Opinion: Vivid Sydney Has Potential For Disaster

Yes, every year Vivid Sydney is crowded but everything does have a limit to how crowded one space can be…

As a keen spectator of major Sydney events, I have been following Vivid Sydney since its inception in 2009 and have attended every year since 2013. For the first few years of the event’s history, the Sydney Opera House was the symbol of the event and the Vivid Light component slowly grew in size but on a grand scale, it was still minute. Then came 2013. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was brought into the event and Vivid exploded in popularity.

The Queen’s Birthday long weekend is well known for being THE most crowded time of Vivid Sydney and while this year’s edition had the extra factor of an East Coast Low causing nearly a whole weekend of the event to be cancelled, the following Long Weekend clearly showed that if the event is to grow in popularity even further, organisers are either not ready for it, have been making misjudgements from the beginning or in the worse possible scenario, putting social media publicity before the lives of people.

I’ve thought about writing an article about the crowds for a few years but the potential danger is now too great for me to not draw attention to it. A simple e-mail to Vivid won’t suffice in my opinion so consider this article an open letter to Vivid Sydney.

Long Weekend Crowds

As an University graduate majoring in event management and a fan of Sydney’s major pyrotechnic/lighting events, for fun I try to look for potential problems as I like to ‘look after’ these events. Clearly as everyone else did, one of the first problems I noticed was the crowds on the 2013 Long Weekend around Circular Quay. I have no doubt that Vivid did try to fix this problem. I assumed the solution was to expand the Festival to outside the city and hence, free up space inside the city. In 2014, Vivid expanded to Martin Place, The Star & the University Of Sydney; in 2015, to Chatswood, Central Park & Pyrmont and in 2016, to Taronga Zoo & the Royal Botanic Gardens (also to celebrate their respective anniversaries).

While in most cases this solution would work, in my opinion it wouldn’t work in this case. That is because people attend Vivid for the Sydney Opera House/Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House/Harbour Bridge only. They are going to Circular Quay regardless of where other lights are unless it is something iconic like Taronga Zoo. The solution did produce successful new precincts but the overall crowds at Circular Quay, mainly full of tourists, still remained.

So a more recent solution to be implemented was to extend the event by 5 days. This sounds good in writing but when you think about it, it makes little to no difference. Firstly, this year, it added only 1 Saturday, 1 Friday and 3 other weekdays. Vivid is only attended on weekends – few people attend on weeknights – and with 3 of the 5 extra days non-Friday weeknights, this solution would produce little relief on the Long Weekend crowds. So the basic logic would have been to make the event run on weekends more or make the event run only on Friday nights/weekends over a longer time scale (such as 2 months). A benefit of this would be more worthwhile electricity usage (better than heaps of lights and no one to see it).

A more overall realistic solution to ease crowds, which I thought of after the 2013 event, would be to make the Vivid Light Walk an one-way loop. Using the Martin Place precinct as the starting point, the loop would go through the Domain back along the foreshore westward to Barangaroo before heading south to Wynyard Railway Station where it would finish. People could also enter and exit the route at the major train/ferry stops & the walk between Wynyard and Martin Place is small enough to make a full loop. Having 2 major entry/exit points (Circular Quay & Martin Place/Wynyard) can allow people to divide their journey into 2 days – 1 journey per day. It would also allow the Sydney Opera House projections to be shown on both sides if finances allowed it.

A potential one-way loop.
A potential one-way loop.

The one-way loop concept was implemented at Taronga Zoo and the Royal Botanic Gardens this year & while I only attended Taronga Zoo, it made a whirl of difference to the clogging that two-way crowds create. Taronga Zoo’s Vivid experience was by far the most pleasant Vivid experience I’ve had to date… but that wasn’t the same when I returned back to Circular Quay.

While the popularity of Vivid combined with a long weekend is a major factor at play in creating these crowds, I believe other small factors are contributing in negative ways and if organisers don’t fix them, they could combine to create a disaster.

The Purpose Of The Barricade?

One of the other problems I first encountered in 2013 and still exists to this day, is the barricading of Circular Quay Promenade at either the western or eastern end. Whilst it is likely they have done that to ease crowds by redirecting them along Alfred Street, it baffled me as most people have the instinct to walk past the ferry terminals either to hop on transport or to walk to the other side’s lights (unless they are interested in seeing the Customs House projections). It also baffled me as it took everyone to a bottleneck anyway.

Approximate location of the barricades
Approximate location of the barricades

I presumed the objective of the barricade is to assist people catching public transport at Circular Quay so any queues that form don’t affect the Vivid Light Walk especially on the Long Weekend. The Cahill Expressway forms a physical barrier between the foreshore and Customs House & as most associate the Vivid Light Walk as a foreshore walk, the instinct is to walk past the ferry wharves instead of heading to Customs House (unless you wanted to see the Customs House projections). The same instinct applies if you like to catch a ferry or train. Unlike all the other major projection shows, Customs House is also hidden behind the Cahill Expressway. On the other side of the Cahill Expressway is also Alfred Street and while the road is closed from traffic, people treat it like an open road and so they walk close to the road’s edge anyway causing bottlenecks along the side-walks on the approach to Customs House. Bottlenecks are also caused by bus shelters narrowing the space to walk. These bus shelters also act as a physical barrier to the route. The Vivid Light Walk is also poorly signed and so most people don’t know the ‘official route’.

Pink: The Official 2016 'Vivid Light Walk'. Blue: Instinct route if you going to Customs House. Orange: Instinct route if you wish to bypass Customs House. Black: Barricade Locations
Pink: The Official 2016 ‘Vivid Light Walk’.
Blue: Instinct route if you going to Customs House.
Orange: Instinct route if you wish to bypass Customs House.
Black: Barricade locations

In fact, the Vivid Light Walk‘s official route doesn’t go past the ferry wharves. It runs along Alfred Street instead but due to poor signage, no one knows that and so instinct kicks in. So why put a barricade when it’s not on the route? Well firstly, it is a precaution to protect against that instinct. So why not put up more directional signage? That I don’t know. The main objective, like I said, would be to assist public transport users at Circular Quay so wouldn’t a better solution be to add Vivid Light Walk & Circular Quay Transport Interchange directional signage, remove the barricade and install temporary Opal card/ticket gates there instead and also around the promenade’s other access points? That way public transport users (particularly ferry users) can still access the transport interchange while Vivid Sydney visitors can follow the official route around past Customs House?

A proposed access strategy. Pink: 'Vivid Light Walk' Directional Signage. Green: Circular Quay Transport Interchange Directional Signage Orange: Circular Quay Transport Interchange Opal Card/Ticket Barriers
A proposed access strategy.
Pink: ‘Vivid Light Walk’ Directional Signage.
Green: Circular Quay Transport Interchange Directional Signage
Orange: Circular Quay Transport Interchange Opal Card/Ticket Barriers

The barricade might be a probable error on Vivid‘s part but if it wasn’t, it leads me to think that Vivid Sydney might be intentionally driving crowd flow away from the ferry wharves in order to promote Customs House. This would drive up social media publicity of the iconic projection show and hence, boost the profile and economic benefits of the event. It’s a horrifying idea that lives might be put behind money & social media but it seems plausible as the barricades are ideally placed so the crowd is forced to follow the official designated route of the Vivid Light Walk (1 ferry wharf is outside the barricades). And like I said before, unlike all the other major projection shows, Customs House is also hidden behind the Cahill Expressway so people might not be aware of its existance unless they see it in front of them but I don’t think Vivid Sydney organisers would stoop that low – it is more likely a poorly thought out crowd control measure.

I’ve always intended to watch a Customs House projection show but the crowds, bottlenecks and that barricade always prevent me from doing so. Most of the time I’ve watched part of the show in a queue.

The Train System

Now we head to 2016. I went to Vivid on the rainy Friday night prior to the East Coast Low’s arrival. It’s just past 8:30pm and the rain had just started bucketing down for it’s first lengthy downpour. Heaps of people decided to leave Vivid at this point. The line to the ticket machine was long (which is expected particularly with non-Opal card users like foreign tourists – maybe a special Vivid paper transport ticket for tourists should be introduced?) but the line to the Opal card/ticket readers was worse.

It took a good several minutes to get from the back of the line and through the gate. The line was that long, a person I was with was separated by roughly 5 metres from me at 1 point. A lot of people were trying to enter the station…but not many were trying to exit the station. There are roughly 8 ticket gates on 1 of the 2 sides of Circular Quay’s railway station but at this point of the night, only 2 were open to entering passengers on, at least, the side I was on.

Compared to the exiting passengers, the entering passengers deserved at least 4 more gates open. This would fasten things up but the next problem is to prevent a crowd crush inside the small foyer immediately after the gates and also up the staircases, escalators & lifts. As Wynyard-bound trains arrive on 1 platform & St James-bound trains on the other, the tickets gates, staircases, lifts & escalators should be designated signs & fenced inbetween so as to direct people to/from their platforms immediately instead of having them approaching or entering the gates and then trying to figure out which is the right one to go to and hence, causing a delay. As the escalators are already one-way, the 2 lifts & 2 staircases per platform could be divided into 1 ‘entrance’ and 1 ‘exit’. Above the Opal card/ticket readers could be a sign saying ‘Platform 1 only – Platform 2 Other Entrance’ etc. For this to work though, Sydney Trains would need to be up on the platforms directing passengers off the train to the correct exit.

A potential access strategy for Circular Quay Railway Station. Black: Fences Green: Entrance Red: Exit Note: The larger spaces are there to allow people requiring assistance to access the lifts easier.
A potential access strategy for Circular Quay Railway Station.
Black: Fences
Green: Entrance
Red: Exit
Note: The larger spaces are there to allow people requiring assistance to access the lifts easier.

During Vivid, Circular Quay Railway Station is ‘pick-up’ only between 6pm & 11pm on Saturdays & the Long Weekend but this is publicised very little. Vivid needs to publicise this more. The ‘pick-up’ only implementation is a good idea to help meet capacity needs but in my opinion, doesn’t need to be implemented prior to 8:30pm. Prior to 8:30pm, it is worker peak hour so why should the workers get the right of access even when thousands of tourists are expecting to hop off at Circular Quay? Workers access the station every day of the year and during Vivid, Wynyard & St James are operating as normal nearly so why can’t for just 7 days a year, hop on at a different stop? On the Long Weekend & Saturdays, workers are entering the stations at lower than normal rates anyway due to it being the weekend and/or a public holiday. To implement my idea, when Circular Quay is at capacity, some flexibility is required similar to the ‘pick-up’ only concept:

  • During expected mass arrival times (such as 5pm to 7:40pm on Friday/(Long) Weekends), it should be drop-off only (i.e. above diagram all red). To hop on, head to St James or Wynyard.
  • During expected arrival times (such as 5pm to 7:40pm on weekdays) but passenger arrivals = visitor departures due to the worker peak hour, the above diagram should be implemented.
  • During balanced times on Fridays/(Long) Weekends where passenger arrivals = visitor departures (such as between 7:40pm & 9:20pm), the above diagram should be implemented.
  • During expected departure times (such as 9:20pm to Midnight on weekdays) but visitor departures is equal to or less than passenger arrivals, normal City Circle operation should occur.
  • During (un)expected mass departure times (such as 9:20pm to Midnight on Friday/(Long) Weekends or sudden inclement weather), it should become pick-up only (i.e. above diagram all green). If you’re being dropped off, it would be either at Wynyard or St James. Trains could even ‘terminate’ at Wynyard & St James, compulsorily emptying the train before travelling to Circular Quay to start a new journey filling up the carriages all with Vivid visitors.

This year’s Vivid also saw the traditional finishing time of Midnight moved an hour forward to 11pm. The reason why they did this I have no clue so I asked them why. A Destination New South Wales spokesperson said:

“Vivid Sydney is always evolving, and like any major international festival we take away key learnings each year and adapt our programming to best serve our audience.

While the festival continues to grow in overall attendance with a record 1.7 million attending last year, we know that attendee numbers do drop off significantly by 11pm and therefore at the ‘Vivid Light Walk’ in the CBD, lights have this year switched off at 11pm. However we have added five nights to this year’s Festival giving visitors even more time to explore and enjoy all that Vivid Sydney has to offer.”

Their comment sounds fair – they are saying most people have already left by 11pm. Even if it is minor in size, the earlier finishing time, without a doubt, would see crowds building up larger than usual as people depart at 11pm this year particularly around Circular Quay Railway Station.

Even if my train system ideas above was implemented, it wouldn’t have helped in my situation as my train was nearly 10-15 minutes late. This banked up commuters on the platform. They should, in future (unless they already do), allocate the number of people going through the ticket gates to meet the capacity of the next train. They could probably use Opal card data to estimate the current capacity of each approaching train. If the trains were empty as they approached like in my suggestion above for mass departures, a full platform-length train could hold approximately 900 people – a great relief on the system given trains can be as frequent as every 5 minutes. My train’s lateness puzzled me as while yes, it was raining heavily, Vivid Sydney is supposed to have “4,500 additional public transport services including extra trains”.

When I went to the International Fleet Review in 2013, during the 3 days I was there, the public transport system did not seem to be any different to a normal day despite the same promise as above being made. This led me to presume it is actually a lie to encourage people to use public transport when it fact, there are little extra services available resulting in long queues and overcrowding anyway. At Vivid, the train’s lateness made me think the same is happening 3 years later.

I checked the list of departures of trains leaving Circular Quay between 6pm & 11pm on Saturday 11th June 2016 (during Vivid) with another list for Saturday the 25th of June 2016 (after Vivid) during the same times. What did I find? More services during Vivid! Yay!…Ok, “service”. That’s right – only 1 extra train service was added during the Saturday of the Long Weekend. Trains were no different compared to an ordinary Sydney Saturday – however, it is noted that trains were slightly more frequent just prior to 11pm, this year’s ‘lights off‘ moment of each Vivid night. The increased frequency was probably a way to keep up with the larger than normal crowds around Circular Quay Railway Station at 11pm as everyone would be leaving at that point of that night for sure this year due to the change in the ‘lights off’ moment from 12am to 11pm. So, at least for trains, 0.002% of all supposed ‘extra public transport services’ was a train stopping at Circular Quay – the mecca of Vivid Sydney.

Frequency of trains at Circular Quay Railway Station in minutes.
Frequency of trains at Circular Quay Railway Station in minutes.

To be fair, the above shouldn’t be surprising as the current Sydney train fleet is always meeting an 100% demand rate – it couldn’t cope with extra services without removing services from other lines. Either way, this shows that the increasing popularity of Vivid will cause strain on the train system particularly the City Circle.

As the train eventually arrived, a few people hopped off before everyone casually hopped onto the train. Then to everyone’s surprise, the guard starts blowing his whistle and more and more frequently. The initial whistle caused a sudden rush for the train doors. I didn’t rush (as we had barely started to hop on the train when the whistle was blown) but the movement of people pushed me forward. I was now stuck between the left door and another person on the right. It was the beginnings of a crowd crush from a sudden stampede.

A stampede can be defined as an ‘uncontrolled concerted running as an act of mass impulse among a crowd of people in which the crowd collectively begins running, often in an attempt to escape a perceived threat’. The perceived threat was being left behind after waiting nearly 15 minutes for a train that has barely let a customer in. The train, in fact, was fairly empty when the crush occurred as I eventually found myself standing in the aisle on the upper tier looking out the window to an empty platform but the guard’s impatience could have caused a disastrous crush. Had the guard waited patiently, everyone would have gotten on casually and after waiting a small amount of time (compared to the 15 minutes we waited for the train), the train could leave safely.

Being stuck inside the door with 3 other people and masses of people inside and outside the train, people started to move ahead as the initial people who hopped on found somewhere to ride the train. Eventually, a small opening arrived so I could go up the first staircase I could see. I went for it relieving more pressure on the crowd crush before finding myself on the top tier aisle with no more room to move as the rest of the aisle was full. Getting off at our desired stop was a bit difficult with a full aisle but we managed it,  just. A possible way to avoid that last bit is to, during Vivid, allocate carriages to passengers’ desired destinations so the shortest journey passenger sit in the centre carriages while the longest journey passengers sit in the outer carriages near the driver/guard. This would also help prevent people heading into carriages that are already full. This idea is only for Circular Quay Railway Station and would look like this if implemented during Vivid:


This may be more difficult to implement than my other ideas as passengers’ destinations may vary each time a train arrives, it is very difficult to prevent passengers going through ticket barriers based on their destination (unless they are happy to wait) and lastly, there is little room, once you reach the top of the staircases or hop off the escalators/lifts, to think about where along the platform you should go. So to implement the above, station staff would need to work very efficiently as well as keeping the general principle that if you got a short journey head to the centre of the platform while if you got a long journey, head to the ends of the platform. Why the centre of the platform for short journeys? Because at the next stops, people are most likely to hop onto the centre carriages. If people with short journeys are hopping off at these stops, it would refill the carriage without overloading other carriages that are full with passengers taking long journeys.

Remember that on the Long Weekend during Vivid, Circular Quay is a pick-up only railway station but the amount of trains is pretty much the same as the next Vivid Saturday, a non-long weekend Saturday, where the station is pick-up & drop-off. What I experienced was just the beginning of a crowd crush caused by a rare stampede. It was the first crowd crush I felt could have happened at Vivid and it was on a Friday night when it was raining & wasn’t a Long Weekend. What could happen when it is a Saturday night that is clear and moon-lit & is the Long Weekend? The potential is there now due to Vivid’s increasing popularity and organisers haven’t managed to ease the crowds in 3 years. I was planning to write a letter after the event ended so next year’s event could accommodate it but even with the East Coast Low, I didn’t expect it to nearly happen on a bigger scale 1 week later and this time Vivid has explaining to do. It clearly was preventable on an organisational scale.

Long Weekend 2016: Saturday – East Circular Quay Crowd Crush

We arrive at the Long Weekend of Vivid Sydney 2016. It is the first weekend after the East Coast Low cancelled the previous weekends Vivid Sydney. A highly popular new lighting installation, the Cathedral Of Light, is a centrepiece of the new Royal Botanic Gardens precinct. On the Saturday night, people arrive at Vivid to head immediately to the installation. What met them was a crowd crush.

There were reports of people being treated by paramedics, children crying & even a gas bottle exploding. People were left not moving for up to 45 minutes. East Circular Quay & the Royal Botanic Gardens was soon declared ‘reached capacity’ at 8pm – the first declaration of it’s kind in the event’s history I believe – but Vivid‘s social media posts don’t actually indicate the area was sealed off (I wasn’t there so I don’t know). They only ‘recommend’ going somewhere else. If it was managed access, tents, fences & turnstiles would be there every day just in case but out of all the years I’ve been to Vivid, Taronga Zoo is the only place I’ve seen managed access (as they have the facilities to do that). The only possible ‘managed access’ that could have existed is small road closure/crowd control barriers being relocated or police/volunteers/private security guards blocking the path. I wasn’t there so I can’t be 100% certain but I think that is likely the case – very little proper ‘managed access’. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

But Vivid organisers should have seen this coming even without an East Coast Low causing abnormally high crowds. Why? Because the crowd crush occurred in 1 particular spot not the whole of Circular Quay. The Cathedral Of Light installation was clearly the stand out attraction in the direction of the Sydney Opera House and based on previous years, it’s popularity should have been clearly expected. If you compare this photo of the Cathedral Of Light with this photo of Vivid 2013’s popular Hundreds & Thousands installation, you can see they are nearly identical apart from colour. The Cathedral Of Light was bound to be a hit. The choice of location and crowd control measures to accommodate that location is what failed in this instance.

The location as mentioned earlier was the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens has many access points but for Vivid Sydney it had only one. This would be ok normally and was managed correctly but Vivid Sydney organisers didn’t take into account that the Royal Botanic Gardens entrance is at the dead end of the narrow Light Walk path from Circular Quay. Regardless of where you came from, you had to funnel down through the narrow path along East Circular Quay to reach the Cathedral Of Light. Macquarie Street, which runs behind the buildings on East Circular Quay, was closed to traffic and whilst it could have had the same crowd crush effect if the crowd was larger, most people didn’t use that road as an access route as it is not listed as part of the Vivid Light Walk and people treat closed roads as open roads except during crushes or times of impatience.  As crowds & queues built up at the Royal Botanic Gardens entrance, it started to bank up all the way down to the Moore Steps – the narrowest part of East Circular Quay – where the crush occurred. The fact that people walk along East Circular Quay to leave the Royal Botanic Gardens was the final deciding factor in the crush’s creation. Two-way crowds combined with narrow space = crowd crush. The Moore Steps were then used an ‘escape route’ to Macquarie Street. The Moore Steps are narrow too and could easily have done more or even severe damage.

The location of the crowd crush Red: Crowd crush location - The Moore Steps is the narrowest part of the red zone. Pink: The official 2016 'Vivid Light Walk' route. Black: Other physical barriers (apart from the East Circular Quay buildings) in gaining access to the Royal Botanic Gardens such as cliffs, driveways, closed gates & fences.
The location of the crowd crush
Red: Crowd crush location – The Moore Steps is the narrowest part of the red zone.
Pink: The official 2016 ‘Vivid Light Walk’ route.
Black: Other physical barriers (apart from the East Circular Quay buildings) in gaining access to the Royal Botanic Gardens such as cliffs, driveways, closed gates & fences.

Here is the view from below the Moore Steps:

View from Philip Street (non-closed road 100 metres away from crush):

While no one was seriously injured in this crush, this crush was easily 10 times worse than mine, which was just the beginning of a crush and was partly caused by a stampede from a guard’s whistle. This was a crush. It lasted nearly an hour. It has happened. It can happen again. Vivid has to be prepared for an increase in popularity. It took nearly a decade for NYE to reach 1.5 million visitors. Vivid took 6 years. It could be larger than NYE very soon and the event’s organisation is not up to scratch. NYE also has the benefit that crowds don’t leave soon after they enter while with Vivid, the crowds are continuously moving. 1 crush and 1 near-crush in the space of a week is too much for a highly popular international event. Organisers need to take crowd control more seriously before someone gets seriously injured or dies.


Assuming they are planning exactly the same things next year, possible solutions include….

  • More directional signage. It could be arrows on the ground or on poles – at least it is identifiable as Vivid.
  • Make an exit from the Royal Botanic Gardens near the Conservatorium Of Music – this is a short walk back to Circular Quay.
  • Close all roads north & inclusive of Bridge Street & Conservatorium Road up to Circular Quay for all except Macquarie Street which should be closed up to the Sydney Opera House. Cahill Expressway should stay open though.
  • Put more popular attractions near Walsh Bay – this is usually a quiet spot due to it being west of the Bridge, which is a physical barrier in the Light Walk. This would decrease the amount of people heading towards the Royal Botanic Gardens if there is a major attraction in Walsh Bay.
  • Include Macquarie Street & the Tarpeian Precinct in the Vivid Light Walk with the Tarpeian Precinct part of the Royal Botanic Gardens experience.
  • Make East Circular Quay northbound travelling with Macquarie Street/Tarpeian Precinct southbound travelling. Macquarie Street can be made two-way if East Circular Quay begins to not handle northbound-only crowds.
  • Sell free tickets for time-slotted openings into the Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • Sell free tickets for time-slotted openings into East Circular Quay.
  • The Sydney Opera House & businesses along East Circular Quay can sell their own free tickets out of the ones issued (aiding business without conflicting crowds). For example, buy 1 movie ticket, free Vivid access included. Product/service prices should not increase to make an increased profit from that proposed offer though as prices are probably already higher than usual due to Vivid.
  • Direct all non-ticket holders west of Circular Quay. There is still a free sound-tracked view of the Sydney Opera House projections at Dawes Point. You also pass the Museum Of Contemporary Art and Customs House projections along the way.
  • If non-ticketed, make Vivid an one-way loop as mentioned earlier.
  • If non-ticketed, extend Vivid to 2 months in duration but only on Friday, Saturday, Sunday (& Monday on the Long Weekend) nights. It will be the same amount of days with roughly the same crowd numbers & more worthwhile electricity usage.

I’ve forgotten if I had any more possible solutions. If I think of more, I’ll add them to the list.

Then Sunday came…

For the next day, I thought Vivid would respond to the crowd crush situation by making crowd control measures better (as they were clearly caught off-guard) as the crowds for Sunday should have been roughly the same and while the Moore Steps crowd crush did occur again, it was slightly less intense than Saturday’s but Vivid didn’t seem to be ready for it still. The 3 first posts below even possibly indicates that they even prevented people escaping up the Moore Steps this time:


I read reports that there were conflicting instructions from police, volunteers etc. inadvertently making the crowd crush worse (as the two-way traffic is a major contributing factor to it). Vivid did however warn people of potentially larger crowds around that area 2 hours prior to 6pm. This was a good move by them but this passage of writing baffled me: “To ensure pedestrian safety, the only access to the popular ‘Cathedral of Light’ at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney will be via the Sydney Opera House forecourt ie. there is no access to the Cathedral of Light via Macquarie Street/Tarpeian Way.

Whilst it is unclear from that statement if Macquarie Street & Tarpeian Way allowed people to leave the Royal Botanic Gardens that way, it does make it clear that Vivid is insisting people walk through the narrow East Circular Quay path to the Sydney Opera House forecourt as it will “ensure pedestrian safety” but in my opinion does the complete opposite especially as Macquarie Street is closed to traffic and the Tarpeian Precinct is, well, empty. The only reason I can see why they advised this is to avoid long queues or a crowd crush at the Royal Botanic Gardens gates but judging from photographs, those gates were well managed – only a long queue would form. There is plenty of space around the Sydney Opera House to walk around so if people didn’t want to wait a long queue, they just had to leave as simple as that.

While Sunday’s crush was less in intensity, it did start way earlier than Saturday’s with the Royal Botanic Gardens reaching capacity 6 minutes after it opened. East Circular Quay did not reach it’s designated capacity but the crush still occurred at the same spot. Vivid doesn’t post capacities of each precinct but based on Sydney NYE‘s capacities, the capacity of the combined Sydney Opera House/East Circular Quay area is currently 15,200 people with 8000 of that being the capacity of East Circular Quay. As the crush occurred but the area hadn’t reached ‘capacity’, Vivid either has the wrong capacity limit or doesn’t have one and just defines whether it is at ‘full capacity’ based on what it looks like on the ground at the time. If it is the latter, that is very dangerous especially on the Long Weekend.

Vivid, 90 minutes later, posted another update but to only indicate that it is busy at East Circular Quay. The crush was at it’s worst shortly after this point and what happened to the Royal Botanic Gardens reaching capacity? Now it is just “large volumes of people“:

Hundreds of people, none the less, complained about the crowd crush. The media didn’t take notice of it – probably assuming it was solely due to the East Coast Low. The next day, Monday, was the public holiday but as people headed back to work the next day, crowds were down on the previous two nights. Vivid again advised pedestrians “not to use Macquarie Street” something that, like I said, baffled me:

No crush occurred on the Monday night but that didn’t stop hundreds of people warning others on social media to be careful around the Moore Steps. Vivid may have good answers on why their crowd/traffic management plans were the way they were and I would like to know why especially as a person interested in event management but in any case, Vivid clearly has to be prepared for the increasing popularity otherwise it may end in tragedy like it nearly did on the Long Weekend. Destination New South Wales is the government organisation that puts Vivid on and so on the Sunday night, I asked for a general comment on the crowds around East Circular Quay:

Destination New South Wales’s Response

A Destination New South Wales spokesperson said “As expected, Vivid Sydney was once again very popular on Sunday night.

“Eastern Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera House forecourt and Royal Botanic Garden precincts were again crowd favourites.

“Vivid Sydney worked closely with other Government agencies to enact our crowd management plans to ensure the safety of our visitors. This led to a number of changes to traffic conditions around the Circular Quay precinct to accommodate the increased crowds and also included managed access at popular sites including the Royal Botanic Gardens.

“Crowds were well behaved, and we appreciate the patience shown throughout the night.

“This year’s Vivid Sydney will run for an extra five nights, until next Saturday June 18. We encourage visitors to come earlier in the week and earlier in the evening to enjoy the festival when crowds are anticipated to be lighter.”


A lot of people wrote that they will not return to Vivid again after the crowd crush experience. I’m not surprised if they are first-time visitors and had no better time than to visit on the Long Weekend but it’s sad that it has tainted the event. This was a huge shambles and something has to be done. It was totally uncoordinated with no communication or plan. It more likely looks like they are taking the attitude that they will deal with it when it happens or are totally shifting responsibility on external security companies who just do what they do – guard. In regards to ferry queues – an annually complained problem, that problem can only be solved by making tickets pre-paid with all non-ticketholders taking other public transport. The huge crowds began in 2013 and has reached crisis point in 2016. Vivid hasn’t done enough. They need to do more otherwise everyone will be LIVID.

Were you there?

If you were stuck in the crowd crush particularly around the Moore Steps and like to provide more information, please contact us and also let Vivid Sydney know. This allows us both to provide better information to the public about the event as well as allow Vivid Sydney to plan better for next year.

P.S If you think all social media posts of this incident are in this article, you are wrong. There were many, many more….

Update (16/06/2016): 5 days after the initial Moore Steps crowd crush, 1 media organisation finally reported the Moore Steps crowd crush. That articles mainly notes that they will incraese police resources for the final 2 days of Vivid. In my opinion, this won’t solve the problem because firstly, there were police at the original 2 crushes but were uncoordinated so coordinating police with a ‘crowd crush plan’ would be the 1st thing to solve and secondly, more police equals less space. The problem is a lack of space not a lack of police. Vivid needs to increase space and distribution of the crowds within that increased space but not in uniconic spaces like Chatswood or Central Park but more like the one-way loop concept I proposed which passes heaps of iconic places. The article also quotes a Destination New South Wales spokesperson saying “use public transport to avoid any bottlenecks”. This was terribly worded advice as public transport means ferries & trains and where is the main ferry/train stop at Vivid?  – Circular Quay – where the crowd crushes and most bottlenecks are occurring. I’m not saying do not use public transport – just do not hop off at Circular Quay on expected crowded nights until they solve the crowd problem.

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