The active travel vision is grand but difficult to reconcile with the infrastructure found in older suburbs. The ACT Government inherits the old but the old was built in different times with different problems.
“The past is a foreign country and they do things differently there.”source unknown
The ACT Government faces today’s problems with the infrastructure designed for yesteryear. Some cities have experienced a great fire. From the bare earth, the city can be rebuilt anew for modern times. The challenge of urban planning is another, to rebuild a living city. This is more akin to rebuilding a boat while you are sitting in it. It is not straight forward and creates anxiety.
How do we rebuild Canberra
The ACT Government has many policies that are generally well known and have broad acceptance. The devil lies in the detail. Every change impacts somebody, and while it is the nature of politics to reconcile difference, it is a messy process.
Active travel faces these challenges. It is well-founded in good policy across the whole of government but it is not so easy to do due to the infrastructure legacy of the older suburbs. The scarcest of all resources in a city is space. To build a bike path you have to take the space from somewhere, and somebody is going to object. Secondly, it is going to cost money and infrastructure is paid for from general revenue (including roads). The ACT Government has ongoing accountabilities – such as health and education – that consume most of the budget, leaving very little for transport. Active travel is fraught with compromise.
The key documents for active travel are effectively two standards: one for the old parts of the city, and the other for the new, called “retrofit” and “estate development” respectively. Building active travel infrastructure in the older suburbs can be difficult and the “retrofit” standard is a compromise that hopes to reap most of the benefits at a reasonable cost. One type of retrofit is the Active Travel Street.
Active Travel Street
Active Travel Street is designed to solve the space problem. The idea is to make a normal street bike and pedestrian-friendly. This is done where it hurts least.
A Dutch blogger’s view of Canberra after visiting the city was this:
“Taking advantage of the local situation is also done with the so-called Active Travel Streets, one of which is planned parallel to Northbourne Avenue, at this moment a 6-lane main road into the city centre. It has on-street cycle lanes, but you would like separated cycle tracks on such a big road. Canberra’s first light rail to the north is currently under construction in the verge of this road. If only the city would take the opportunity to reconstruct the road to 2-lanes per direction for motor traffic and implement protected cycle tracks. Instead, Canberra is planning an Active Travel Street in a parallel back street. We don’t like routes in back streets in Europe. In the Netherlands, we usually build a detour for cars and then give the old -more direct- route to cycling. Back street routes, such as the ones in London, always send people cycling the long way around, into streets that weren’t designed for cycling, and which aren’t in people’s mental map either.”Improving Active Travel in Canberra, BICYCLE DUTCH blog
However, what the community will tolerate comes back to the political climate.
“But this requires political leadership with a long-term vision and larger investments. I know the people in the department for Transport are more than ready for this step, but whether politicians and the general public are on the same page, is something I cannot judge.”Improving Active Travel in Canberra, BICYCLE DUTCH blog
In one public gather recently, legal action was proposed to solve a local problem. The MLA Carolyn Le Couteur objected, “what is required is not legal action but community support.” Active travel can only succeed as long as the people of Canberra are behind it.
The community must appreciate the benefits far more than any inconvenience caused by the change. This is what makes cycling infrastructure in northern European countries so good. In Utrecht, the community accepted ripping up a motorway to build a canal which they now cycle beside. It is a question of values. Where the car is king, space needs to be made for active travel, even though some drivers may be inconvenienced by it. This is not a contentious statement in Europe but it may be here in Canberra. Active travel means a new balance with many other modes of transport.
Change management is required to engage with stakeholders and the community to identify benefits for everyone. Paradigm shifts are required to make the change happen.
Bicycles have always been used for sport and with active travel we are now normalising cycling for everyday purposes. As one Pedal Power ACT member recently said, “without infrastructure, this will never happen.” Active Travel Streets can help.
Remember, community routes are the active travel term for any path in public space. Community routes form a hierarchy for bikes from cycle highways to local paths: Principal, Main, Local and Access Community Routes. The system is the same as for roads with many small ones feeding into a few bigger ones where you can travel faster and safely.
“4.8.2 Active travel streets
Estate Development and Retrofit
Active Travel Streets are low-speed, low-volume, traffic calmed streets optimised for bicycle travel onroad with improved adjacent path provision for pedestrians. The on-road cycling component of an Active Travel Street is called a “Bicycle Boulevard” – a type of mixed traffic facility which aims to create a bicyclefriendly street environment by the introduction of a package of LATM measures to reduce traffic volumes and traffic speeds to below 30km/h by design. In the ACT an Active Travel Street facility always includes measures to improve pedestrian safety and amenity along the Active Travel Street.
Active Travel Streets can be used for Main and Local Community Routes in both Estate Development and Retrofit situations (see below) and are particularly suited for retrofit use in inner urban land use contexts.
Active Travel Streets can be used to provide a more attractive and safer walking and cycling environment to arterial or major collector road corridors by utilising parallel local access streets with bicycle boulevard treatments and suitable path enhancements. This approach can also apply to minor collectors to minimise the risk of driveway crossings and interactions with busses when also a bus route.
Design examples and information on developing Active Travel Streets are provided in ACTSD-0512. Additional design information on Bicycle Boulevard treatments can be obtained from the US National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) design manual Urban Bikeway Design Guide Second Edition 2014 (Bicycle Boulevards section).”Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05), page 64
Austroads has recently released guidelines to better safeguard vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, by introducing measures that integrate Safe System principles with the Movement and Place Framework to reduce the number of fatal and serious injury crashes. The name of these guidelines is rather long but descriptive: Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users: Reducing numbers and severity of crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists (4 February 2020), Austroads. I will introduce these guidelines at another time.
Active Travel Street and Bicycle Boulevards are from the US and are not found in most Austroads guidelines for vulnerable road users, as separation is generally an overriding factor in determining the safety cyclist and pedestrians. The other important factor is the vehicle speed which is why Active Travel Streets have a 30kmh speed limit.
There is an Austroads standard in which Active Travel Streets are included: AGTM08, Section 4.8.2. This standard, about which I know little, seems to discuss shared zones, shared space and traffic calming devices. Note that none of these things has the cyclist separated from the traffic. Separation is important. It can save lives!
“It is essential to consider vulnerable users such as school children and elderly riders who may not feel comfortable riding on the roadway in any circumstance. When upgrading street pavements in these locations, upgrades of adjacent footpaths should be carried out at the same time.”Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05), section 4.8.5, page 68
In other words, Active Travel Streets may be easy and certainly better than nothing, but not good.
A necessary evil
“In recent years the community has placed a higher expectation on the level of amenity and safety required of active travel facilities. The ATR (Active Travel Route) system has been developed in response to these higher community expectations. In established areas, however, there are many instances of locations where existing facilities on identified routes will not meet the current standards for the route type and hierarchy.
This includes, for example, Main Community Routes where, due to existing constraints, some short links require cycling on-street and pedestrians to use available paths. In some local access streets without a path, pedestrians may also have to walk within the roadway. Active Travel Streets can provide improved access for walkers and cyclists utilising improved paths for walking and a low speed mixed traffic environment for cycling.”Planning for Active Travel in the ACT Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline, (ACT Government, section 5.2, page 26
The following situation is common in Canberra.
“4.8.6 Community Route facilities on-streets without verge paths
For Main and Local Community Routes through established areas, the achievement of a continuous, direct and easy-graded route using as much available greenspace as available is often not possible without utilising short connecting sections of local access streets. In many established areas these streets are narrow and have not been designed or built with verge paths. Such streets generally have low-traffic volumes and slow traffic speeds and are usually older ACT Code legacy access streets with speed limit ≤50km/h.”Active Travel Street (ATS) – Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05), page 69
In a city that was designed and built before “active travel” became a thing (Zeitgeist), space has not been left for cycle paths. In order to build an ongoing network of interconnected paths through these older areas, it is necessary to use local roads as a bridge between separated community paths.
Active Travel Streets, “bicycle boulevard treatments and suitable path enhancements,” will make Canberra a better – and fun – place to cycle.
- Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (ACT Government, April 2019)(MIS05)
- Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019) (PATACT)
- Guide to Road Design Part 6A: Paths for Walking and Cycling (Austroads, 2017)