Cycle infrastructure in Wright and Coombs

Once the suburb is built, its design is set in stone. A coherent network of continuous bike paths across the city, require cycle corridors to be reserved, upon which new suburbs can be designed and realised so that the new infrastructure interconnects. Suburb design starts with the end in mind. The suburb is a small unit of the much larger and longer endeavour to build cycle highways across the city.


Update 1 August 2021

This article was first published at the beginning of 2019. Since then the issues described here in the Molonglo Valley remain. It has now become clear that before the completion of the John Gorton Drive Bridge (2025) and after that new suburb of Molonglo gaps in the north of the network shall remain. It is not clear when the Molonglo Group Centre on John Gorton Drive will start construction (our estimate later this decade). The east-west link to the National Arboretum will not be complete in until the 2030s.


The suburbs of Wright and Coombs are new suburbs finished since 2015 and as such showcase the design principles for suburb development. For new suburbs, good bike infrastructure begins and ends on the designer’s drawing board.

Snapshot of Wright and Coombs

Looking at the suburbs of Wright and Coombs the following can be observed:

  • bike paths are along waterways and parks and traverse the suburb
  • bike paths connect people to schools and shops
  • bike paths often end at the boundary of the suburb
  • when bike paths are found on the edge of suburbs, they are often fragments going nowhere, stopping and starting at arbitrary locations.

Design and compromise

For the designer of a suburb, priorities are set into the design. Engineering design is about deciding between compromises. Looking at the design of the suburbs of Wright and Coombs, it appears that the bike paths serve to move pedestrian and bike traffic within the suburb between schools, shops, recreation areas such as ovals and parks. This makes sense as long as your horizon is limited to the boundaries of the suburb.

The paths, however, are not connected to a large network of continuous cycle paths. There appears to be a lack of spatial planning at a city level for cycling that maps cycle corridors across the city, making up one continuous network, that would make it possible to ride between town centres and to work. New suburbs should be designed as a coherent network of roads, paths and infrastructure. On the whole, the designers are to be congratulated for creating liveable spaces, however, it is unlikely that the cycle infrastructure design for a single suburb will form coherent networks suitable for commuting and active travel between suburbs and town centres.

Bold Hill from Coombs, Molonglo Valley
Bike path around Coombs under construction. Bold Hill from Coombs, Molonglo Valley

Suburbs overview

Introduction

Examining the bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Wright and Coombs clarifies what routes are available for the cyclist and also their likely use. Bike paths through a suburb serve a different purpose to bike paths surrounding a suburb. We think it important that the design supports the intra-suburb travel for shopping and school children but also the inter-suburb routes for commuting and active travel more generally.

To make such a comparison, we used current maps from OpenStreetMap checked against ACT Government ACTmapi Imagery from 2018. The construction of both Wright and Coombs was almost complete on these images. Sections of Wright and Coombs to the north were missing on the ACTmapi images and were updated with GPS data from site surveys. In total, this provided a pretty complete audit of the suburbs.

The screenshots from OpenStreetMap below emphasise road over bike paths and footpaths, which is not ideal. Bike paths and footpaths are shown: bike paths (blue), footpaths (red), and dirt tracks and paths (brown). Technically, all paths in the ACT are community paths and shared between all user groups.

User groups – Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians are made up of different groups of users that have different values and needs. Pedestrian user groups include walkers, joggers, people pushing prams or strollers and those using wheelchairs, both motorised or non-motorised. Cyclist user groups include primary and secondary school children, family groups / recreational cyclists, commuters, neighbourhood / utility cyclists, and touring and training cyclists (refer AGTM04 Table 4.12).

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)

The maps are annotated to highlight features and show the direction to major destinations. Shops, schools, oval, parks, and childcare are of great importance within the suburb. Straight, even, continuous paths and underpasses are important for commuting and inter-suburb active travel.

Denman Prospect is newer than both Coombs and Wright and potentially a sign of things to come. Should the city evolve, the newer suburbs should demonstrate more of the qualities that we would like. Experience from one suburb development may benefit the design of newer suburbs. Examining bike and pedestrian infrastructure may help us see how this weighs up.

Then there is the problem of missing links: gaps in the network. Planers underestimate the importance of inter-suburb bike paths. Rather than consider bike paths as a network, similar to the road system, the bike paths in many Canberra suburbs are often fragments of a large puzzle with missing pieces. The case study of Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect looks at specifics.   

Wright

Wright, Molonglo Valley. Map: OpenStreetMap and contributors.

Wright is dependent for most of its services on Coombs. There is an underpass between Coombs and Wright on John Gorton Drive. The school in Coombs is a rideable distance and the shops and ovals are adjacent to the school. Wright is skirted by a bike path along Cotter Road and to the west along the boundary with Stromlo Forest Park. A bike path runs along most of the suburbs central axis to Coombs, but unfortunately not all the way. In general, the suburb is quite well interconnected. The streets with roundabouts also have on road cycle lanes.

Coombs

Coombs, Molonglo Valley. Map: OpenStreetMap and contributors.

Coombs is bigger than Wright and has parks, ovals, a school and a shop (although it is not opened). Coombs edges the Molonglo River corridor, but this potential remains untapped. The central axis along Fred Daly Ave has bike lanes but no bike path. A bike path crosses the suburb to the suburb’s edge, through a park, past Coombs Pond. The path ended suddenly. In Coombs, paths end suddenly in quite a few places. Generally, the path network is quite fragment. Weston Creek Pond is a major barrier for travel to the east.

Denman Prospect

Bike paths stop and start around Denman Prospect in strange places. Denman Prospect, Molonglo Valley. Map: OpenStreetMap and contributors.

Denman Prospect may be the sign of things to come. The suburb is not really finished yet, but most of the streets and parks are completed. At this stage, you would expect the bike paths to be completed, too. In that sense, it is representative for comparison.

Denman Prospect is confusing. What appears to be one suburb is actually two. Coaldrake Ave separates the suburb of Denman Prospect from North Wright to the south. North Wright is separated from the south section of Wright by Opperman Ave (the entry road to Stromlo Forest Park). Here the comparison is between North Write and Denman Prospect.

Both suburbs were in the house construction stage with the majority of blocks still bare, though Denman Prospect is well ahead of Wright. The bike infrastructure was quite good in the North Wright, but it was much harder to find bike paths in Denman Prospect. There are other significant design differences as well.

The new section of Wright has many excellent 2.5 m concrete bike paths with path lighting and signage on intersections. A bike path starts at John Gorton Drive and goes all the way along Uriarra Rd into Denman Prospect before ending rather unexpectedly. To allow pedestrians to shortcut across the suburb, Wright has a path along the central axis, perpendicular to John Gorton Drive and the streets in Wright, with distinctive black bollards at street intersections.

Denman Prospect contrasted with this, even though both suburbs were under construction at this time. The design is from a different pen so that different rules apply. We cannot find any bike paths in Denman Prospect except the one on Uriarra Rd. Denman Prospect has good parks and good views. For the cyclist, it is better to circumnavigate it via John Gorton Drive. Hill climbers will have to take the street. The apartments in construction along John Gorton Drive are separated by a long windy path and stairs up a steep hill unsuitable for cycling.

Tree planting, Molonglo Valley, Canberra
Tree planting. Butters Bridge in the foreground and Denman Prospect in the background. Molonglo Valley, Canberra

Fragments but not interconnected networks

Coombs

Coombs goes out onto the peninsula along the Molonglo River corridor. The tip of the peninsula is undeveloped in every sense of the word. The government is thinking of building houses here. The opposite bank of the river will be a housing development and butt up against the Arboretum. The Arboretum is only about one-quarter of the area between Coppins Crossing Road and the Tuggeranong Parkway.

Edgeworth Parade and Anabelle View meet at the point. The bike path along Edgeworth Parade ends abruptly here. Anabelle View does not have a bike path. Indeed, there is no bike path along the river until you get to the Australian Defence College. This is a missing link.

One of the mysteries of Weston Creek Pond is why they never built a bridge here over the creek. There is not even a bike path across the dam. It is necessary for the cyclist to ride all the way back to John Gorton Drive to get around the Weston Creek Pond. Pretty, but not direct. A bridge here would save about a 2 km ride.

I would propose a bike path along Anabelle View and a bridge to the old bike path and Australian Defence College. This would provide a continuous connection from Denman Prospect to the city.

Edgeworth Parade and Anabelle View meet at the tip of Coombs
The strange case of missing links around Weston Creek Pond

Denman Prospect

A bike path fragment between Coombs and Denman Prospect

The bike path north along John Gorton Drive stops short of Holborow Ave, Denman Prospect. The gap is not much but it makes a difference. Holborow Ave needs a bike path, too.

Denman Prospect and Mount Stromlo, Molonglo Valley, Canberra
Denman Prospect and Mount Stromlo, Molonglo Valley, Canberra

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