It is all very well to want an improvement of the active travel infrastructure in Canberra but what precisely does “good” mean? The work of writing a precise definition has been done.
For urban infrastructure, these definitions are called standards. Australia is a federation, and we have national standards, but the states often have their own local standards which override the national standards. This is also true for the ACT’s active travel infrastructure. Austroads is the organisation responsible for national standards. It may have started with roads, but the standards have matured for all the ways people move around a city.
The ACT Government released the active travel design standard last year. The title is long but descriptive: Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 and commonly referred to as the MIS05. There is also a national standard for pedestrian and bike infrastructure: Guide to Road Design Part 6A: Paths for Walking and Cycling (Austroads, 2017) or simply AGRD06A.
In the ACT, it is worth noting, that pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure is generally shared and simply known as Community Routes. The characteristics of walking and cycling are quite different though, which creates difficulties for urban planners. It is not always sensible or required to separate the two. The Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 describes how this is to be done. For more important and longer routes such as Principal Community Routes (PCR) and Main Community Routes (MCR), it is generally sensible to optimise the paths for cyclists as pedestrians can still use them. This is what is traditionally known in the ACT as a “shared path”. Keep in mind that all paths in the ACT are shared unless there is a sign saying otherwise. Separated and dedicated paths for either walking or cycling are still quite rare.
Principal Community Routes (PCR) are the motorways of cycling and I will refer to them as “cycle highways”. Cycle highways don’t exist in Canberra yet but are defined in the standards, and particularly the Austroads standard AGRD06A is very good in this respect. The ACT MIS05 standard struggles with the term Principal Community Routes (PCR). It is recognised that we need commuting routes and that they must be direct, of high quality and specifically designed for high cycling speeds (like in Germany or the Netherlands for instance).
This will usually make the commuting cycle highways separated from pedestrians, space permitting. I think that once dedicated cycling infrastructure gains more acceptance, the term Principal Community Routes will be discussed more often in the ACT Government and amongst urban planners in Canberra. This has happened in other countries already where a great many people ride to work daily.
Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05
This document covers the design of active travel infrastructure (pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian) associated with all ACT roads and urban open space areas. On-road bicycle facilities associated with arterial roads are covered in brief in the ACT Trunk Roads Infrastructure Standards and are referenced back to the detailed coverage provided in this Design Standard. Equestrian facilities design is also covered, including infrastructure design requirements for path/trail crossings and multi-use trails.
These Design Standards have been developed to assist road designers, engineers, landscape architects and planners to design for the construction of high-quality active travel facilities for the people of the ACT.Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019), page 9
While active travel infrastructure includes pedestrian and equestrian facilities, canberra.bike is about cycling, so I will focus on that. I have included several photos from the Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 document. The idea of cycling infrastructure in the ACT is new and when the older suburbs were built there was no consideration of active travel in the urban design. Many of the older suburbs have streets without footpaths. One of the great challenges in the ACT is to make these old suburbs fit for active travel. The construction of active travel infrastructure in an existing urban environment is called “retrofit”. It is difficult because the streets are not designed to make space for it. For this reason, most of the existing bike infrastructure built in older suburbs is through parks. The MIS05 is about two standards: one for old and one for new suburbs, or in the language of urban planning, “retrofit” and “estate developments”. The “estate developments” scenario sets the goal and minimum accepted standard for new areas of Canberra. In the old areas, as a recognition of the difficulties, a lower standard is accepted for active travel infrastructure. In many places of Canberra, even this minimum retrofit standard is yet to be achieved.
The examples from the MIS05 for active travel infrastructure are overwhelmingly for “retrofit”. This is the minimum that you will see in Canberra. In all the new suburbs the quality of the infrastructure needs to be much better, namely that for “estate developments”. There are few photos for the “estate development” active travel infrastructure but rather drawings, that are part of the MIS05 standard but not included in this document. The ACT Standard Drawings are kept separately and can be downloaded from the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool.