A Sewer for Buses
The Bondi Junction Bus Interchange is a failed piece of public transport infrastructure. This is shocking on its own, but catastrophic in the context of it being the busiest district centre bus interchange in Australia and a welcoming point for many tourists to our glorious Eastern Beaches.
It has failed on a number of counts. It is unsafe for customers and hazardous for drivers entering and exiting via Grosvenor Street at numerous times of the day, and the proliferation of warning signs and cracked pavement are testament if you have never used it; the escalator and lift capacities are stretched at peak times; the air-conditioned waiting spaces are unattractive and not up to standard, being more akin to a gaol waiting room than an airport terminal gate lounge as they should be; the bus halls are unsightly, littered with rubbish bins, crates and service infrastructure; and diesel exhausts and leaks stain the concrete and air.
But it gets worse. The buses accessing this neanderthal facility are funneled as a sewer through the pedestrian, retail and commercial centre of Bondi Junction down Bronte road, Oxford Street and Grosvenor Street, making them unsightly and unsafe. The centre’s five main intersections are already over-congested with cars and buses. Pedestrians, as a priority, are ranked third.
Many people choose to use the interchange differently to how it was designed. Instead of using the ramp from the pedestrian mall and Tiffany Plaza many use Grosvenor Street and its dangerous bus crossings. They then have to battle across a service lane, up stairs and along a narrow sloping footpath to the lights opposite Westfield.
How did it get so bad? The Ministry of Transport in the 1990s, still caught in the ‘concrete shed’ school of bus interchange architecture, simply decked over the existing interchange without much thought about location, capacity or the impact on Bondi Junction. They were more interested in capturing land value income from the air rights development that Meriton successfully executed.
What suffered was proper interchange design and amenity. The bus projections and passenger volume predictions would not have anticipated the chaos. A 2007 traffic report showed 1,700 buses per day on Grosvenor Street at the interchange, 1,000 buses per day on Oxford Street by Westfield, and 700 buses per day on Bronte Road outside the Tea Gardens Hotel
So, what can be done to rescue the interchange and Bondi Junction? Only drastic surgery will alleviate the situation. The patient is very sick; there is so little space to move her around. Some have suggested a pedestrian tunnel from the interchange to Westfield with a major refurbishment of the interchange. This is not difficult and it would help remove some of the pedestrian dangers and improve amenity, but it is a sub-optimal solution as there would still be buses trundling through the centre. Other ideas, including previous NSW Government plans, have sensibly suggested extending the rail line to Bondi Beach or to Randwick and La Perouse, which would spread the transport options and ease the bus load on the interchange. Unfortunately, this not on the horizon, and the light rail fiasco has not helped this idea.
However, a perfectly sound solution does exist, proposed by some local transport engineers, planners and architects. Under this plan a new interchange would be built in the airspace above Grafton Street between Syd Einfeld Drive and the Meriton and Westfield buildings, adjacent to the existing one but lifted into the light adjacent to the arterial road system. Primary bus access would be off Syd Einfeld Drive via lights/ramps with pedestrian access from Tiffany Plaza and the mall – the way it always should have been. This new interchange would have an ideal north-facing aspect, with views to the CBD, harbour and leafy district. It would be a pleasant place for people to wait. It could be designed, built and partly financed by Meriton and Westfield, who would gain advantage from the new design. Westfield have delivered such infrastructure before at Shepherds Bush in West London where it built a rail station and bus interchange for around $500 million.
Smart uses would emerge for the existing bus halls and the streets of Bondi Junction would be reclaimed for safe and pleasant human movement, making it the vibrant day and night-time centre it always should have been.