Letter to Yvette Berry on active travel

The active travel facilities planned for Whitlam Stage 2 fall short of expectations. As human behaviour follows infrastructure, this lack of future proofing active travel facilities is directly detrimental to achieving an increase in active travel in the ACT.

This ACT Government held an Active Travel Design workshop (12 December 2018) and stated that the background to the new Active Travel Design Guidelines included “poor infrastructure outcomes as a consequence of planning intent getting ‘lost in translation’”. My analysis concludes that this observation is likely relevant for the planning of the brand-new estate Whitlam. My concern is that the failure to systematically integrate active travel principles in the planning process, as well as the dominance of decade old legacy planning practices, will most likely result in the missed potential to develop active travel facilities in the Whitlam and other new estate developments in Canberra. Consequently, this will not only make the roads less safe for vulnerable road users but also not achieve any set active travel goals.

John Gorton Drive by Whitlam looking towards Belconnen
John Gorton Drive by Whitlam looking towards Belconnen

Purpose

My intent here is to describe what is wrong with the current design planned for Whitlam Stage 2. Some background information will be provided on the Molonglo Valley estates development, Molonglo Valley Stage 3, and Whitlam Stage 2 in particular. I will link the goals of the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 to active travel and implications for planning using Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05). I will also list relevant ACT Standard Drawings (ACTSD) for active travel for Whitlam. Finally, I will provide an example of “Road 01” in Whitlam Stage 2 and the Local Community Path along it, where the intersections are not designed in a way suitable for active travel or compliant with the ACT MIS05 standard.

Background

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.

Molonglo Valley, at capacity, is planned to accommodate approximately 55,000 new residents. Land development in Molonglo Valley was planned 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. Stage 1 and 2 are largely complete.

On 27 February 2019, the Molonglo Valley Stage 3 Planning and Design Framework was finalised. A framework is a strategic plan to guide future detailed planning, and in this case for the new suburbs north of the Molonglo River. Whitlam is the first suburb in Molonglo Valley Stage 3. Whitlam lies west of the Coppins Crossing Rd (later to become the John Gorton Drive). A further two suburbs are planned on the east of this road and extending to the National Arboretum.

The Whitlam estate development has a staged land release: stage 1 from early 2020, stage 2 from late 2020 – early 2021, stage 3 2022 and stage 4 in 2023. The first land release in Whitlam in stage 1 is set for March 2020.

Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Project Brief design tender (2 December 2019), released by the Major Projects Canberra Infrastructure Delivery Partner Group, is for the first stage design of Molonglo 3 East, but not for Whitlam. It is worth monitoring it as it signals the first stage planning of these new, yet unnamed, suburbs have begun. To quote the brief, the ACT’s Indicative Land Release Program 2019-20 to 2022-23, “proposes 200 blocks be released in the study area by 2022-23.” It is all happening very quickly.

Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen
Whitlam (2020) from the east boundary fence of The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen

ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25

In 2019, 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
Active travel framework hierarchy arterial major collector
Active travel framework hierarchy arterial major collector

Active travel design

Active travel is supported by many documents and planning resources. References for active travel in the ACT include:

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.

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
ACT Government, urban planning, ACT, Australia
The cover 2019 Active Travel Facilities Design Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05

Example: Whitlam Stage 2 and active travel

Document: Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application 201936061, 10 September 2019.

Local community route

A complete assessment of the Whitlam Stage 2 development application is beyond the scope of this text. The text focuses narrowly on one example to illustrate how the design falls short supporting the active travel pillar in the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25. Specifically, the discussion is about the requirements of a Local Community Route (LCR) along the lower section of Sculthorpe Avenue. At the time that the Whitlam Stage 2 development application was released, the roads had not yet been named, and the roads were numbered instead. Sculthorpe Avenue is labelled “Road 01”. Local shops and a school will be built adjacent to Sculthorpe Avenue.

Active travel network, Whitlam Stage 2 DA EDP steep hill from the roundabout on Sculthorpe Avenue, Whitlam, ACT.
Local Community Route (LCR) along Sculthorpe Avenue (“Road 01” – purple dotted line). Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01
active travel legend
Legend for map, Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01

Vulnerable road users

The current design of the Local Community Route is a very poor active travel design as vulnerable road users, in particular children, will be hidden by any car waiting at the side road intersection. This can be seen on the plan “Road Details Plan – Sight Distance”, showing the line-of-sight between cars driving along Sculthorpe Avenue and cars entering from a side road.

Safety is important for motorists, but many would argue, that much more effort needs to be made to protect vulnerable road users from motor vehicles.

A Local Community Route zigzags along the north of Sculthorpe Avenue from east to west, crossing side roads 52, 57, 58 and others. This type of intersection design has rightly been criticised in the recent Austroads safety report Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users.

Whitlam Stage 2 Movement Systems map
Whitlam Stage 2 Movement Systems map. Shows the community paths widths. Widest to narrowest: red, blue, green. Development application, 2020.
Whitlam Stage 2 Movement Systems legend
Whitlam Stage 2 Movement Systems legend. Community paths widths. Widest to narrowest: pink (3.25 m), blue (2.5 m), green (1.5 m). Development application, 2020.

Safe Systems

Offsetting the path crossing from the intersection is intended to provide good visibility by allowing cars to stop at the edge of the intersection. However, this leads to an avoidable risk to vulnerable road users as the Local Community Route is an unmarked crossing.

Better and safer designs slow the vehicle before crossing. With lower speeds the driver is more likely to see pedestrians and cyclists, and be able to stop.

Austroads promotes “Safe Systems” that protect vulnerable road user. For example, raised platforms are easily visible, and marked with signs and on-road markings. It shifts the stopping line forward to the edge of the platform and provides pedestrians and cyclists with more safety.

Safe Systems are found in the ACT Active Travel Facilities Design standards (MIS05). Along the local community route, the relevant design standard is Side Street Crossing Treatments (on platforms) for paths (shared) on Main and Local Community Routes (ACTSD-0528). It recommends the “continuous verge treatment” or “zebra crossing”, both of which feature a raised platform at the same level as the adjacent verge.

example, ACTSD-0528, ACT, Australia, urban planning
Example of Standard drawing for side street crossings for paths on main and local community routes ACTSD-0528

Conclusion

The failure of the Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application design is that it includes design elements that neither safe nor compliant with the MIS05.

Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application should be rejected if it be found non-compliant with the ACT Active Travel Facilities Design standard. A redesign is then needed urgently. The ACT Government is unlikely to achieve its Climate Change Strategy goals otherwise. We have a climate emergency and need to consistently apply an emergency action mindset for any planning activities in Whitlam.

References

A. Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application 201936061, 10 September 2019.

  1. Active travel map, Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application, PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01
  2. Road details map, Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application, ROADDETAILS-201936061-01
  3. Road Details Plan – Sight Distance (sheet 3 of 5), Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application, ROADDETAILS-201936061-03

B. ACTSD-0528 Side Street Crossing Treatments (on platforms) for paths (shared) on Main and Local Community Routes, ACTSD-0528-Rev0-180929

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