EDITORIAL: Newcastle's traffic problems and the Supercars race crowd

ANYONE who’s moved through the Newcastle central business district in recent weeks knows that traffic conditions are problematic at best.

A stretch of Hunter Street is closed for light rail works. Buses are rerouted along Honeysuckle Drive and King Street, where they lumber slowly past City Hall and up the hill behind the mall. As a result, peak hour queues are both denser than usual, and longer-lasting.

Come the Supercars race next month, the stop-gap traffic measures will still be in place, and yet somehow race organisers will have to move a hoped-for 150,000 people over three days in and out of the East End. 

The track and its scenic background might be divine inspiration for the cameras, but its situation at the far end of a kilometres-long bottleneck has the makings of a nightmare as far as people movement is concerned.

Hopefully, things will go smoothly, and the tens of thousands of visiting and local punters will find their way track-side with a minimum of fuss.

Some of the uncertainty should be relieved when Transport for NSW releases its long-awaited transport plan for the race.

But whatever provisions are contained in the plan, there are only so many people an hour who can be moved to the race track by public transport. Those attending from surrounding suburbs may well be tempted to have someone drop them off near the race, regardless of any pleas by the authorities to keep cars out of the city centre where possible. Such drop-off traffic, understandable as it is, will only add to the congestion.

The use of Stockton as a major car park also raises questions, given the time it will take to ferry people across the harbour, even if two vessels will operate in tandem for the race. A picturesque ride over the water, or an annoying inconvenience?

Only time will tell.

Looking optimistically, it should be remembered that the city has handled big crowds before now without too much bother, and if Keolis Downer can put enough extra buses on for the weekend, the looming logistical nightmare may well not eventuate.

But there is no escaping geographical reality. Newcastle is a long, narrow city centre with its main street closed for a key section of its length. However the punters get to and from the track – and from the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights – it will likely be a rat run.

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