George Street, one of Australia’s longest and oldest city streets, has always been a bit tricky to navigate. Before jackhammers started tearing up the road in late 2015, hundreds of buses used to whiz down it every day, every now and then killing cyclists or pedestrians.
So the street’s transformation into a pedestrian boulevard with a train running down the middle, has been heralded by some as a kind of utopia.
“The CBD and south east light rail is turning George Street from a sewer for buses and cars and a business-killer unpleasant for pedestrians into a walkable boulevard worthy of a global city,” says Tim Williams, chief executive of the Committee for Sydney. “The light rail will be a game-changer for the CBD.”
Williams says the $2.1 billion light rail project will improve opportunities for business and tourism, and that retailers who are currently stressed about losing money as people avoid the street will eventually benefit from “increased takings”.
But after two years of roads being fenced off and drills burrowing into concrete, most businesses and shops along the 12-kilometre long light rail thoroughfare are tired of arguments that all the pain will be worth it.
“All we wanted from the beginning was for them to be realistic about how we were going to be affected,” says Angela Vithoulkas, co-owner of the Vivo Cafe on the corner of George and King streets and an independent councillor for the City of Sydney.
“If you are going to do billions of dollars worth of infrastructure anywhere, then behave well. Step up and show everyone that ‘this is how we do it. We know your life is going to be an absolute misery for three years, here’s what we are going to do to alleviate that misery.'”