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urban planning

Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline

For a strategy to be implement it must be specified in detail what the vague ambition means in concrete terms. Putting the financial cost of infrastructure to one side, what does it mean to build a bike path. For this the urban planning practitioners need a specification.

Another important document for active travel in Canberra and urban planning, and another very long title. This post is an introduction to Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019). Because the title is so long it is often simply referred to it as PATACT.

ACT Government, urban planning, ACT, Australia
Figure 1: The cover of Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (PATACT)

The ACT urban planning documents often build on one another. This one is no exception. This document was released in January 2019, which may seem a long time after the release of the Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel in 2015, and Light Rail Network –Delivering a modern transport system for a growing city (Light Rail Network), October 2015. The last two documents describe the ACT Government’s strategy for active travel as well as the light rail component of active travel. With PATACT the ACT Government describes what that means for non-road infrastructure and urban planning, in particular cycling.

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The directorate of the ACT Government responsible for active travel is Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS), the result of the amalgamation of City Services and Transport Canberra under one minister, currenct the MLA Chris Steel (since 2019).

Transport Canberra and City Services is a diverse directorate delivering essential services Canberrans rely on each day.

About us, TCCS website

The ACT Government released about the same time as PATACT another active travel document: Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (ACT Government, April 2019), or simply MIS05 for short.

ACT Government, urban planning, ACT, Australia
Figure 2: The cover 2019 Active Travel Facilities Design Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05)

The PATACT and MIS05 are easily confused and are in fact related.

“TCCS has prepared this document to complement the release of Municipal Infrastructure Standard 05 Active Travel Facilities Design (MIS05). At this stage it is an interim guide to assist with the planning and development of infrastructure for walking, cycling and equestrian use.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 5

The advantage of the PATACT is that it is an excellent introduction to the way the ACT Government wishes to introduce active travel into the ACT. The problem with strategy doucments such as Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel is that they tell you the “why” and “what” but not the “how”.

Government intentions often fail in their implementation. Many a good idea is lost through political and financial expediency. The devil is often in the detail. Policy makers are not urban planning practitioners, either in government or private consultancies. The difference in thinking between the two is quite large.

For a strategy to be implemented it must be specified in detail what the vague ambition means in concrete terms. Putting the financial cost of infrastructure to one side, what does it mean to build a bike path? For this the urban planning practitioners need a specification.

The question of where the infrastructure is to go is answered by the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool which I have described in the post Introduction: ACT urban development and ATIPT. The question of how the infrastructure is to be built is answered by the MIS05 and the associate library of ACT Standard Drawings (ACTSD). These drawings are engineering docments that specify the ACT standards. Below I will include one example of the many drawings. The ACT Standard Drawings and MIS05 will be discussed in detail in another post.

example, ACTSD-0528, ACT, Australia, urban planning
Figure 3: Example of Standard drawing for side street crossings for paths on main and local community routes ACTSD-0528
example, ACTSD-0528, ACT, Australia, urban planning
Figure 4: Enlargement shows that the ACT Standard Drawings are quite specific

PATACT overview

The PATACT introduces the term of active travel. Active travel is a vague term that causes much confusion. Nomenclature is important in urban planning. Terms are words for things that have a specific meaning in the context of urban planning in the ACT. In other Australian states such as NSW the legal and planning frameworks are often different. Australia is a federation and the states are independent regulation on many matters. Real estate developers, constrution firms and urban planning practitioners must work within the constraints of the jurisdiction, in this case, the ACT.

The PATACT defines terms such as active travel.

“The term ‘active travel’ is used in this document to encompass active modes of transport and recreation including walking, cycling and equestrian activities. Active travel can also refer to any form of human powered mobility such as using a wheelchair or other personal mobility device; pushing a pram; wheeling luggage; riding an e-bike/pedelec, scooter, skateboard, tricycle or rollerblades.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 6

It breaks active travel down into categories as different types of active travel require different types of infrastructure. Noticeable also is the introduction of abbreviations for commonly used terms such as Active Travel Routes (ATR). The idea of “special needs routes” is introduced and is quite important as it is mandated under the ACT Disabilities Act.

“The ACT Active Travel Routes (ATR) system includes five different route types for transportation and recreation:

> Community Routes (for walking and cycling);
> On Road Cycling Routes;
> Accessible Pedestrian Routes;
> Recreational Routes (for walking and cycling); and
> Equestrian Routes.

These five route types can be divided into three purpose groups:
> Active transportation routes;
> Active travel recreation routes; and
> Special needs routes.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 6

Cycling is many things and the active travel guidelines need to deal with this. Cycling can be on road in bike lanes or separated from the road on “Active Travel Routes”. Community Routes are the most common path type in the ACT. Additionally, cycling has many purposes: to commute to work, ride to the local school or shops, or mountain bike riding on the weekend. The infrastructure needs to be fit for purpose. The path standards can be paved or unpaved. Community Routes are paved. More important Community Routes, for example Main Community Routes (MCR), are usually asphalt. If you are commuting to work this is the route you are looking for. Riding to school or to the shops within a suburb are often along Local Community Routes (LCR). These paths are often concrete but can still be quite wide due to the many pedestrians. Recreational Routes are common in the ACT and often not paved but rather gravel or dirt. To recreational routes belong the formed vehicle trails or management trails, as in the ACT cycling on such trails is generally permitted. Some recreational trails will be signposted such as the Canberra Centenary Trail and the Bicentennial National Trail (which is poorly document by the ACT Government). Other recreational trails include single trails for mountain biking and are found in reserves set aside for this purpose, including Stromlo Forest Park, Bruce Ridge, Kowen Forest, and Majura Pines.

The PATACT does a good job of introducing the policy context and in particular important active travel documents and processes.

ACT Government, urban planning, ACT, Australia
Figure 2: Implementing ATN facilities in a new development using ATR system page 11

The Active Travel Route Alignments have been a big problem in the ACT in and introduced in section 3.2.

Traditionally, in the ACT routes for active travel modes such as walking and cycling were planned within “green corridors” utilised for “cycle paths” connecting main destinations. In recent times however, routes have followed roads with the level of amenity such as path width and lighting levels dictated by the road hierarchy. Open spaces have been subject to landscaping only, with little regard to “big picture” planning or the design of facilities necessary for active travel. This approach has not provided for route characteristics likely to encourage active travel as an alternative travel mode over vehicle use.

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 12

The land development process is introduced in section 4 and explains the strategic policy and planning, and most importantly estate development process (section 4.2). The vast majority of the active travel infrasture in the ACT will be built as part of a estate development. If we get estate development wrong, the active travel infrasture could take decades to fix.

Estate Development Plans are often in Future Urban Areas (normally “greenfield” estates) but can include significant infill development projects. They are assessed against the requirements of the Estate Development Code in the Territory Plan.

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 15

The Estate Development Code (EDC) is a key document and one of the most important ones. Much of the MIS05 is still not written into it, which accounts for the failings of more recent estate developments such as that in the Molonglo Valley.

Design acceptance (4.6) and operation acceptance (4.7) are critical steps for ensuring that the active travel infrastructure is built correctly. The ACT Government does neither build the suburb nor does it do the detailed planning. This is done for them by the ACT Suburban Land Agency, an authority established by the ACT Government, or subcontracted to private construction firms and consultancies. Commerical contracts need to be managed. The approval steps in the estate development process are important in this context.

Section 5 looks at route types. Community routes are introduced in section 5.1.1. For cycling commuters the Main Community Routes (MCR) are most important.

“Main Community Routes (MCRs)

These are the “arterials” for active transportation and connect PCRs to group and employment centres. Connected destinations also include hospitals, industrial areas and the airport precinct as well as major active travel venues such as Stromlo Forest Park.

There are a number of different types of Main Community Routes that have different purposes such as connecting town centres by alternative routes, links to other MCRs and PCRs to form a connected network and inner-urban loops in town and group centres. The latter allow higher amenity movement around these destinations with PCRs and MCRs generally terminating at the loops.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 22

Section 5.1.4 describes Recreation Routes, the most important of which is the Principal Recreational Trails (PRT) which I have mentioned above.

“Principal Recreational Trails

Principal Recreational Trails (PRTs) are usually made up of paths or unsealed trails through open spaces that may include a higher level of amenity than other recreational paths or trails and offer better continuity or directional and interpretative signage. These trails sometimes overlay Community Routes and may be developed with special branding to create a unique route identity (examples: the Centenary Trail and Lake Circuits). Principal Recreational Trails may cater for one or more activities such as bushwalking, sightseeing, mountain bike riding and running/jogging. Horse riding is generally restricted to Equestrian trails but may be allowed on some PRTs.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 25

Communtiy Routes can be built with many different types of infrastructure and different sections of the route may be designed and built differently depending on the local circumstances. The specific designs for each section that make a Community Route are called facilities. There are technical drawings in the ACT Design Standards for each type of facility. The facilities are introduced in section 5.2.1.

“Community Routes generally consist of shared or separated paths but also include shared zones, shared space and Active Travel Streets. The facilities associated with these routes cater for walkers, joggers, the very young and the elderly as well as most types of cyclists and the facilities must allow for the needs of all of these users.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 26

We hit the limits of the PATACT with the mention of Active Travel Streets. Active Travel Streets are described in other ACT documents including the MIS05 but Australian Austroads Standards.

The PATCAT is a non statutory docment (non-binding), it is a recommendation rather than a rule. Statutory planning documents are legally binding and require the ACT Legislative Assembly to pass changes. The recommended changes are described in section 6.

“The intention is to present the requirements in a form that can be converted into a planning code in the future. In converting to a code, the identified objectives are expected to become Elements of the Code with the Requirements being converted into Rules and Criteria.”

Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019), page 30

If the ACT Legislative Assembly have not passed such changes, active travel remains optional.

10 replies on “Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline”

[…] “Active Travel” is a vague term that is hard to understand and not particularly intuitive. It causes a great deal of confusion. Most people don’t regard public transport 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 and importance of the path network beyond walking for those who require a “mobility device”. […]

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