Clear words for clear goals

Clear words for clear goals: making Active Travel meaningful

An email sent to Shane Rattenbury on 24/2/2020 (minor edits)

To achieve the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals, less people will be driving. The strategy does not deny anybody the right to drive.

If people are to leave their cars at home, then the Active Travel Network needs to be very attractive. COMMUTING is one of the primary reasons many people own a car. We cannot live without work and for the majority this involves a twice-daily commute. The 2017 ACT Household Travel Survey shows that the daily commute is one of the longest journeys made. Schools, shops, doctors and sport are usually in the local area and the distance travelled is almost always shorter. Not surprisingly, commuters are least likely to leave their car at home. Getting to work is serious. 

Photo by Snapwire on

“Active Travel” is a vague term that is hard to understand and not particularly intuitive. It causes a great deal of confusion. It is noticeable that Principal (PCR) or Main Community Routes (MCR) have been branded “CBR Cycle Routes”. This makes a lot more sense to tourists and most Canberrans. It can also be seen in the signage standards planned for the Active Travel Network. Most people don’t regard riding a bus as active travel, but it is because the “last mile” between the bus stop and the home, workplace, shops and schools, is usually walked. The ACT Disability Act further expands the function of the path network beyond walking, with the term “mobility device” worthy of note.

The Active Travel Framework does not grasp the central importance of commuting in our daily lives. Commuting hides in the background of this document – implied but rarely worth a mention.

I would like to emphasise the importance of understandable and precise language in the active travel discussion that does not use alienating or the use of abstract language. People must understand and get on board. A common alternative to “active travel” in ACT Government documents is “active transport”. This is an improvement. Bikes for commuting are used for transport, not fitness. The average commuting distance is about 10 km for Canberrans (2017 ACT Household Travel Survey). This is too far to walk in a reasonable time, and certainly not twice a day, five days per week. It would be better to change the wording and talk about “riding to work”, “commuting to work”, “cycling commuters”, and “cycle highways”. 

Cycle highways are a sticking point. The routes and paths must be designed correctly. Frequent commuters ride quickly and will only stop when they must. The commuter requires good quality, smooth, safe and well-maintained paths that provide direct, low gradient routes, and can be used in all weather (even after heavy rains) and times of day (safe at night). “Cycle highways“ are swept and cleared of debris. For construction sites, a safe and easy temporary path is provided to get around it. We cannot expect people otherwise to leave their car at home. 

Drivers understand what good infrastructure means.

Cycle highways are high-speed paths built for their utility and need to be designed with similar thoroughness and thoughtfulness as roads. But the requirements are quite different. For example, cars prefer to travel at speeds of 80km/h and pedestrians are very slow. The Canberra urban planners and ACT Government should note that “cycle highways” are not likely to be built by additions to existing road or pedestrian infrastructure that have been designed for a different purpose. The design of cycle highways can not be compromised. 

Bikes are getting faster and there are more of them. Shared paths will not work. Even with a normal bike, a cyclist commuting commonly reaches speeds of 20km/h. Electric bikes are faster still with speeds of 25km/h, even uphill. Electric bike sales are booming. Riding downhill, bikes can reach much higher speeds. Austroads cycle path design guidelines include path radius for speeds higher than 30km/h. Riding to work requires separated and dedicated infrastructure for bikes. 

Cyclists are “vulnerable road users” and require alternatives to roads. Attempts have been made to categorise the bike as a vehicle for the road or “pedestrian” to permit the use of footpaths. This has failed as a cyclist is neither of these. A person that rides a bike to work is a cyclist and their needs are different. 

Infrastructure needs to be given the priority by the ACT Government as it takes a long time to build. Cycle highways are not the last step but they should be the first. There are other barriers to commuting including business clothes, sweating, hair, makeup, secure storage facilities for bikes and clean and hygienic change rooms with big enough and well vented lockers. These were not mentioned, but I would not have them forgotten.

The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 is on the right path, and I would encourage the ACT Government to be brave and take the next step.

Regards, Ian Diversi

ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 active travel goals

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…” 

ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25

Documents worth knowing:

  1. 2017 ACT Household Travel Survey (ACT Government, 2018)
  2. ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 (ACT Government, 2019)
  3. ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)
  4. Active Travel Design workshop (ACT Government, 12 December 2018)
  5. Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)
  6. Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel (ACT Government, May 2015) (aka. Active Travel Framework)
  7. Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads,2020)
  8. Moving Canberra 2019-2045: Integrated transport strategy (ACT Government, 2018)
  9. Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019)
  10. Variation of the Territory Plan No 348: Incorporating Active Living Principles into the Territory Plan (ACT Government, 27 October 2017)

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s