Sydney Morning Herald - Tuesday 4 September, 2007

Deceptice kind of calm as city lockdown starts

Page: 8
Section: General News
Region: Sydney Circulation. 212,500
Type: Capital City Daily
Size: 793.55 sq.cms.
Deceptive kind of calm as city lockdown starts
 
 

No-show zone the usually busy Opera House and surrounds are a forlorn sight
about 9.30am yesterday.  Photo: Peter Rae

Linton Besser and Catharine Munro

For full coverage, see our APEC site.

THE traffic was light, there were more free seats on trains, and the streets were eerily vacant.

Fenced off from residents, parts of Sydney felt like a ghost town yesterday. But do not be lulled into a false sense of security. "You ain't seen nothing yet," warned the NSW Minister for Transport, John Watkins.

Despite predictions of transport chaos, day one of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Sydney was largely uneventful, as hundreds of city workers took leave or worked from home.

The Sydney Chamber of Commerce said 16 per cent of businesses had special arrangements in place during the summit, and 12 per cent have sent workers to other locations. Thirty-two per cent of businesses reported an increase in the number of employees applying for holidays.

This may have been why bus, train and ferry patronage was down slightly yesterday. The Roads and Traffic Authority said traffic was 10 per cent lighter than usual.

But with security to be beefed up, and as more officials and protesters roll into town, authorities are preparing for trouble.

"There will be an increase in disruption as every day passes through this week leading up to APEC proper," Mr. Watkins said. "We're currently at our lowest level of security."

The most critical of the road closures will take place tonight, when the Bridge Street off-ramp from the Cahill Expressway is closed. Traffic from the North Shore will experience long delays when APEC motorcades coincide with peak hour.

Three convoys of VIPs travelled from Sydney Airport during yesterday's morning peak, when the US Trade Secretary and the foreign ministers of Canada and Brunei arrived in their limousines.

The motorcade expected to wreak most havoc - that of the US President, George Bush - arrives tonight. The 20-vehicle convoy, complete with military helicopter overhead, will be given top priority in traffic. It is expected to travel through the city tomorrow morning and early on Thursday.

The security fence, which takes up a curbside lane, is causing some problems for traffic and pedestrians. The reduction in road capacity, particularly in Bridge and Grosvenor streets, led to minor delays for northern suburbs commuters yesterday, as their buses were squeezed into York Street.

At 1.30pm yesterday 22 cars had been towed from APEC special event clearways, said the RTA's chief executive, Les Wielinga. He urged people to continue to leave their cars at home for the rest of the week.

The chief executive of the NSW Business Chamber, Kevin MacDonald, predicted suburban shopping centres would profit from the quasi-holiday period.

"Major suburban shopping centres, cinemas and beachside cafes will boom as people taking advantage of the day to shop, relax and catch up with friends and family," he said.

The head of the Pedestrian Council, Harold Scruby, has warned authorities they may be liable for damages, after reports that pedestrians have limited vision when leaving APEC fenced areas. "If adequate line of sight is not provided and specific pedestrian safety measures not put in place, then the responsible authorities would be liable."

Mr. Watkins told a news conference yesterday that he, too, had noticed the problem. He encouraged people walking through the area to take extra care when stepping on to the road.

 
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