The Alexandra Canal Cycleway (Photo Alec Smart)

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BY ALEC SMART

The NSW Government plans to close a popular cycling and walking path alongside the Alexandra Canal on the northern perimeter of Sydney Airport.

The cycleway, between Tempe Basin and Coward Street, Mascot, will be diverted by the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) through Tempe in an as yet undecided route to make way for the Sydney Gateway, a motorway funnelling traffic from the WestConnex toll road to Sydney Airport. Qantas Drive, which runs parallel to the path, will be widened to make way for the Sydney Gateway.

Insisting it will significantly improve vehicle journey times, the RMS describe the motorway as, “A new alternative route to the domestic and international airport terminals from the Sydney motorway network at St Peters Interchange.

“Sydney Gateway includes a new dedicated flyover from Qantas Drive to the front door of the domestic airport. This route will bypass all traffic lights along major Sydney motorway networks to the domestic terminals. This project will be delivered by Roads and Maritime Services.”

The Alexandra Canal, named after Princess Alexandra who married the British Crown Prince Edward in 1863 (later King Edward VII), is an artificial tidal waterway that filters stormwater into the Cooks River.

Following the course of the historic Shea’s Creek, it is Sydney’s first inbound waterway and one of only two navigable canals constructed in NSW. It flows from Alexandria through the suburbs of St Peters and Mascot, passing Sydney Airport where it meets the Cooks River in Tempe.

Construction ends extension plans

In 1999, the South Sydney Development Corporation announced a $300 million development plan that would feature housing, eateries and boating facilities along the Alexandra Canal. The masterplan, released in 2001, proposed cycle paths the entire length of the 4.5 kilometre-long canal, and in 2003 the first, now-threatened cycle path was constructed along part of the eastern bank.

Fiona Campbell, City of Sydney’s manager of cycling strategy, revealed to the Sydney Morning Herald that the Sydney Gateway construction effectively ends the City’s original plans to extend the cycleway further north along the length of the Alexandra Canal though social hubs and alfresco dining areas.

“The Alexandra Canal master plan that the state government did back in 2001 envisaged the canal as a regional recreation attractor, with tables and chairs, and picnic areas and cafes along the canal as well as a path on both sides,” she told the Herald. “That’s now ruled out if part of the canal is severed, and the community can’t have access anymore.”

“The Alexandra Canal cycleway is a calm, safe and protected shared path cycleway that connects Tempe and the southern suburbs to Sydney’s CBD and eastern suburbs,” asserts BIKEast, a community cycling organisation. “It is a much-loved facility, frequently used by many local Sydney Airport staff and commuters to get to work every day, as well as recreational users of all ages.”

BIKEast recently launched a petition on Change.org which was backed by a coalition of cyclists and community groups including Bicycle NSW, WalkSydney, Bike Marrickville and numerous stakeholders.

The petition, which has so far attracted over 2500 signatures, seeks three provisions from the RMS, including a cycling and walking route along Alexandra Canal linking Sydney Airport’s Domestic Terminal to Tempe Basin, Sydenham Station, Sydney Park, and Bayside Council’s proposed Eastern Cycling Network.

The RMS counters that the Sydney Gateway “will strengthen Sydney’s position as a global city, expanding and improving the existing road and freight rail networks”.

An RMS spokesperson told City Hub, “It has always been intended that any cycleway impacted by Sydney Gateway will be replaced. RMS will ensure the continuity of active transport routes throughout the construction of the Sydney Gateway, and are committed to establishing a final new route to connect existing cycle paths towards the city.

“As the project is in early stages we are currently reviewing multiple options for temporary and permanent cycle ways in consultation with local Councils, bike groups, residents and community groups.”

Yvonne Poon, Secretary and Bayside Coordinator for BIKEast, told City Hub, “Our main ask is that safe provision be provided for people walking and cycling along Alexandra Canal from Tempe Reserve to Coward Street during and after construction. With construction possibly taking 2-3 years, and with the existing congestion around this area, closing this major commuter cycling facility will only add to the traffic along these corridors.

Unsatisfactory levels of planning

“We have observed from existing construction projects around Sydney, such as the CBD and South East Light Rail, that there are unsatisfactory levels of planning to provide safe and adequate provision for people walking and cycling during the construction periods.

“This existing Alexandra Canal route is of particular risk. Due to the surrounding infrastructure, there is a lack of safe, alternative routes for people walking and cycling to connect the Sydney Southern Suburbs/Inner West area and the Sydney Eastern Suburbs.

“There are thousands of local workers, including Sydney Airport employees, with limited transport options, that benefit heavily from this active travel corridor.”

Bob Moore, spokesperson for Bike Leichardt, one of the many groups opposing the cycle path closure, told City Hub, “It is very arrogant of RMS to say they are going to cut this vital cycleway without saying what the alternative route might be. I don’t believe there isn’t some engineering solution to building the road over the cycleway, even if it means a short tunnel for the cycleway”.

Bicycle Network is also joining the call for the NSW State Government to support the needs of people who ride bikes in Sydney by protecting and providing vital active travel links around Sydney Airport.