Sydney Cycle Super-Highway

Daniel Morrison
24 min readJan 14, 2024

Executive Summary

This proposal lays out a plan that connects the cycleways of Sydney, to create a cohesive network of fully separated paths, which link the whole of the basin, in complete comfort and safety.

It takes a top-down, inter-council approach, that maximises use of existing resources, and closes the gaps in the current map, by following the natural transport corridors of train-lines, motorways, and waterways.

This formula minimises cost and disruption to motorists by avoiding intersections wherever possible. And it produces a completely contiguous “superhighway” network, that allows anyone, to get from anywhere, to anywhere, any time, with anything, without having to even cross a road, let alone share space with cars. Thus removing one of the biggest barriers to wide-scale adoption of Active Transport, and transforming it into a genuinely viable primary mode of moving across Greater Sydney.

Benefits of this include but are not limited to improved outcomes in: energy security, cost of living, public health, mental health, community safety, local economic activity, traffic and tolls, carbon, noise and particulate pollution, and it stands to deliver over $10 billion in savings per year for families and government.

All for a cost of less than 1% of the NSW Transport Infrastructure Budget.

Proposal

Our current transport system is not serving us well. It’s expensive, it’s dangerous, it grinds to a halt at the slightest misstep, it’s ugly, it’s wholly dependent on the whims of a precarious global petroleum market, and it’s robbing our communities of space for humans.

The good news is that we can fix pretty much all of that, pretty much overnight, for pretty much nothing, while taking virtually no space away from cars - By unveiling the Sydney Cycle Super-Highway:

It uses the simple formula of following the the train-lines, motorways, and waterways as closely as possible, as well as existing bike-paths, to deliver a network that connects the whole of the city, in complete safety and comfort, on fully separated Multi-Use Paths, at almost zero disruption to motorists, while requiring as little infrastructure investment and “construction” as possible.

A Cycle Superhighway doesn’t mean miles of gleaming steel and concrete covering the city. It simply means a route you can ride across town with confidence, at a nice cruising pace, without having to stop and start for crossing traffic at intersections, or worry about it running out on you. Like the M7. That standard, everywhere. On the ground, it simply involves a single solid green line on either side of the path to mark the edge, perhaps another coloured line inside of that depending on what that section is following (eg orange for a train-line, yellow for a motorway, blue for a waterway), and traditional white dashes down the middle. So it’s announcing to everyone on the outside that this is the superhighway, while giving everyone on the inside foolproof directions.

The key is that because these routes are existing transport corridors, not only do they effortlessly connect communities, they tend to be fully protected on at least one side, thus minimising intersections, thus minimising cost and disruption. And they’re often beautiful.

Many people would love to get around on bikes more, but are held back because there aren’t enough good, solid, continuous routes to get them where they need to go without having to share space with cars. Which is not something we can reasonably expect a parent with two kids to want to do. So, most of the time, people feel forced to get in their cars.

The Superhighway gives people, of all ages and abilities, the confidence that they can get wherever they need to go, carrying whatever they need to transport, without coming into touching-distance of cars and trucks. And that is the standard we need to set if cycling is to become a genuinely viable mode of transport for a majority of the public.

About 50% of the network is pre-existing fully separated bike-path (eg Cooks River, Prospect Creek, Carlingford Light-Rail Line, the M7, parts of the M4, etc). Obviously it makes sense to start with what we’ve got and go from there. So that’s half done already. Great start for a project.

About half of what’s left is already a “cycle-route” that just needs proper allocation and designation (eg the north side of Mosman).

Leaving less than about a quarter that would actually need to be “built”.

By finishing off that last 25%, to join the existing routes, we effectively quadruple our efforts, by unlocking the whole thing.

No digging long tunnels, no ripping up roads, or laying tracks, or giant hunks of metal flying around the place. Just the most basic and ancient form of infrastructure: A few meters of flat ground. Which will continue to work, regardless of whatever happens. Be it global economic collapse, nuclear winter, climate catastrophe or zombie apocalypse. Much like the Snowy Hydro Scheme, this is energy security, and arguably a matter of National Defence. The Cycle Superhighway will remain fully operational, forevermore, satisfying a significant chunk of our transport needs, requiring no further inputs other than the few hundred watts we have lying latent in our legs.

Sydney already has the bones of a world-class cycle network. It just needs to be connected.

Key Segments

The M7 and Parramatta River are a great example.

For 41 uninterrupted kilometers, the M7 proudly takes people all the way up the western side of Sydney, from Prestons to Bella Vista, on a completely safe and comfortable separated path, with no stopping for intersections. And for 19 uninterrupted kilometers, the Parramatta River Cycleway proudly takes people from Old Government House to Kissing Point, along some wonderful waterfront, winding its way downstream on a completely safe and separated path, with no stopping for intersections.

But for about 2000 meters in the middle, between Abbott Road and Toongabbie Creek, this mighty trail abandons us. People are forced to immediately cross nineteen lanes of traffic in front of massive semi-trailers, then make about another 5–6 road crossings over the next kilometer or so, some without traffic lights, before having to share the road with cars down the backstreets of Constitution Hill, make a couple of other major crossings in front of a few more massive trucks, then slug their way through Westmead up Darcy rd with another seven traffic crossings, to finally make it to the safe-zone of the Park and on to the River.

All the while, the T-Way soars safe and sound above it all, used by about one mostly empty bus every few minutes (more in peak hour).

The Gap

If we want to build another separated bike-path alongside some or all of the T-Way there, then great (and there are plenty of parts along that stretch where that is a relatively easy option, or indeed already in place), but in the meantime, just ask the busses to slow down for a few seconds, put a single green lane on either side of the 300-meter road-bridge, and we can open up the whole 60 km path, tomorrow, for free. Connect the entire route all the way from Prestons to Kissing Point. You make it possible for everyone who lives west of Toongabbie to get into town on a bike. Well, it’s already possible, but you make it safe, easy, and pleasant. With literally no infrastructure investment. Pound for pound, that’s a pretty good deal.

Doable

Once we get down to Toongabbie, the next challenge is to navigate the 3 km to get to the Parramatta River Path. So we come to one of the few parts of this plan that we do need to “build” – 800 meters of gorgeous riverside track, through current grasslands in front of Alice Watkins Park, plus a small bridge across the creek (near the end of Harris rd), under Briens rd, to connect to the lovely Redbank Track. That then takes us to a hidden path behind the Children’s Hospital, around to Wisteria Gardens, which leads right into Parramatta Park, past the Stadium, and on to the Parramatta River Path, thereby creating an entirely seamless route that finally links the Eastern and Western halves of the city, along a gorgeous green corridor in an otherwise bleak industrial landscape, at absolutely no trouble to anyone.

The Connection — Following Toongabbie Creek, and Redbank Track

Alternatively, we can happily use the quiet backstreets of Dragonfly rd, Redbank rd, Labyrinth way, Paringa ave, and Gardens way while this riverfront section is being built (see above middle). And maybe that will even be good enough such that we don’t need to worry about making the bush-path at all. It would be a lovely ride, but if we can avoid taking more trees down, then that might be best. Either way, it’s good to have options.

The problem that’s left is that once you get to Kissing Point, geography makes riding the rest of the way into the city basically impossible. And so, we jump on a boat. Sometimes the best bike-path is a ferry.

Bike-Ferry

In a harbour city like Sydney, boats are and always have been an essential part of any transport network, and that includes the Cycle Superhighway. We don’t want to add extra stress to the existing ferry network, especially if we see the uptick in numbers that we’re hoping for. Plus cyclists can more easily get to places that pedestrians can’t, so the existing ferry routes & stops aren’t necessarily based around them and their movement capabilities. By providing a ferry network to complement the superhighway, we take cyclists off the existing network, and maximise the potential of the bikes.

12 of these are existing ferry wharves: Manly, Rose Bay, Taronga, Jeffery st, Balmain East, Greenwich, Huntley’s Point, Chiswick, Cabarita, Meadowbank, Longueville, and Newington. These are selected to service the various “peninsulas” and the areas they represent as efficiently as possible.

(Note — it doesn’t go all the way to Parramatta, because that far upstream boats have to go significantly slower than cycling speed, if permitted by the tides at all, so it’s best for the bike ferry to just go to and from Meadowbank and ride the rest of the way. Which also means we can use the Riverclass ferries, without needing to worry about clearing the bridges past Rydalmere.)

Already Built. Photo credit: Every Sydney Station

Two are existing wharves that aren’t used for ferries at the moment: Man O’War Steps and the Port Authority. These are brought off the bench because they work particularly well with wheels. The eastern side of the Opera House and the northern tip of Barangaroo might not be the most convenient for pedestrians, but if you’re on a bike, then it’s actually much quicker and easier and nicer to jump on and off there, rather than having to make the boat squeeze all the way down through the traffic and impose on others to find a spot Circular Quay, or Pyrmont Bay. This placement allows the bike-ferry to practically skip up the harbour, shaving substantial time off the round-trip.

Riverclass Ferry with its fabulous top deck, Man O’War Steps wharf looking for a boat or three

And four are proposed: up Middle Harbour, stopping at the Spit, Northbridge, and Roseville, and up Lane Cove River to stop at the old and marvellous Fairyland Pleasure Grounds. All perfectly navigable waterways, yet which leave their residents feeling completely isolated from the city by the otherwise unavoidable constraints of topography.

(There’s even potential for a new route to go up Georges River, from the Foreshore Rd Boat Ramp in Botany, to Sans Souci Park, Tom Uglys Bridge, Como Pleasure Grounds, Henry Lawson Drive on Salt Pan Creek, Revesby Beach, and possibly all the way up to Deepwater Park, and Shearer Park Wharf, but perhaps we we can save that for phase two.)

A 20 minute ride, a 30 minute cruise, and another 20 minute ride, can get you from most places to most places.

Among other things, this would revolutionise access to Olympic Park. Instead of the punishing ordeal it currently is, people can take a ferry to the beautiful Newington Armory, and glide all the way along the gorgeous path to their gate at the stadium. The journey becomes a destination itself. And the people who don’t want to ride (or get a quarter of their steps in) will have lot less traffic to deal with, and plenty more parking spaces to choose from.

At the end of the event, ferries can be lined up waiting to take people directly to Rose Bay, or Mosman, or Balmain, Lane Cove, or Kirribilli. Instead of everyone having to make every stop, everyone only does one. Which makes a massive difference to overall efficiency.

The event precinct on the river, proposed wharf and route through Newington Armoury, said route
Approaching the stadium from the north

Zero-Cost Decisions

There’s another example of where we don’t actually need to build anything — by simply not closing the gate to the Newington Armoury River Walk at 5 pm, we instantly create an Active Transport access route from the north and northwest, giving anyone on the Parramatta River / M7 path a thoroughly enjoyable uninterrupted ride all the way there and back.

Not closing the gate” at Nurragingy Reserve would also open up a potential 25 - 40 km of precious nature-path, following Eastern Creek through the Western Sydney Parklands (see below).

These absolutely sensational routes would make a significant difference to Transport in Sydney, and require literally zero capital investment — they are simply are a matter of making different decisions.

Peaceful and long-running parallel alternative to the massive M7 through the parklands, blocked

Tricky-Cost Decisions

Some parts present unique geographic challenges. The river crossing at Roseville Chase, for example. Middle Harbour imposes a formidable wall, running all the way from the Spit Bridge to Mona Vale Road, separating the North Shore from the Northern Beaches, and at the moment Roseville Bridge is the only way across.

Following Warringah Rd, while technically possible, is always going to be an unappealing grind. So to connect these two regions, we can either build ~5 km of track through the bush via the Davidson Boat Ramp and Magazine Track, or, a 1.2 km bridge, from the eastern finger-tip of Castle Cove, to the top of the Tiber Getters Track at Seaforth Oval. In the meantime, of course, the Warringah Rd route can simply have an overnight upgrade to Super-highway Status.

Left: The Wall, and its only current crossing. Middle: Blue bridge and/or Brown track and/or Red road. Right: The Setting

This is an example of one of the parts that need to be “built”. The ground route is a fair bit of work. It’s not virgin bush, there is a track there already, but it would need to be made suitable for bikes. It would, sadly, mean there is one less rugged bushwalk. But it will literally take the foot off the pedal of our petrol consumption, such that other bush may be preserved. It would of course still be a gorgeous walking-track, just more accessible. And depending on how high you raise the track-platform, we can still have a ground-walk too.

Eyeballing it, my guess is it would be a lot easier, cheaper, quicker, and less impactful on the environment, to just zip across with a bridge along the blue line there. Especially with the potential for a truly stunning piece of architecture. Plus it would save about 10 km on the trip, and a lot of vertical meters.

Either way, once up the top (at either Frenchs Forrest or the back of Seaforth), it connects to the Wakehurst Parkway, which in turn connects seamlessly to Manly and Narrabeen, finally summiting the yawning chasm that has always split the Northern half of our metropolis, linking the urban centres of Chatswood to Brookvale, and those places to anywhere.

Other rugged bush-trails that might also suffer an upgrade are Darling Mills Creek, and the upper reaches of the Lane Cove River Valley. (At least Lane Cove River already has the beautiful Browns Waterhole Track, to pierce the formidable wall it presents between Ryde and Hornsby.)

While these parts may be at the other end of the spectrum of the work/reward ratio to something like closing the gap between Parramatta and the M7, they are still important components of a network that seeks to genuinely connect the whole basin.

Harbour Bridge Connection

The most significant section that needs to be built is the access to the north side of the Harbour Bridge. Again, this presents certain unavoidable constraints. Navigating the streets of North Sydney without taking away precious space from cars is always going to be impossible. And so the solution for this is somewhat ambitious, but fairly simple, and relatively painless — a skyway from the Ridge St lookout to the top of the bridge steps. Slice through the abundant air that floats between the Warringah Freeway and the front of North Sydney, gracefully hop over the train-line, before connecting with the path on the western side of the bridge.

Bottom left: The view from Ridge st

Obviously there is a lot of work happening on the ground in this part already, and I pray it’s not too late to consider getting this in too. I know there is a plan for a ramp coming off the bridge, but if it doesn’t have a good connection to the north from there, then we’re going to a lot of trouble and spending a lot of money to leave the problem half unsolved.

Since this runs high above everything, it should be largely compatible with any other plans. While it is easily the most audacious part of the proposal, from an engineering standpoint it remains relatively straightforward, and has in fact already been done a bit further up the hill, on the north side of Falcon st (pictured above, bottom right). We only need about 1500 meters worth. Again, there is the potential for a world-class piece of architecture.

Welcome to Sydney

We have the detail for every inch of the rest of the map, and while I’d be delighted to explain any of it to anyone, we can’t go into all of it here of course. But one more that might be worth mentioning is the potential route from the Airport to the Opera House.

It’s 85% parks, wetlands, and golf courses. We just need 1500 meters of raised track above the marshes of the Mill Stream, from the edge of the Airport to the north side of Wentworth Avenue, then it’s basically 5 km of golf-courses. We don’t need to cut through them or anything, we just need the edge please. Add “the edge of golf-courses” to the formula. To bring this whole magnificent path to life.

At the northern end of Moore Park there is the open question of how best to negotiate the ~12 hundred meters to Hyde Park (suggested as Arthur/Devonshire St, Bourke St, and Oxford St at the moment), but once you’re there, it’s green-time once again, all the way down through Hyde Park, the Domain and the Botanic Gardens and out on to the harbour beside the Opera House at Man o’ War Steps. An absolutely champagne route, from Mascot to the Quay, completely out of everyone’s way. For the cost of a few bridges, and less than 2 km of raised track.

(example of an existing raised pathway above a wetland in Randwick)

This path alone would make headlines around the world. Fly to Sydney, hire a bike at the airport that can easily and comfortably take your kids and luggage (or at the very least, a solo domestic traveller’s carry-on), and enjoy a quick and picturesque ride all the way to the harbour to hop on a ferry to your final destination. Away from all the cars and chaos, without crossing so much as a single road.

Design Philosophy

Beyond the specifics of all the routes, the key concept here is to introduce the idea of a Super-Highway. Something which when people see, they know it connects them to everywhere. From La Perouse to Barrenjoey, Windsor to Woollarah, Narellen to Narrabeen, and everywhere in between.

Sydney is a circle centred in Olympic park, with a radius of only 25 km. (35 if we include Penrith / Windsor / Palm Beach / Campbelltown). And most trips take place within less than a quarter of that. It’s all a do-able distance. This network gives people the confidence that they can safely and comfortably get wherever they need to go on a bike. But obviously, the use-case isn’t for people to ride the full 70 km between Cromer and Camden. It’s to let them ride the dozen or so ~5 km stretches between them of which it is comprised. What is a Superhighway, if not a series of smaller paths persisting.

Not That Far

Cycle infrastructure in Sydney doesn’t stop with this map of course. These green lines just form the backbone, from which the rest of the network spreads out. Each community can work out their best ways of connecting to it, and the Superhighway is what connects them all. This avoids wasting resources on redundancies by telling us the most impactful sections we need to upgrade, and the most critical gaps we need to close, making these few small investments far greater than the sum of their parts. By building just a few km of path in the right places, to make those connections and join those routes, we effectively give ourselves these hundreds of km of path, because it suddenly becomes a contiguous network. This will help raise cycling numbers to a tipping-point where we can see noticeably less cars on the road, thereby strengthening the case for other proposed cycleways.

Technological Revolution

We haven’t mentioned E-Bikes yet, because all this is perfectly good and worth doing without them. But they are what turn it into a truly transformative project. With this network, they allow people to genuinely replace cars for a lot of their trips, freeing us from the shackles of lugging around a big heavy engine.

Movement takes energy. That’s a law of the universe. We can get that energy by mining for fossil fuels, shipping them around the world, trying not to spill them or set them fire, refining them, shipping them back around the world, trucking petrol to a petrol station, paying hundreds of dollars every week to fill up a tank, before blowing it up in a series of carefully controlled explosions that make some carefully arranged pistons have a stroke, which moves a crank, which turns an axel, which spins a wheel to make us go forward.

Or, we can move our legs up and down a bit. Our feet move pedals, which spin a cog, which moves a chain, which spins another cog, which is what spins the wheel. Depending on the relative sizes of the cogs we choose to put the chain on, we can translate more or less movement of the pedal into more or less revolutions of the wheel, accounting for momentum and gravity with gears, thus maximising the conversion efficiency of the energy in the legs into forward motion.

Most of the time, that’s all you need. But in some cases, you might need a bit of a boost. And this is where the brilliance of Pedal-Assist E-Bikes comes in. Because they use the power of the pedalling as a base, and amplify it as necessary. They are poised with the potential to genuinely revolutionise human locomotion, we just need to roll out the routes and give them somewhere to go.

Tens of millions of legs, with a combined tens of trillions of kilojoules, are currently going unused, with disastrous health consequences, while we instead rely on that ridiculously cumbersome hydrocarbon distribution network to get anywhere.

This colony has existed for over 200 years, and one of its founding aims was to be self-sufficient. If Governor Phillip and Watkin Tench could see our utter dependence on these energy imports, the gross inefficiency, our complete neglect of the resource literally under our noses, and the impact all that was having on public health and the shape of the urban landscape in the settlement, surely they’d cry in horror.

With this network, anyone can take anything anywhere, without having to burn any fossil fuels. Parents can do the school run, and pick up some groceries on the way home, with no worries at all. And everyone will have a far better time for it.

E-Bikes can also be used for urban cargo deliveries, taking a lot of vans and even small trucks off the road, decarbonising a significant portion of our transport sector, and making our streets a lot quieter and safer.

The benefits of all this are well understood. The popular will is definitely strong, with broadly unanimous bi-partisan support at all levels.

Process

New South Wales appears to recognise the need for such a network, that creates corridors to connect the greater city. Where those routes actually go seems to still be an open question, in search of a solution, that previous governments have failed to find.

The current process for cycleway construction seems to be based on the State Government asking the Local Councils and Community Groups to propose routes in their specific area, and then allocating funding accordingly. Each mayor and councillor is focused on their own individual LGA, each state and federal MP is focused on their own individual electorate, and Transport for NSW is focused on delivering the projects that this process produces.

This structure is never going to deliver the contiguous basin-wide network that we need to make cycling a viable reality. We don’t have a macro-level plan to aim for. Because the process is broken. There doesn’t appear to be anyone who’s job it is to actually design the whole map, so we’re literally flying rudderless.

This Superhighway network, based on the formula of following the trainlines, motorways, waterways, and the edges of golf courses, gives us that macro-level plan. It is the best answer to the question of where those routes go at this point. By starting with what we already have, zooming out to look at the big picture and how best to connect it all, these natural corridors present themselves. And what emerges is this network, with maximum coverage, which we can have for minimum investment.

The focus here is obviously the map of the route itself. But if I had to speculate on how best to deliver it, my guess would be for Transport for NSW to establish something like a Sydney Cycle Superhighway Delivery Authority, with enthusiastic endorsement from the Transport Minister and the Premier.

If they say go, then with the right community and stakeholder engagement we can open all the right gates and get most of this thing done in about a year, no doubt winning a lot of votes in the process. And if they don’t say go, it’s always going to be an up-hill slog through labyrinthine bureaucracy. With the top-down sign-off, everything falls into place, and we could have a genuine state-building project on our hands.

Cost

The exact price-tag of all this is difficult for a mere citizen to estimate. But by capitalising on existing infrastructure, and using natural corridors to connect it, we avoid having to do a lot of work at all. It’s already half-built, waiting to be called upon. It’s mostly just a matter of making different decisions about designation, and then announcing it. Telling people:

“This humble path, which has been quietly running along the creek behind your neighbourhood the whole time, is now actually part of a completely contiguous superhighway network, that safely and comfortably connects you to pretty much everywhere”.

All that’s left to actually build is a few dozen miles of flat ground in vacant space (mostly along the M4 and the M5), and a few dozen miles of flat ground around roads (mostly that hug the rail line), both of which by definition have minimal intersections. In the few instances that the route does have to cross a road, then depending on the circumstance we either build a lightweight pedestrian-bridge, a tunnel, or simply give the cycleway priority on the ground. Perhaps a few dozen of each.

If we had to take a stab at some numbers, let’s say about $50 million for the Harbour Bridge skyway connection, and $50 million for the rest. Add another half again, and that’s $150 million. Then let’s double it and add some more, and call it $500 million, and we’re still at less than 1% of the $72 billion NSW transport infrastructure budget.

The cost of not doing this must of course also be considered. Sydneysiders spend about $10 — 20,000 per year on car ownership and operation, for a combined total of about $20 billion. That’s 40 times the cost of this plan, each year.

Conclusion

Historically, cycling has not really been considered a serious mode of transport for the masses, especially in Sydney. Because, to be fair, it was often a tough ask, for people not of above-average fitness and risk-aversion.

Accordingly, it has not been afforded due respect in planning decisions, leaving us with the disjointed and often outright dangerous network we have today. Thus we have a chicken-and-egg situation, where because people don’t ride, we don’t build paths, so people don’t ride, so we don’t build paths.

E-Bikes make it a whole new ball-game, and we are yet to fully capitalise on that. The structure of our decision-making process does not currently reflect proper appreciation for the potential they have to offer.

We must give Multi-Use Paths the planning respect they deserve, with a top-down, basin-wide approach to map-design. To allow anyone, to get from anywhere, to anywhere, any time, with anything, or 90% thereof.

This network would save families billions of dollars per year in petrol alone — let alone maintenance, tolls, parking, registration, and insurance.

It would allow our next generation of sporting heroes and musical icons to get to practice. It would allow people to ride to work, or the shops, to gigs, cafes, or the playground. It provides a healthy and pleasurable way to get to events at Homebush for crying out loud. It can re-energise the local economy, while drastically reducing carbon emissions. With, it must be repeated, almost zero disruption to motorists. In fact less than zero disruption to motorists - it gives them more space on the roads. Everyone wins.

This whole thing. We can have it, if we want. For the cost of a bit of green paint, a skyway, some tunnels and a handful of overpasses.

(maps may take a moment to load at full resolution)

Note — the yellow/red dots you might notice are bike service-stations, situated at major intersections, which have shelter, water, toilets, basic tools and repair facilities, perhaps even some chin-up bars and/or a cheeky coffee.

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