In an announcement reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 8th May, Mr Stokes announced a further $15 million to encourage local councils to widen walkways, close roads and create new cycle paths under a new state government scheme designed to accommodate greater use of public outdoor space.
Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes said the sheer volume of people exercising outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic had exposed the limitations of historic urban design.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the demand for more public spaces – and easy, safe access to it,” he said.
Under a new $15 million fund, NSW councils can apply for grants of up to $100,000 for immediate pilot projects, such as widening footpaths and creating cycle lanes, and up to $1 million for longer term projects such as extra crossing points and trialing lower speed limits.
“In the short term, such interventions can support people to exercise and undertake essential travel by creating more public space to walk and cycle,” Mr Stokes said.
“Our future precincts, parks and public spaces need to be designed to enable better social distancing, with wider footpaths, segregated cycleways and more linear parks, to meet the increased demand for these precious public spaces.”
Mr Stokes said NSW could look for inspiration in places such as Barcelona in Spain, where roadways were being converted for cycling, or Vancouver in Canada, where footpaths next to supermarkets were being widened.
The announcement follows a call by 100 health and transport experts (with the assistance of the bicycle industry funded We Ride Australia) who have written to state and federal transport ministers asking them to widen footpaths, add bicycle lanes, and slow or ban traffic on some roads to allow safe physical distancing.
In a separate, earlier announcement, three cycleways and a neighbourhood park are among 10 small projects that will begin within months in Sydney’s inner west after the state government doled out $20 million to spruce up areas along the Parramatta Road corridor.
The funding awarded to Inner West Council comes from a $198 million program aimed at revitalising open spaces and pedestrian and bike links along the 20-kilometre stretch.
Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the coronavirus crisis had highlighted the role public spaces and green links played in bolstering wellbeing and local businesses.
“We will continue to support councils to deliver attractive, usable public spaces for their communities to enjoy now and once this crisis is behind us,” he said.
Most of this article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald