Letter to Yvette Berry, Minister for Housing and Suburban Development, regarding the new estate development of Whitlam.
The active travel facilities planned for Whitlam Stage 2 fall short of expectations (see Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application 201936061, 10 September 2019). As human behaviour follows infrastructure, this lack of future proofing active travel facilities is directly detrimental to achieving an increase in active travel in the ACT.
This ACT Government held an Active Travel Design workshop (12 December 2018) and stated that the background to the new Active Travel Design Guidelines included “poor infrastructure outcomes as a consequence of planning intent getting ‘lost in translation’”. This is observation is likely relevant for the planning of the brand-new estate Whitlam. My concern is that the failure to systematically integrate active travel principles in the planning process, as well as the dominance of decade old legacy planning practices, will most likely result in the missed potential to develop active travel facilities in the Whitlam and other new estate developments in Canberra. Consequently, this will not only make the roads less safe for vulnerable road users but also not achieve any set active travel goals.
This document is the result of the review of all relevant and current ACT planning documents.
My intent here is to describe what is wrong with the current design planned for Whitlam Stage 2. Some background information will be provided on the Molonglo Valley estates development, Molonglo Valley Stage 3, and Whitlam Stage 2 in particular. I will link the goals of the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 to active travel and implications for planning using Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05). I will also list relevant ACT Standard Drawings (ACTSD) for active travel for Whitlam. Finally, I will provide an example of “Road 01” in Whitlam Stage 2 and the Local Community Path along it, where the intersections are not designed in a way suitable for active travel or compliant with the ACT MIS05 standard.
The Suburban Land Agency is a statutory authority established under the City Renewal Authority and Suburban Land Agency Act 2017. Suburban Land Agency is responsible for delivering the ACT Government’s suburban development program, including the development of the Molonglo Valley.
Molonglo Valley, at capacity, is planned to accommodate approximately 55,000 new residents. Land development in Molonglo Valley was planned in three stages: Stage 1 consisting of the suburbs of Coombs and Wright, and the region of North Weston, Stage 2 the suburbs of Denman Prospect and Molonglo, and Stage 3 the suburbs north of the Molonglo River. Stage 1 and 2 are largely complete.
On 27 February 2019, the Molonglo Valley Stage 3 Planning and Design Framework was finalised.
A framework is a strategic plan to guide future detailed planning, in this case for the new suburbs north of the Molonglo River. Whitlam is the first suburb in Molonglo Valley Stage 3. Whitlam lies west of the Coppins Crossing Rd (later to become the John Gordon Drive). A further two suburbs are planned on the east of this road and extending to the National Arboretum.
The Whitlam estate development has a staged land release: stage 1 from early 2020, stage 2 from late 2020 – early 2021, stage 3 2022 and stage 4 in 2023. (https://suburbanland.act.gov.au/whitlam/whitlam-faqs) The first land release in Whitlam in stage 1 is set for March 2020. The roads are being sealed at this time.
Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Project Brief design tender (2 December 2019), released by the Major Projects Canberra Infrastructure Delivery Partner Group, is for the first stage design of Molonglo 3 East, but not for Whitlam. It is worth monitoring it as it signals the first stage planning of these new, yet unnamed, suburbs have begun. To quote the brief, the ACT’s Indicative Land Release Program 2019-20 to 2022-23, “proposes 200 blocks be released in the study area by 2022-23.” It is all happening very quickly.
ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25
Last year the ACT Government released the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25. Active travel is one important pillar of this strategy:
“Once emissions from electricity are zero, transport will account for around 62%.” Key priorities to 2025 to reduce emissions will be to “encourage active travel by continuing to improve cycle paths and walkability.” Further, it “will require substantial changes in the way we plan and build our city”, and “there will need to be a greater emphasis on increasing active travel (for example, walking and cycling) and public transport use to reduce transport emissions to 2025.” Actions (goals) from the ACT Climate Change Strategy to 2025 include:
“3D Encourage active travel
3.8 Implement the Municipal Infrastructure Standards for Active Travel and develop best practice guidance for industry and stakeholders to inform better design outcomes for active travel infrastructure.
3.9 Prioritise walking and cycling and enhance active travel infrastructure to improve safety and connectivity of the active travel network.”
“3E Reduce car use
3.15 Investigate and implement options for encouraging a shift to public transport and active travel through planning…”
Active travel design
Active travel is supported by many documents and planning resources. References for active travel in the ACT include:
- Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel (May 2015)
- Variation of the Territory Plan No 348: Incorporating Active Living Principles into the Territory Plan (27 October 2017)
- Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (January 2019)
- Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (April 2019)
The Active Travel Facilities Design is supported by the Active Travel Infrastructure – Practitioner Tool (http://activeinfrastructure.net.au/). Here you can download the ACT Standard Drawings (ACTSD) for active travel.
Particularly relevant to the new estate development are the following Standard Drawings.
- ACTSD-0521 mid-block paths crossings MCR
- ACTSD-0527 mid-block driveway crossings for paths (shared) MCR and LCR
- ACTSD-0528 side street crossings for paths (shared) MCR and LCR
The last of these is attached to this email: Standard Drawing ACTSD-0528, 18 September 2018.
Example from Whitlam Stage 2 design: Lack of active travel
The scope of this email is not a complete assessment of the Whitlam Stage 2 development application design. Rather, here I have chosen one example of a Local Community Route (LCR) that falls short of supporting the active travel pillar in the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25. As the roads at this time are yet to be named the roads are labelled with a number, in this case “Road 01”.
The “Road 01” lies in the far southern edge of the Whitlam Stage 2 estate. It will pass by local shops and a school. The screenshot below shows an enlargement of the “Road 01” of the active travel network from the Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application (attached PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01). For convenience, I have included the following screen shots.
The location of “Road 01” can be verified on another plan from the Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application (attached ROADDETAILS-201936061-01). The Local Community Route along the north side of “Road 01” can be seen on the following plan Road Details Plan – Sight Distance (sheet 3 of 5) (attached ROADDETAILS-201936061-03). INTERSECTION ROADS 01/52/57/58 – these are closest to the school and are of concern. The Local Community Route zigzags down the length of “Road 01” (see ROADDETAILS-201936061-03).
Line of sight at intersections is very important for motorists but for safety reasons is essential for vulnerable road users. The Road Details Plan – Sight Distance, shows the line of sight between cars driving along Road 01 and cars on the side road. The current design is a very poor active travel design as vulnerable road users, in particular children, will be hidden by the car waiting at the intersection. This can also be seen on the plan.
This type of intersection design has rightly been criticised in the recent Austroads safety report Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (https://austroads.com.au/publications/road-safety/ap-r612-20). The design is intended to allow a car to drive right up to the edge of the main road for good visibility. However, this leads to an avoidable risk to vulnerable road users because the path (Local Community Route) is an unmarked crossing. Safer designs have the vehicle slow before crossing, to then proceed with care looking out for pedestrians and cyclists. Austroads promotes “Safe Systems” that protect vulnerable road user, such as raised platforms. Cars approaching the intersection will slow before the platform as the intersection is raised, easily visible, and marked with signs and on-road markings.
Safe Systems are found in the ACT MIS05 Active Travel Facilities Design. ACT Design Standards for active travel were released in 2018. The relevant design standard for this intersection is ACTSD-0528 Side Street Crossing Treatments (on platforms) for paths (shared) on Main and Local Community Routes (attached ACTSD-0528-Rev0-180929). Recommended are the “continuous verge treatment” or zebra crossing, both of which feature a raised platform at the same level as the adjacent verge.
The failure of the Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application design is that it includes design elements that are not safe or compliant with MIS05.
I expect the Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application to be rejected should it be found non-compliant with the ACT active travel design principles found in MIS05 Active Travel Facilities Design. A redesign is then needed urgently. The ACT Government is unlikely to achieve the goals the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 otherwise. We now have a climate emergency and need to apply an emergency action mindset for any planning activities in Whitlam.