The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool is embedded in the ACT urban development process. The general public, local residents and other stakeholders have a vested interest in new developments in the ACT. It is, however, difficult to find answers to what are sometimes simple questions. Urban development is a large machine that by necessity must serve the professionals and commercial partners, but Canberrans as residents and are important too. These two groups are separated by both language and knowledge.
- The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool in the landscape of ACT urban development
- The scope of the tool and the limitations that come along with that
Why use the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool?
The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool is a website that displays ACT Government planning data from ACTmapi. The Tool is simpler than ACTmapi and provides are a selection of data for Canberra’s current and future transport needs with the focus on Active Travel.
You would have noticed that Canberra is developing very quickly. The population forecasts are dramatic. It is a challenge to develop Canberra sufficiently quickly without compromising quality. The ACT has many design standards and considerations – both statutory and non-statutory – but urban design is about compromise, balancing the competing interests. The design of our city focuses on the balance between Movement and Place. The Movement and Place framework is amongst current urban planners and civil engineers widely embraced across all states of Australia.
The importance of estate development in ACT
Canberra has always been the “planned city” and the Government has always been intimately involved with the planning of the capital. The ACT territory government works together with the National Capital Authority, and it is coordinated through the statutory Territory Plan.
The Suburban Land Agency is a statutory authority established under the City Renewal Authority and Suburban Land Agency Act 2017. The Suburban Land Agency is responsible for delivering the ACT Government’s suburban development program, including the development of the Molonglo Valley. The Minister for Housing and Suburban Development (October 2016–present) at present is Yvette Berry (Australian Labor Party, Ginninderra electorate).
Estate developments are “greenfield” developments and are very substantial in the bush capital. An example is the Molonglo Valley.
Molonglo Valley, at capacity, is planned to accommodate approximately 55,000 new residents 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.
The ACT concept for estate development is that the majority of the design and construction are outsourced through consulting, engineering and construction companies. The city planning, zoning, regulation, design standards are the municipal responsibility of the ACT Government and its directorates. After the designs are approved and constructed the assets are “returned” to ACT Government and the land released for sale. The profits from the sale of land in new estates are an important source of revenue for the ACT Government. This has recently been illustrated in the Mid-Year Budget Review 2019-20 (released 13 February 2020) which estimates “there is $51.3 million less from the Suburban Land Agency and the City Renewal Authority” (The RiotACT) due to slow housing sales in new estates.
The ACT Government has other sources of revenue, for example, taxation and federal grants but the ACT Government finds it difficult to find capital for transport infrastructure projects in the budget. It is easily forgotten that the largest single item in the budget is health. Improvements to the existing ACT transport infrastructure contrasts with estate developments and is called a “retrofit”. Infrastructure upgrades are expensive and fraught with compromise. Greenfield construction is easier and cheaper. Therefore there is a high price for mistakes in the planning of new estates. That is why it makes sense trying to get it right the first time. While this is well known, problems with the Molonglo Valley development have led to a discussion of “quality” and ongoing attempts to improve the development process. The latest of these is the planning and development process around active travel. The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool plays an important role in efforts to improve infrastructure quality in Canberra.
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. Here you can download the ACT Standard Drawings (ACTSD) for active travel.
For example, 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
Strength and weaknesses of the tool
The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool shows what will be built and where. It does not mean that there is a development application or that the project has been approved yet. Rather the tool intends to:
- document existing infrastructure that is important to active travel;
- prioritise its importance as part of a much large Canberra wide network of paths (aka. Active Travel Network);
- set priorities for new paths to expand the network (all paths are not born equal);
- set priorities for the existing paths for maintenance, providing information on their relative importance in the network;
- set design criteria and upgrade of paths depending on their function;
- reserve corridors for future paths that are essential to the network;
- aid new estate development, stipulate what type of route is to be designed and in which corridor and it should be built;
- make available fit-for-purpose ACT Standard Designs (ACTSD) for active travel (MIS05) for each type of route including construction, surface, signage, line markings, lighting, and the intersection design.
Unlike ACTmapi, the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool does not include much of the information the ACT municipal service relies upon, but rather provides information (in part statutory) to aid designer for developing infrastructure plans and Development Applications.
The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool is not a project management tool either. It does not show timelines for construction, completion dates, project delays, or inform the outcome of Development Application approvals (or not). There is a dedicated website for Development Applications. Development Applications are a better source of detail information in the later urban development phase.
It is typical that new developments such as the Molonglo Valley will take 10-20 years to build. A simple question such as when I can walk or ride across the Molonglo Valley on a paved path cannot be answered by the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool as the tool does not include information regarding the sequencing of the estate construction. In the Molonglo Valley, the construction is not from the south and to the north, providing one continuous urban surface. The development is done area by area, in fragment way. It can be a decade before gaps are complete in the path networks. They are typically bundled as part of some much larger project such as a school or shopping centre. It would be wrong to think the paths are built and the buildings go up around them. This is certainly true for the streets, but the paved surfaces are often completed towards the end of the project after the buildings are completed. Large projects often built from inside out and the paths on the edges are built last.
In conclusion, the routes described in the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool will only be ridable/walkable along their entire length, in other words fully functional, towards the end of the Molonglo Valley development. It will take a while. The earliest settlers of Coombs could have time to see their kids grow up and moved out before some paths are complete. It is possible because the process puts no emphasis on path completion. This is a consequence of having path infrastructure embedded an estate development process. It is detrimental to achieving the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals (see below).
The lost potential can be illustrated with one example of the Butters Bridge. The Butters Bridge was completed in 2016 and while the north side of the bridge is likely to see paths to the adjacent suburb of Whitlam in the next few years, the south side of the bridge is unlikely to be connected to the greater Molonglo Valley path network until the completion of adjacent Denman Prospect estate. The estates of Molonglo and Molonglo East 3 (two suburbs opposite Whitlam, on the north side of the river) appear to be scheduled first.
Molonglo Valley stage 2 planning process
I have included extracts of the Molonglo Valley stage 2 planning process from an ACT Government document. More information about Molonglo Valley stage 2 is on the ACT Government website. Molonglo Valley stage 2 estates are still under construction.
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.”ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25
“3E Reduce car use
3.15 Investigate and implement options for encouraging a shift to public transport and active travel through planning…”ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25