Rainbow painted pedestrian crossing

The Minister has written a letter to supporters of the Rainbow Crossing

16 April 2013

Rainbow painted pedestrian crossing on Oxford Street

Thank you for writing to me in relation to the rainbow painted pedestrian crossing on Oxford Street. I appreciate that this has been a difficult issue for many people, and many of you feel upset about the NSW Government's position on this.

The question I have been asked most is why was it necessary to remove the rainbow crossing from Oxford St. I would like to provide you all with the answer to that question.

The Lord Mayor of Sydney asked Roads and Maritime Services (RMS - the State
Government agency responsible for roads in NSW) if the City of Sydney Council could install a rainbow coloured artwork across a pedestrian crossing area at a set of traffic lights in Oxford Street to honour the 35th anniversary of Mardi Gras.

I had reservations about this. A pedestrian crossing is first and foremost a road safety measure to make sure people can get across a road safely. I offered to work with the City of Sydney Council to consider alternative ideas for installing rainbow murals along Oxford Street, and using the pedestrian plaza areas at Taylor Square as a unique and prominent place for the rainbow markings.

However, the Lord Mayor rejected these offers, favouring instead to install the rainbow markings across Oxford St under the agreed understanding that the artwork would be removed at the end of March 2013. The terms of the installation were clear from the start, before a single dollar was spent painting it, and they were understood and agreed to in writing by the City of Sydney Council.

With RMS approval, late at night on 25 February 2013, City of Sydney Council installed the rainbow markings across Oxford Street at Taylor Square. The rainbow crossing was operational throughout the Mardi Gras and for the remainder of March, during which time it was monitored so that any safety issues could be identified if they arose.

The removal of the artwork was, and has always been, a safety issue. The City of Sydney Council's own independent Road Safety Audit on the crossing's operation during March found it to be unsafe.

Section 6.1 of the Audit states that "the behaviour witnessed on the crossing was considered a high risk of pedestrian/vehicle related incidents". Page 19 of the Council commissioned Road Safety Audit recommended the option of "removal of the crossing", warning the risks being taken by pedestrians are "likely to lead to a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle".

As yet, neither the City of Sydney Council nor Lord Mayor Clover Moore have published on their websites the Road Safety Audit report which the Council commissioned so that everyone can review it for themselves.

The facts are that the road safety risks are real and must be acted on.

So why not marshals or Police as an alternative?

Road crashes and unsafe behaviour can occur at any time of day or night, so this is more than just a late night problem (naturally many of the tourists taking photos would do so during the day). It would have only been a matter of time before someone was hit by a vehicle.

So the real question is whether a piece of public art (that people want to be photographed on) should be placed in a location that creates a situation that is so fundamentally dangerous that it requires 24 hour policing, especially when it could easily be placed in a safer location?

I'm sorry, but that doesn't look like a responsible approach to public safety to me.

The NSW Government has a responsibility for the safety of road users and we have to make decisions based on evidence, not popularity. While I recognise the good intentions of the rainbow's supporters, no one in the community would ever want this artwork to contribute to the death or injury of a pedestrian. Many in the community have acknowledged this.

I am disappointed that the Lord Mayor, knowing that removing the crossing would be necessary but unpopular, set aside her responsibilities for public safety and chose to spin this as a political issue, knowing full well that Roads and Maritime Services would be forced to step in and do the removal work if the Council refused to act.

In the circumstances, to address the documented safety risk, I was left with no choice but to order the removal of the rainbow markings by RMS staff, as I had clearly forewarned.

The removal work was done at night, just as the original installation of the rainbow markings by City of Sydney Council was done at night, so as to minimise the impact on traffic and local businesses.

Many of you have also questioned the costs incurred in removing the markings. Firstly, the removal costs were far less than the cost of installing the rainbow markings in the first place.

Secondly, these costs, and that the markings would need to be removed, were also known from the start, recognised and budgeted for by City of Sydney Council, BEFORE the crossing was installed.

The question that should be asked is why did City of Sydney Council allocate $110,000 of ratepayers funds to a temporary artwork, when a permanent artwork without the associated safety risks could have been installed in the same vicinity at a much lower cost?

A number of people have also compared the Oxford St rainbow crossing with the famous pedestrian crossing on Abbey Rd in London, where tourists also take photos while crossing, suggesting this could work safely.

Firstly, the Abbey Rd crossing site in fact does have significant pedestrian safety problems for exactly this reason, which have been widely reported in the UK.

Secondly, Abbey Rd is a narrow two lane street in a largely residential area of London.
Taylor Square in Sydney is th•e intersection of two heavily trafficked six lane arterial roads, and is in the middle of the busy commercial strip of Oxford St.

It is unquestionably a very intense traffic environment with high numbers of buses,
motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians, as well as the usual cars and trucks using the road. It is one of the busiest road access points to the Sydney CBD from the east.

Is it a good idea to place an attractive piece of public art in the middle of a busy six lane arterial road intersection? No - it is not.

Are there viable alternatives in the same area where this public art could be displayed and celebrated safely? Yes - there are.

So where to now?

The good news is that the rainbow doesn't need to disappear - it just needs to be relocated. The rainbow is NOT the problem - it never has been - just the LOCATION is the problem.

There are large, open paved areas available on both sides of Oxford St where Bourke St has been closed off (these are clearly visible on Google maps). These pedestrian areas are literally only a few metres away from where the crossing was installed - right in the heart of Taylor Square - without the safety risks posed by placing the rainbow in the middle of the road. These areas are much larger than the pedestrian crossing strip across the roadway and provide greater scope for innovative and attractive public art to celebrate the GLBT community and the historic significance of the area.

I again ask the City of Sydney Council to seriously consider these options.

The cost of painting paved pedestrian areas would be much lower than what was required for the road, as the surface won't face the same demands that a six lane road with heavy vehicles using it would. These areas would enable photos to be safely taken in various poses, and could easily be developed into a fresh tourist attraction.

I'm sure the community will have many great ideas to contribute should the City of Sydney Council be willing to listen.

Given the creativity we see on show every Mardi Gras, I am perplexed by suggestions that the rainbow crossing, a concept borrowed from the US, is the only public expression of GLBT culture that is possible in Taylor Square or elsewhere in the city. Surely there are many more ideas that could be explored to achieve the awareness objectives without the safety risks?

I would like to encourage those who have been inspired by this issue to direct their energy and enthusiasm into pushing City of Sydney Council to consider other, more appropriate concepts for publicly recognising the community in the city streetscape: concepts that can be safe, original and more permanent.

This doesn't need to be the end of something small - it can be the beginning of something much bigger and better, so I'd urge the local community and their friends to propose new ideas that safely incorporate the rainbow theme, and I look forward to the more vibrant, safe and attractive Sydney that will result.

Duncan Gay MLC
NSW Minister for Roads and Ports

View the minister's original letter:

Rainbow painted pedestrian crossing on Oxford Street

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