Creating safer, greener, and more liveable streets

The Bourke Street cycleway is a 3.4-km active transport corridor across a traffic-congested area of inner city Sydney, from Woolloomooloo to Waterloo.

Constructed by upgrading an existing shared route, the two-way separated cycleway provides improved safety, comfort, and amenity for people on bicycles and on foot, and for local residents.

The cycleway was the first large-scale cycling infrastructure project of its kind in Sydney. As a result, there are now five times as many bike trips along Bourke Street.

In addition to increasing the number of people riding to work along the route, the cycleway is also an active, green recreation site use by local families, leisure riders, and children travelling to and from school.

A cyclist cycling away down a suburban Sydney street.

Multifunctionality: The planted median strip helps to cool the street as well as separating people on bikes and on foot.

Image: Simon Woods, City of Sydney

Building active transport connections

A safe and attractive pathway network linking streets, parks, and open spaces is a vital component of the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 goals, prioritising walking and cycling in the city centre. The Bourke Street cycleway is a showcase project for this initiative, allowing people of all ages and abilities to use a bicycle for transport and recreation.

2 primary school student cyclists waiting at the lights on their bicycles.

Connectivity: Bicycle journeys to school have become common on Bourke Street.

Image: Simon Woods, City of Sydney

Improving safety by design

The overall Bourke Street design took a holistic approach to ensure safety by using medians and curbs to separate cyclists from traffic, reducing both the speed limit and road space available to motor vehicles and developing “shared environment intersections”. These innovative crossings give right of way to pedestrians, and give equivalent rights to people on bikes and in cars within the intersection.

A streetview showing 2 people crossing a pedestrian crossing, and a cyclist on a cycleway.

Integration: Intersections give right of way to pedestrians.

Image: Simon Woods, City of Sydney

Pedestrians are served by better footpath amenity, with an increased distance from vehicular traffic, extensive buffer planting, new street trees, rain gardens, permeable paving and seamless integration with existing public spaces. Additionally, curb extensions increase sight lines and reduce pedestrian and cycle crossing distances. Street lighting has also been upgraded, to encourage round-the-clock use.

Collaborating on the design process

A collaborative design process was undertaken by the City of Sydney with project consultants, Roads and Maritime Services, and the local community. This enabled project priorities to shift from more traditional engineered outcomes to provide an integrated design response for the entire road corridor. Instead of an on-road engineered solution with no motor vehicle separation, the cycleway incorporates median plantings and urban design features that redefine the inner city streetscape.

Using community feedback to inform the design

The design evolved based on direct community feedback, including pedestrian crossings to connect local businesses, and a design adjustment calling for existing street trees to be preserved. A thorough community consultation process included four public meetings, and more than 800 submissions were received.

There was some opposition to the project, including concern about the loss of trees and car parking, and the broader impacts on the area. This was addressed by a dedicated project team through community consultation and media management.

A cyclist cycling towards the viewer on a cycleway.

Participation: In response to community feedback, the design was adjusted to preserve a number of mature trees along the route.

Image: Simon Woods, City of Sydney

The successful integration of the new infrastructure was assisted by council-run cycle training courses, targeted behaviour change projects, and promotional film and imagery of the route being used appropriately.

Quick facts

Project type
Transport infrastructure: dedicated cycleway
The Council of the City of Sydney
Completed 2011
Design awards
2011 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, RTA NSW Award for Excellence in Landscape Architecture and On Road Infrastructure Projects
2012 Sydney Design Awards, Landscape Architecture
2016 Green Cities conference “Weapons of Mass Disruption” People’s Choice Award
Inner city Sydney, from Woolloomooloo to Waterloo via Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, and Redfern
Project scale
Large: 3.4 km long with approx. 20 m right of way
Project team
Landscape architecture - Group GSA (formerly Pod Landscape Architecture)
Traffic engineering - GTA Consultants
Civil engineering - Northrop Engineers

Lessons learnt

The project was a catalyst for improving the functionality of the street overall. It was guided by an overall strategy, which helped to communicate the long-term vision and allowed development to happen through a series of iterations.

Comprehensive community consultation took place throughout the design process and the implementation, and this also provided the opportunity for a unique campaign of education and awareness to promote cycling and safe behaviour by road users.

The role of landscape design was not only to create green buffers between the footpath and the cycleway, but it also provided a means for the Bourke Street community to express their horticultural, culinary, and ecological interests.

Despite the rigorous consideration of technical issues throughout the project design, the final result is very low key.

More information

GANSW policies

  • Better Placed: An integrated design policy for the built environment of NSW
  • Greener Places: An urban green infrastructure policy for NSW

GANSW guides

GANSW projects

GANSW advisory notes