Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement

Minister Steel’s statement in the ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021, provided little new information, but confirmed further transport investment for improvement and duplication of roads. Cycling projects were not mentioned – except for one: the long awaited bridge over Weston Creek.

More roads and little else

Marisa Paterson, MLA ACT Labor, reminded us that “you’re not stuck in a traffic jam; you are the traffic jam” and Jo Clay, MLA ACT Greens “that we cannot build our way out of congestion”. The approach of the ACT Government, however, is precisely that: to duplicate more roads and to improve arterial, such as the Tuggeranong Parkway.

The evidence is clear. The vast majority of people are not prepared to ride along a dual lane carriage way with cars and a speed limit of 80-100 km/h. It is loud, dirty, unhealthy, and should a car collide with you on a bike, you will likely die.

Most cyclists like cycling and have no intention to cut their lives short. Studies have shown to get cycling equality (both women and men cycling in equal numbers), safe off-road cycle paths are essential. Cycling equality should not be confused with fairness, but rather a milestone to getting a large section of the community cycling. A recent study shows that equality occurs at around 7% participation (mode share).

The urban planner, Brent Toderian, is famous for increasing the cycling participation in Toronto, Canada. He has said that to achieve cycling participation rates of 10%, “paint and lines on the road will not do”, but rather, we must build dedicated off-road cycle paths. The mode share for cycling in Canberra is around 3%

Further investment, duplicating arterials roads wastes money that could otherwise be spent on cycle highways for a fraction of the cost.

Time for change

Minister Steel’s approach is a very expensive and ineffective way of improving cycling infrastructure. The underinvestment in cycling infrastructure in Canberra is chronic. It is time to catch up. The ACT Greens have promised 20% of the transport budget, or $20 million per annum. That would be a good start but, as yet, no projects have been announced. At this stage, the ACT Greens have made little progress on the cycling strategy announced at the last election.

It would be encouraging to see investments to improve the CBR Cycle Routes that have been planned by the ACT Government since 2015. These routes are mostly incomplete and many are in dire need of maintenance. These routes are safe bets and desperately needed. The CBR Cycle Routes are discussed in We have plan!

Weston Creek Bridge

The suburb of Weston Creek was built around the stream Weston Creek, in the long tradition of original thinking found across the Molonglo Valley (e.g. Deep Creek). Weston Creek flows into the Molonglo River at Weston Creek Pond, where the creek is nothing more than a concrete channel.

The CBR Cycle Route C5 along the Molonglo River passes by the Weston Creek Pond, close to the RSPCA site. Harold White Avenue in Coombs ends abruptly on the other side. It seems unlikely that Harold White Avenue will ever cross Weston Creek. A bridge is, however, planned between Harold White Avenue and the existing CBR Cycle Route C5. This will shorten the journey from Coombs to the city by approximately 2 km. Currently, it is necessary to ride around the pond.

The lack of the bridge connecting Coombs to CBR Cycle Route C5 has been the subject of discussion since 2015, and is unlikely to be finished for another few years. The design work has yet to begin. That will mean that the project duration for this bridge will be around 8 years. That is about average for cycling infrastructure.

Ministerial statement

Minister Steel (Murrumbidgee—Minister for Skills, Minister for Transport and City Services and Special Minister of State) (10.09):

I am pleased to take this opportunity to update the Assembly on the transport investments the ACT government is making in the Molonglo Valley. The Molonglo Valley’s transport connections have been the subject of substantial preparation and planning now for well over a decade. This planning has involved the establishment of strategic transport corridors, as committed to in the ACT government’s planning strategy. These corridors connect the residents of new suburbs to town centres and regions where they will work, go to school and engage with the local community.

When we build roads, we are establishing the backbone upon which we deliver all forms of transport for Canberrans. Our roads connect our new suburbs to the rest of our city, they provide routes for our buses to drive along, they provide the direct connections between key locations for our shared path network to follow and they are increasingly used by Canberra’s expanding zero emissions vehicle fleet. Without these strategic transport corridors, residents in our new communities would be disconnected from the services and facilities that all other Canberrans enjoy and be isolated from different transport options that help make Canberra livable.

In the Molonglo Valley, planning of our strategic transport corridors has occurred in stages as the region has developed. With stage 1 already on-line, stage 2 under development as we speak and stage 3 progressing through the planning stage, we are ensuring our road network supports population growth. We delivered the duplication of the Cotter Road in 2018 and we opened the first two sections of John Gorton Drive in the middle of last year. In January last year, we also changed the line marking on Adelaide Avenue to create a dedicated on-ramp onto the Cotter Road, preventing queuing of traffic coming out of the Molonglo Valley.

We also finished upgrades to the north Weston park and ride in October last year, providing over 40 new car spaces to help residents connect with our rapid bus network. The strategic transport model tells us that, as this population continues to grow, there will be additional pressure on the transport network. Particular roads we know will face pressure include William Hovell Drive, Tuggeranong Parkway and Parkes Way. That is why the ACT government is investing in these roads today.

The ACT government has a major investment in the pipeline for road upgrades around Molonglo and Weston Creek, which are currently at either the feasibility, concept design or detailed design stages, with construction to follow. These investments are made on evidence, with the communities’ needs at the forefront of our thinking.

The most significant project currently underway in the Molonglo Valley is the completion of John Gorton Drive and the construction of a new bridge over the Molonglo River. The project is progressing well, with the development application approved in February this year. In addition to providing carriageway for private vehicles, the bridge will be future-proofed for light rail and public transport priority is currently under investigation for the intersections along John Gorton Drive. As a key transport corridor, the bridge will also include both on-road shared and an off-road shared path. We look forward to commencing the process to procure a design and construction contractor later this year, with the intent of undertaking detailed design work next year and commencing construction in mid-2023 ahead of the bridge opening as early as 2025.

We are also progressing work on the duplication of 4.5 kilometres worth of carriageway along William Hovell Drive, connecting the Molonglo Valley to Belconnen. Detailed design is nearing completion, which will take the project to a shovel-ready state ahead of construction commencing next year. In Weston Creek, feasibility studies are about to commence for the intersections of Streeton Drive with Namatjira Drive and Heysen Street to make getting in and out of the group centre safer.

The ACT government will also shortly be commencing a study to determine future improvements to Canberra’s south-west corridor, which will consider things like capacity upgrades on the Tuggeranong Parkway. We are also examining improvements that can be undertaken further up the road network along Parkes Way, where the majority of traffic heading from the Molonglo Valley to the city will be evident.

Transport – Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement, Hansard from ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021.

Public transport

Of course, the key to ensuring population does not lead to excess congestion on our roads is to ensure Canberrans are looking to public transport as their first option to get around. The early residents of the Molonglo Valley were doing a great job at this, with patronage on Molonglo’s R10 so strong in 2019 that Transport Canberra increased the frequency of this route in our last network update from every 20 minutes to every 15 minutes, seeing an additional 12 services running each weekday.

A lot of things changed in 2020. As members have heard me talk about before, the challenges brought by COVID-19 have had an enormous impact on the way that people choose to move around our city. At the height of the public health restrictions in April 2020, public transport patronage fell to a staggering 14 per cent across the ACT. As most work and education was done from home, traffic volumes also dropped to as low as 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels across the Molonglo Valley.

Whilst we have resumed a lot of our normal habits since then, public transport patronage is still low, which means more Canberrans than ever are using their cars. As of April this year, in some cases traffic volumes in the Molonglo Valley were as much as 60 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. On the other hand, patronage for Molonglo’s rapid bus, the R10, is still only at around 85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. This is despite there being more residents and more buses running than before the pandemic. Unfortunately, this shows that new residents are choosing to use their cars to get around, which is leading to increased congestion on our roads.

The ACT government has been continuously monitoring traffic in the growing Molonglo region and listening to feedback from the Molonglo community. This includes monitoring traffic congestion and the extent of any delays experienced by road users, as well as testing out how traffic movements can be improved as the region continues to grow. For example, we have acknowledged feedback from the community around recent congestion coming out of the Molonglo Valley onto John Gorton Drive and the Cotter Road. As an immediate response, the government has amended the traffic signal timings at the Cotter Road, Dargie Street and Kirkpatrick Street intersection. This has already led to improvements with the traffic flows, particularly in the morning peak. We will continue to monitor and adjust the signal timings to optimise traffic movements from Weston and Molonglo. We are also currently investigating further measures to improve the operation of the signalised intersection.

While the health advice will always remain paramount, the ACT government is conscious of the need to get Canberrans back onto public transport. Public transport needs to play a key role in managing the challenges that any growing city faces and avoiding the congestion and urban sprawl that we are all too familiar with in other places around the world.

Last month, I hosted a public transport recovery forum and I spoke about that topic in the Assembly during the last sitting. Residents of the Molonglo Valley know the importance of returning to their public transport habits as soon as possible, and the government will continue to support them to do this.

Transport – Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement, Hansard from ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021.

Active travel

Encouraging the use of active travel is another important pillar of our investments in the Molonglo Valley. As identified in the ACT transport strategy 2020, the COVID‑19 pandemic was great for getting Canberrans walking and cycling, with a sharp increase in the number of people choosing active travel to commute around the city. The ACT government has been supporting this by fast-tracking footpath and cycle path network upgrades since the beginning of last year.

Active travel will play a key role for the residents of Molonglo. Our planning and community consultation processes have identified the key walking and cycling connections needed to serve the Molonglo Valley and to connect residents to the wider active travel network. Key active travel connections for the Molonglo Valley include links to the city, Woden, Weston Creek and Belconnen, as well as to Lake Burley Griffin, the Arboretum and Stromlo Forest Park. These links will be delivered in stages through a coordinated program of suburban development, major road projects and dedicated active travel works.

New shared paths will be delivered as part of major road projects, including the John Gorton Drive bridge and the William Hovell Drive duplication. The future Molonglo east-west arterial project would also include a city to Molonglo cycle route, providing a direct cycle route to the city. The Suburban Land Agency is also completing the Molonglo River trail. A new bridge at north Weston near Klos Crossing will connect to Harold White Avenue in Coombs to the Molonglo River trail and make it easier and more convenient for people to enjoy the river corridor and reach both the lake and the city.

We are working to deliver a transport network that gives people in the Molonglo Valley and across Canberra a genuine choice and flexibility about how they move around. That means well-thought-out strategic transport corridors which can connect our growing communities and town centres by car and public transport alongside well-integrated, safe and convenient active travel infrastructure.

The government continues to invest in connecting the Molonglo region with the benefit of past and current transport and land use planning. Those strategies include the:

– planning strategy,
– transport strategy,
– infrastructure plan,
– Molonglo Valley staging plan,
– transport for Canberra plan 2012-31,
– planning design frameworks for Molonglo stages 1, 2 and 3,
– Coombs and Wright concept plan,
– north Weston concept plan,
– Weston Group Centre master plan and
– Molonglo Valley independent review of planning, development and built form.

In addition to that planning work, the government responds to the changing and evolving needs of the community over time. We continue to use the strategic transport model to predict future travel demand across the network by taking into account land use projections like population growth, employment, shopping precincts and school enrolments, as well as proposed transport network improvements and future transport costs.

As we know, the Molonglo Valley and the surrounding region are growing rapidly. By the end of 2031, we expect that close to 37,000 residents will live there, up from fewer than 5,000 in 2016. We have been working hard to keep ahead of that population growth through our investments in new roads and public transport. We will continue to strategically invest in our transport network today because we know that this will be essential to keeping our city moving and ensuring people in the Molonglo Valley enjoy the same quality of life as those in other parts of Canberra as this new region progressively takes shape.

We look forward to continuing to work with the residents in Molonglo to keep them moving and connected and ensure that Molonglo grows into a vibrant and sustainable place to live. I present the following paper.

Transport – Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement, Hansard from ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021.

Jo Clay MLA

MS CLAY (Ginninderra) (10.20):

Molonglo Valley will be one of Canberra’s high-density regions. If we build our transport infrastructure right, we will need fewer cars and we will get more cycling, walking and public transport use. I welcome Minister Steel’s statement today and his recent statements in his public forum. I am pleased to see he is placing active and public transport so high on his list of priorities. I also welcome his separate announcement today about leasing electric buses. It is great to see his ongoing support for climate-friendly transport and it is really important that we get the details of our investment right.

There are already congestion problems for residents in Molonglo and Weston Creek. We all understand that you cannot fix congestion by building more roads. More roads simply fill up with more cars. Cities choke on cars, and Canberra is a rapidly growing city. We need to fix our congestion by increasing public and active transport. There are lots of ways to do this. For active transport, we need separated corridors through Molonglo and throughout all of our regions. We need separated shared paths that provide a continuous route for all of the major roads we are building and extending, like William Hovell, John Gorton and Parkes Way.

We need to spend 20 per cent of our roads budget on building and maintaining our shared paths and footpaths. We need to make sure that we are counting that 20 per cent properly to ensure we are getting new infrastructure that is dedicated and built primarily for active travel not simply getting new accounting. We need to ensure our public transport network takes people to where they need to go. We need stops close enough to people’s homes so they can walk there. We need regular services, cross‑town connections and connections to our group centres and suburbs.

Our bus network needs to cater for those who are not just commuting between Civic and the suburbs in peak hour. It must also cater for those who are taking local trips outside of peak hours. We need to look after parents, seniors, people with disabilities, shift workers, students and people of all abilities at all stages of life and in all different types of employment. We also need to give public and active transport traffic priority to make it easy and convenient for people to use.

Transport habits are formed when people first plan their home purchase and move in. In our new suburbs it is incredibly important to offer the best services as soon as possible. People form their habits early, and they need to know they can rely on these services. If they do not feel confident, they will buy a car or a second car, and they may not come back to public and active transport at all after that.

Our connections between Belconnen, Molonglo, Weston Creek and Woden will become incredibly important as the development of this region makes a more connected urban area between these town centres. We need to invest for the future now. Building public and active transport infrastructure and getting the best grade-separated shared path infrastructure is incredibly important. We cannot lose sight of that while building more multi-lane roads. We are looking forward to the ACT government consulting with user groups, residents and stakeholders on how we can improve our transport plan in the Molonglo Valley and all through Canberra.

Reply to Transport – Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement, Hansard from ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021.

Dr Marisa Paterson MLA

DR PATERSON (Murrumbidgee) (10.24):

As a local member for Murrumbidgee, I am always interested in matters affecting my local constituents. Molonglo Valley is the ACT’s newest greenfield development, with a population that is consistently growing and will continue to grow considerably over the next decade. As with any of our urban access areas across the ACT, the travel and transport patterns and needs of the community are diverse and complex. Due to the growing nature of the Molonglo Valley population, transport issues and initiatives affecting Molonglo Valley residents also affect those in the neighbouring areas of Weston Creek and elsewhere.

I thank Minister Steel for the work he is doing, together with the excellent work across the ACT government and within the Transport Canberra directorate, to address traffic issues and congestion in the Molonglo region. Following recent traffic monitoring and surveys, there have been a number of improvements implemented, including changes to the sequencing of traffic lights on Cotter Road. Constituent feedback about these changes has been very positive, with a noticeable reduction in congestion in the morning peak hour.

I look forward to the government’s large-scale and major project infrastructure outcomes that will continue to address the needs of the growing population in the Molonglo Valley. Some of these works, as noted by Minister Steel, include the bridge over the Molonglo River and the extension and completion of John Gorton Drive. Connecting the Molonglo Valley to Belconnen through the duplication of sections of William Hovell Drive will help relieve pressure from Cotter Road and the Tuggeranong Parkway.

The incorporation of on-road cycleways and off-road shared paths as part of major road upgrade projects is also welcomed. It is also great to see a range of other investments being made by the ACT government for public transport and active travel initiatives. The commitment to construct the missing network gap connecting the Molonglo Valley to the shared path near the RSPCA in Weston Creek is a significant step.

I note Minister Steel’s comments and the commitment of the ACT government, having fast-tracked a number of footpath and cycle path network upgrades since the start of 2020, largely in response to the number of people who took up or increased walking and cycling during the pandemic. The introduction of light rail to Canberra’s southern suburbs will have a significant positive impact for the communities of Woden Valley and the people of Murrumbidgee more broadly.

Good connections and integrations between all forms of public transport—buses and light rail—as well as first-last mile solutions for people walking and people riding bikes, together with continued and expanded park and ride opportunities, will be critical in contributing to Canberra’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions strategy.

The transport sector accounts for 62 per cent of carbon emissions in the ACT and is the largest contributing sector. This figure is dominated by private vehicle use. I welcome the ACT Conservation Council’s “make the move” campaign launched last week by Minister Rattenbury, in conjunction with the Canberra Environment Centre. …

Canberrans make over a million trips every day. In the ACT, around 30 per cent of trips made are either less than five kilometres or between five and 10 kilometres. These are distances that are easily walkable or rideable. Shifting even a small proportion of those short distance commuters to active modes of travel would increase the capacity of Canberra’s transport network.

Often, the hardest part for individuals is making the change and creating a new habit. “Make the move” supports people and workplaces to do just that. Transport is an issue of health and wellbeing. The amount of time we each spend in our daily commutes to work and also in other everyday activities and errands contributes to our balance or juggle of life, work, family, social activities and recreation.

For most of us, getting from A to B is a means to an end, and the less time we spend on the road, particularly in private cars, the better. I once heard a phrase, “You’re not stuck in a traffic jam; you are the traffic jam.” There is a lot of truth in that statement, and it is a very powerful one. From this perspective, and that of a work-life balance for our community, I am very encouraged by the transport recovery plan’s reference to flexible working arrangements. There are some really important and interesting intersects between transport solutions and flexible working arrangements to bring about a range of benefits for individuals, large-scale workplaces, local businesses, the economy and the environment.

I look forward to working closely with Minister Steel and other colleagues in the coming years to undertake further work in this space, ultimately working to remove more cars from our roads and getting people onto public transport, while developing robust, comprehensive solutions to a range of transport matters that address the needs of all Canberrans.

We need flexible, reliable and sustainable options for Canberrans to move around our city. Those options need to be affordable, easy and convenient. They need to be socially equitable and account for all sectors of our community. I thank Minister Steel and the staff and executive of Transport Canberra for their work to understand these important community issues around transport and to develop holistic, long-term solutions for the benefit of our community and the environment.

Reply to Transport – Molonglo Valley, Ministerial statement, Hansard from ACT Legislative Assembly, 3 June 2021.

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