to the city and the Harbour  Bridge and back across to the north shore,  thus achieving a more accessible harbour and a larger community connected, not revolving around a distant, little seen body of water which is the historic heart of Sydney.

To bring such linkages together, the levels work, the roads link well, the geo and technical issues are feasible, warranted by similar recent projects in Brisbane, Singapore and London as well as special projects such as the Green Bridge in London and the High Line Park in New York.

In any place, a high level of community cooperation is needed. It requires big thinking people to frame the vision, interlinked governance, a coordinated strategy and a robust project plan for implementation.

It begs the question, could the communities around our western harbour respond with boldness to allow this to happen?

A first stage of such a plan, activating Cockatoo Island with a pedestrian and cycling connection to Balmain, would be a great start to a future better connected city.

Richard Dinham is an architect and urban designer, with a history of implementation of major projects. He is the convenor of the urban reform project at The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at Sydney University.