Mixed priorities: environment and cycling

Can the construction of direct and fast cycling highways be reconciled with environmental management? Crossing the Molonglo River is not so easy. ACT Environment is blocking the way. What can be done?

Molonglo Valley

The Molonglo River Reserve lies in the heart to the Molonglo Valley suburban development and divides the north and southern suburbs. This is not ideal for good cycling connections and here are the reasons.

  • Integrated design methodology seems to eliminate the construction of a stand-alone bike path.
  • A direct cycle highway across the river to the city will not be completed until the last suburb is completed due to sequencing requirements.
  • Trunk routes for cycle highways are not permitted along the corridor of the Molonglo River Reserve.
  • The direct corridors for cycle highways need to be preserved in the Concept Plan for the estate. This is currently not assured.

Integrated design

The Molonglo Valley estate developments employ integrated design, where the environmental protections are built into the design of the suburb and may not even be visible. This increases the complexity of the design but seems workable. Unfortunately, it also excludes “quickly building a bike path”, as the process is such that until all the design boxes are ticked, the construction will not begin. Bike paths will often be built last – and years later.

Integrated design methodology seems to eliminate the construction of a stand-alone bike path, which is made more difficult given the restrictions of the Reserve Management Plan. It would be better to use the planning mechanism to plan, reserve and preserve cycle corridors across the whole valley.

Play space (playground), Denman Prospect Ridgeline Park, Denman Prospect, Molonglo Valley
Play space (playground), Denman Prospect Ridgeline Park, Denman Prospect, Molonglo Valley

Suburbs and conservation side by side

The proximity to the suburbs makes environmental management more difficult. The valley is the natural destination for runoff from the surrounding suburbs. The Reserve Management Plan stipulates that the planners must make provisions to protect the reserve from pollution. This requires substantial and expensive civil works ensure the environmental standards are met.

The sequencing of the suburbs is determined by this. Every large waterway needs to be capped and secured, and environmental barriers put into place before the suburb can be built around it. In this way the creeks are secured one after the other.

“Sequencing of the development based on stormwater management requirements” are mandated in Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Project Brief (2 February 2020).

The suburb that will be built last is opposite, on the other side of the river, to the suburb that was built first (Coombs), with over a decade between the completion dates. A direct cycle highway across the river to the city will not be completed until the last suburb is completed due to these sequencing requirements.

Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen
Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen

The river divides

Urban planners would like the suburbs to be interconnected. This is not surprising as the Molonglo River Reserve lies across the entire east-west axis of the development. The river valley is wide and deep. The Butters Bridge and planned road bridge have lengths of about 225m. The number of crossings in the valley have been reduced from 12 to 6. Most will be level crossings. Trunk routes for cycle highways are not permitted along the corridor of the Molonglo River Reserve. Trunk routes are to be located outside of the Molonglo River Reserve in the suburbs.

Note:

Namarag Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve construction works have closed the Butters Bridge at its north end. Bridge access is possible from the south end (Denman Prospect) just for the view.

Molonglo River, Coombs, Molonglo Valley, Canberra
Molonglo River, Coombs, Molonglo Valley, Canberra

A crinkled landscape

The “predominately gently and undulating to rolling land” of the Molonglo Valley make a good and direct corridor more difficult. Slopes in the Molonglo 3 East area are between 5 to 15%. For cycling, this is regarded as steep (Austroads).

Having chosen a direct corridor for the cycle highway there is then the civil works requirement to make it sufficiently flat. A path will wind across the undulations or follow contours should it be built on the lie-of-the-land (common in Canberra).

The approach taken in the Molonglo Valley is to grade the landscape to iron out the undulations, as can be seen in Whitlam, then complete all civil construction works, and finally the construction of any infrastructure. The direct corridors for cycle highways need to be preserved in the Concept Plan for the estate. This is currently not assured.

West side, slope (gradient), Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan, page 51
West side, slope (gradient), Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan, page 51

References

The environmental legislation is the ACT is quite rigorous. For the Molonglo Valley, these two documents are important:

  • Molonglo Valley Plan for the Protection of Matters of National Significance: NES Plan September 2011
  • Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019
Ecological grazing sign, locked step-through gate, turning circle, management trail beside William Hovell Drive, Kama, Molonglo River Reserve
Ecological grazing sign, locked step-through gate, turning circle, management trail beside William Hovell Drive, Kama, Molonglo River Reserve

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