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Booth Street in Annandale is now a major traffic thoroughfare. Official Council figures show it carries significantly more traffic than Johnstone Street, and on only one lane each way. This is no surprise to residents who regularly cross Booth Street on foot or by car.

The shopping strip is the focus of local concern. Concentrated in a short busy stretch are a pedestrian crossing, roundabout and intersection, a bus stop, loading zones and large delivery trucks, shops and their advertising signs, all mixed with heavy peak-hour traffic.

Many residents say the pedestrian crossing is hazardous, and everyone we spoke to has stories of near-misses with cars speeding through in front of them, often when they are halfway across. Shopkeepers report frequent near-misses. Observers stationed at the cafés by the intersection agree, and your correspondent can vouch for this from personal experience. Just in a few minutes taking photos, I saw three cars not stop for pedestrians.

From observations, consensus on the site-specific causes include:

• attention by drivers on getting through the intersection first, apparently with no recognition of the crossing until too late (if at all), which actually results in accelerating through the roundabout towards, and even across, the pedestrian crossing;
• the zebra crossing markings being poorly visible to westbound drivers until well into the roundabout;
• only about nine metres (around two carlengths) between roundabout and crossing; and
• distractions of other signs, buses pulling out, parking cars and so on.

Add to this the usual bugbears of city driving – impatience, speed, mobile phones, GPS, radios – and it is potentially lethal. Of course, the majority of drivers are safe and courteous at the crossing, but it is a ‘zero-sum’ game – you only have to be hit once.

Discussions with Council staff and councillors found a general recognition and acceptance of the need for improvements. What could Council do? The easier options include:

• A raised crossing with extra markings on the faces of the rise. These are common in the municipality (Norton, Mullins and Styles streets to name but a few locations);
• spaced warning bumps on the road to alert drivers; and
• signs with flashing lights.

Greens Councillor Daniel Kogoy agrees with the above proposals. “Council needs to raise the pedestrian crossing at Nelson Street and provide additional warning signs, advocate for a 40 km/h speed limit and investigate raised thresholds or other traffic calming devices at the Trafalgar and Taylor Street intersections,” he said.

More extensive possibilities meanwhile include redesigning the roundabout to force speed reductions, or relocating the crossing away from the roundabout and even traffic lights – inevitable if traffic trends continue. In 2004, Council wrote, “the roundabout…provides good sightlines to the crossing…relocating would effectively remove the majority of parking…it is not proposed to relocate…” Today, pedestrians would disagree.

Informal Council advice is that it will improve signs and road marking in the interim, while the bureaucratic process considers the options. Any works need the agreement of the RTA and the STA. It may be a long time to wait for those who cross twice or more a day.

Leichhardt Council’s recognition of the traffic issues lead to its 2002 Local Area Traffic Management (LATM) plan for north-east Annandale. This was focused on through traffic on side streets: speeding, ‘rat runs’, provision for turning at intersections and the like. Excellent improvements resulted – the roundabout at Booth and Nelson streets, and traffic calming on Trafalgar Street, for example – but it remains unfinished in 2009.

Council committed in its LATM plan to roundabouts at the Booth Street intersections with Trafalgar and Taylor streets. In 2003, Council undertook to construct these “in temporary materials to start with”, but problems with buses and funding have all but killed this off. Councillor Kogoy suggests some of the $250,000 funding for Council’s recently announced ‘Living Streets’ program could be used for traffic calming purposes.

Many streetwise residents think it is time for Council to complete its LATM and take up additional measures, before the many near-misses produce a serious accident. The good news on that front, at least, is that as the Independent goes to press, we have learnt that some proposals are going from Council’s Traffic Committee to Council’s next full meeting – fingers crossed.

by Ian Cranwell