Cycle highways: Introduction to Active Travel

The aim here is to link the “cycle highway” vision with the Active Travel Framework. The term “cycle highways” is disconnected from the planning mechanism in the ACT, in particular those of the ROAD AUTHORITY and PLANNING AUTHORITY. It is necessary to show where cycle highways sit in the active travel key statutory and non-statutory planning documents.

The relevant text for cycle highways is scattered throughout a number of these documents. This document is an introduction to Active Travel. The key documents in the Active Travel Framework will be discussed here and here.

It is not only the scientists who dissect and divide. Engineers do it as well with urban design. The city is categorised and divided into pieces and everything is given a name. A whole nomenclature evolves around classifications and hierarchies. It all has a reason, but the initiation can be demanding.

Active Travel contains an abundance of new terms. Technical vocabulary is capitalised and definitions are in the glossary.

Introduction to Active Travel

Most people have heard of active tavel but it is harder to define what it is. “Any form of human powered mobility“ could be called active travel, but this is rather a literal definition, as it does little to make clear the thinking from which it came. Over the last centuary, cities have developed around the notion of “efficient transport networks” and this means, for the individual, generally roads and cars. Canberra has had a car-centric design from the beginning. The realisation that we cannot build our way out of congestion has reshaped urban planning. The desire is now to build cities that are space efficient (limit sprawl) and better consider the space in which we live over mobility (movement and place framework). Cities should be a good place to live. The result is a renewed importance of the oldest form of transport: human powered mobility.

One of the difficulties of active travel is that the user groups are so varied. This creates confusion and means that the required infrastructure varies too. One size does not fit all.

“USER GROUPS – Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians are made up of different groups of users that have different values and needs. Pedestrian user groups include walkers, joggers, people pushing prams or strollers and those using wheelchairs, both motorised or non-motorised. Cyclist user groups include primary and secondary school children, family groups / recreational cyclists, commuters, neighbourhood / utility cyclists, and touring and training cyclists (refer AGTM04 Table 4.12).”

And to keep it interesting it also includes a WHEELED RECREATIONAL DEVICE (roller blades, roller skates, a skateboard or similar wheeled device).

COMMUNITY ROUTES are of particular importance for urban planning in the ACT. Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline introduces the three main community routes this way (edited).

Page 22

5.1.1 Community Routes

Community Routes are the alignments where the facilities representing the backbone of the Active Travel Network (ATN) are to be provided for active transportation. They link all major centres to residential areas and cater for walkers and cyclists of all abilities and ages (8-80s).

The Community Route component of the Active Travel Route (ATR) consists of a hierarchy of four levels designed to cater for the widest range of trips for different user types.

Principal Community Routes (PCRs)

These routes represent the “highways” for active transportation.

> Generally, connect town centres and to Queanbeyan

> To be branded as CBR Cycle Routes

> Include the same facilities as Main Community Routes except for the inclusion of route labels and brands as part of directional signage.

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.

Local Community Routes (LCRs)

These are routes that link Main Community Routes (MCRs) with local destinations such as local centres, colleges, high schools, district parks and district playing fields.”

Taxonomy of Active Travel

Active travel is a break from the way cities have been planned. Here are the traditional urban infrastructure types. Without much consideration of paths, roads are graded into a hierarchy.

  1. Motorway
  2. Trunk
  3. Primary
  4. Secondary
  5. Tertiary
  6. Standard (local street)
Figure 1: Traditional infrastructure types
source: Cyclosm highway infrastructure

In the ACT roads have a similar hierarchy but now active travel infrastructure does too. Figure 2 shows the system by which “paths” are designated by a function and placed in a hierarchy. There is a now standardised system for naming active travel infrastructure (nomenclature) which is part of the Active Travel Framework. The hierarchy and divisions is typical of the taxonomy found in the natural sciences. It is not frivolous but serves to create a specific language that can be then linked to specific standards. The standards are defined to create good infrasture that satisfies the needs of the different active travel user groups. These standards are codified into statutory documents such as the Estate Development Code (EDC). The quality and consistency of our city is dependent on standards and the practitioners that apply them. 

Active Travel Route (ATR) nomenclature and abbreviations are introduced in figure 2. For the purpose of this introduction, the figure has a narrow focus on just cyclists. The Active Travel Route (ATR) nomenclature covers all user groups.

Figure 2: Active Travel Route (ATR) nomenclature and abbreviations

Nomenclature and abbreviations are found in section 2.3.1 of Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05).

“22.3 Interpretations

2.3.1 Abbreviations used in this document

CR – Community Route

LCR – Local Community Routes

LORCR – Local On-road Cycling Route

MCR – Main Community Route

MORCR – Main On-Road Cycling Route

ORCR – On-Road Cycling Route

PCRR – Principal Cycle Racing Route (a type of Recreational Route)

PCTR – Principal Cycle Training Route (a type of Recreational Route)

PRT – Principal Recreation Trail (a type of Recreational Route)

RR – Recreational Route”

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019) on page 12 (shortened)
Traditional RoadRoadCycle separated path (off-road)Cycle exclusive bike lane (on-road)Cycle recreation (off-road)Cycle training (on-road)Cycle racing (on-road)
TrunkArterial RoadMCRMORCRRR
PrimaryMajor CollectorLCRLORCR
SecondaryMinor CollectorACRAORCR
LocalLocal access streetMixed StreetMixed Street
Table 1: Hierarchy of paths

The active travel hierarchy applies to for other active travel types. This is illustrated in table 2 but I will only discuss cycling for the rest of this document.

TypeLocation to roadsCycleEquestrianWalking
Exclusive cycle laneon-roadMORCR, LORCR, ORCR
Cycle training, racingon-roadPCTR, PCRR
Recreationoff-roadRR, PRTET, PRTRR, PRT
Table 2: Where versus what – modes (users)

What makes cycle highways so hard

The hierarchy of roads now applies to the hierarchy of bicycle (community) routes. This gives active travel a level of sophistication that it has never previously possessed. It is also generally true, with this system approach, that the same level bike facility is paired with the same level of road facility. Also, the people who design and build the roads, The Road Authority (TCCS), build the bike paths. The local consequence for active travel is the higher level path type paths, MAIN COMMUNITY ROUTES and PRINCIPAL COMMUNITY ROUTES, will need to be separated from pedestrians (other USER GROUPS) for the facility to fulfil its function. At the top of the hierarchy the designs are specialised to play to the strengths of USER GROUP or vehicle type (cars or bikes, but not both). This makes one design illsuited for another USER GROUP, so that the USER GROUPs are best separated. USER GROUPs need to be separated for safety reasons, if not function.

With the introduction of the  Active Travel Framework the bike path has left its nest. The provision of infrastructure for bikes has always been torn by the tension between the cyclist as “pedestrian” and the bike as vehicle (VEHICULAR CYCLIST). Active travel now defines pedestrians, cyclists and motorists as different USER GROUPs, and acknowledges that each USER GROUP requires its own infrastructure.

The planning practitioners of today have seen urban planning develop from a road legacy to its logical conclusion. A bike network can be built without roads. Many USER GROUPs  are quite vulnerable and the Active Travel Framework and standards, overwhelmingly describe Safe Systems that are designed to mitigate the risks around roads. At its heart is the problem of dealing with roads. This thinking is quite limited as little thought is spent on what you could do with bike path design without roads. For example, the ESTATE CODE (statutory document) specifies paths but only along roads. The ESTATE CODE is silent on estate infrastructure for other USER GROUPs. The design of independent path networks for cyclist (without any roads) is left out.

Roads are the problem not the solution. Building more roads begets more congestion. That is at the heart of the fallacy on which we have built our cities. Road building dominates urban planning and discourse to the detriment of effect bike networks. Without changing our thinking, the Active Travel Framework cannot be realised. Without change, we will continue to build cookie-cutter suburbs designed around cars.  

“Changing our belief systems has been put as rebuilding our house but it is more akin to trying to rebuild a rotten boat while you’re sitting in it.”

Jonathan Glover

The Principal Community Route is a cycle highway

The term PRINCIPAL COMMUNITY ROUTE(PCR) it is often used synonymously with the MAIN COMMUNITY ROUTE (MCR). They are quite different.

In the context of the Active Travel Framework, however, a PCR is a “cycle highway”. The PCR is at the top of the hierarchy, independent of roads, and can be planned and built without roads. The later sections of this document provide extracts from the KEY DOCUMENTS that support this conclusion.

The financial incentives to do this are huge. You can build approximately 30 times more cycle highway (in length) for the same price of a dual lane carriage way in the ACT, which would have a PCR or MCR attached to it. Dropping the overhead of the road construction (legacy), provides more money for cycle highways.

Cycle highways are found in the KEY STANDARDS as Principal Community Routes(PCR). This is important as we need standards to build one. The information is distributed through the KEY STANDARDS but needs to be summarised here in this document, in one place, to make it transparent.

Cycle highways separate from roads

The statutory planning document for active travel suggest that cycle highways are separate from roads.

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

Page 31

“6.1.2 Statutory Planning

The main statutory planning documents are the National Capital Plan and the Territory Plan. Importantly, the objectives and requirements below need to be incorporated into proposed amendments and ACT Government variations to these documents. This is particularly important for elements of the plans such as Development Control Plans, Structure Plans or Precinct Codes that relate to specific locations.


Provide active travel facilities that respond to their environment and provide greater amenity to users.


  • Consider the topography when identifying alignments for cycling routes.
  • Look for opportunities to connect Community Routes through green spaces or service corridors rather than following the road network, especially if these can offer more direct alignment and better grading opportunities.
  • Align routes for active travel transportation”

Page 33

“6.2 Estate Development Design


Provide active travel facilities that respond to their environment and provide greater amenity to users.


  • Main and Local Community Routes should be intuitive and direct. Their alignment may influence the layout of the estate.
  • Consider the terrain when identifying Community Routes.
  • Look for opportunities to connect Community Routes through green spaces or service corridors rather than following the road network.”
Photo by Elianne Dipp on

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