Section 7.1 Feels like home

For a few years now, the ACT strategies have promoted a Movement and Place Framework. The idea, best shown in pictures, is difficult to put into practice, as it presumes the ACT Planning and Transport directorates work together. And that there is a strong, visible and active sponsor!

Before going into some detail, let us set the scene.

Imagine

Imagine your suburb – a landscape of our making and the place where we live our lives. Around our home, we move between the private and public spaces with little thought. The essence of “place” is that the community makes the public realm their own.

Photo by Allan Mas on Pexels.com

When children play with a ball, at the front of the home, at some stage, the ball will shoot away. The children fetch the ball and start again. Fetching a ball could mean moving across both public and private realm. Human beings have no sense of crossing a boundary. This is the challenge of making place, as it presumes continuity. A good example of this is Vauban in Freiburg.

Our public spaces are commonly the responsibility of ACT Transport, and the private space are blocks on the Territory Plan (ACT Planning). ACT Transport has a mandate for transport (movement) and ACT Planning for creating a livable city (place). The implicit assumption here then is that place and movement are separated fields of activity. They are not.

ACT Transport plans a large portion of our public space – about a third of the area of a new suburb (see below). ACT Planning plans our private space by zoning blocks on the Territory Plan. ACT Transport has a mandate for transport (movement) and ACT Planning for creating a liveable city (place). The implicit assumption here is that place and movement are separated fields of activity. They are not.

“The yield assumes a TCCS compliant 34% land take for local road reserves, but does not consider land take for higher order roads such as sub-arterial or IPT corridors.”

RobertsDay, Molonglo 3 East Design Brief, ACT Government, 2020.

The Movement and Place Framework is not a dichotomy. The local street is not just about movement. It is the place where we live, the place we call home, the place where we grow up, and a place where we meet our friends and stop to talk to the neighbours.

“We have a stong natural tendency to think in dichotomies: in-group or out-group, either/or, neither/nor, with me or against me, etc. Inclusive thinking – in terms of And – is learned behaviour and requires energy and focus.”

canberra.bike

With a narrow view of local streets as “transport”, we alienate the people from public space and propel them behind fences and doors. The street is seen as a threat to our children and ourselves. We will then not venture out of our own private safety bubble without protection. The street becomes hostile territory – lonely, barren, and threatening.

Children will play in the public realm when it looks and feels like home. When it looks like a road, people driving cars will claim it.

canberra.bike
Boy on a training bike
Boy on a training bike, Canberra

The way government works

Let us contrast this with the way government works. The ACT Government is made up of 2 relevant directorates: one for ACT Transport and another one for ACT Planning. The two directorates report to different ministers, who work independently. The lack of cross communication and coordination between the two directorates is a weakness – it is easy to imagine the left hand not knowing what the right one is doing.

Silo thinking turns local streets into moats between local communities by failing to recognise the importance of streets as community places. The challenge for government is to see the local street as community space that is not separated from the surrounding buildings. Where we live is neither Place nor Movement, but both. In the area we call home, Place is more important than Movement. Movement is not neglected, but we want to create a space that promotes incidental interaction between people of the community.

This is the idea behind the Movement and Place Framework. Streets in the local community are much more than transport. The Movement and Place Framework permits us to see the Transport and Planning as one thing, as opposed to two separate things. We combine the two to make it home.

Looking through the windscreen

ACT Transport has grown up with cars and motorists in mind. Roads are about cars, not people. What has changed, however, is that other user groups that share the road (modes of transport).

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).

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)

We need to change how we think.

Public realm, not roads

Transport has become dominated by an engineering efficiency paradigm focused on getting from A to B. The cost of congestion to the economy is calculated and monitored by government. Time is money. The car centric view of the city, that has dominated our thinking in the last century, is not going to serve us in the future. What got us here, will not get us there. We cannot build our way out of congestion.

The Movement and Place Framework supports the notion of a “slow city“. In a slow city, the travel times may not be longer than driving. For example, in heavy morning traffic it takes up to 50 minutes to get to the office (Belconnen to Civic, including parking), compared to 40 minutes by e-bike (door to door). Our experience of moving around the city and commuting is more than network efficiency. Moving around the city is an important part of our lives and should permit us to build relationships though incidental meetings. Our public spaces, which include all roads, need to be shaped for people.

“Human beings are not logical or rational. We are irrational and psychological. We love our cars, even though they make us lonely among many other people, also lonely in their cars.”

canberra.bike

We prefer to live in cities

Cities are crowded places, but more people prefer to live in cities now than ever before. Moving around a city will take time, however, the experience is not always a pleasant one. Psychological studies have shown we are good at adapting, but never adjust to traffic noise or congestion. After driving to work, the body is physiologically stressed. We’ve overdrawn our ‘health account’ before the workday has even started.

The quotes below are from the psychologist Jonathan Haidt from his book The Happiness Hypothesis.

Adaptation is, in part, just a property of neurons: Nerve cells respond vigorously to new stimuli, but gradually they “habituate,” firing less to stimuli, but that they have become used to.

The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, page 84

Noise

Research shows that people who must adapt to new and chronic sources of noise (such as when a new highway is built) never fully adapt, and even studies that find some adaption, still find evidence of impairment on cognitive tasks. Noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent, interferes with concentration and increases stress.

The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, page 90

Commuting

Even after years of commuting, those whose commute are traffic-filled still arrive at work with higher levels of stress hormones. It is worth striving to improve your commute.

The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, page 92

There is abundant research that good relationships improve our wellbeing, and we never tire of them (adaptation). Building community through good urban design is a worthwhile goal.

Relationships

The condition that is usually said to trump all others in importance is the strength and number of a person’s relationships. Good relationships make people happy.

The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, page 93

Why the joy of cycling matters

In contrast, the experience of commuting to work by bike is generally positive. The following is typical of what cyclists’ report of their experience. How we choose to move around the city – the mode of transport – changes how we experience it. We build our city, and the associated investment decisions, determine which options we can choose from. Remember that behaviour follows infrastructure!

Cycling is the most delightful treatment for whatever ails you. Climate change, congestion, obesity, poor mental health. It doesn’t matter what your problem is, cycling’s your solution, for those fortunate enough to be able to ride.

Jo Clay, inaugural speech, ACT Legislative Assembly. 3 December 2020. The Greens ACT website. Accessed 26 June 2021.

Movement and Place in our strategy

In the latest ACT Transport Strategy 2020, Movement and Place is still interpreted as moving from A to B. The focus is on movement, whereas the vision for our city is most certainly place making. Engineers think in terms of hierarchies and categories. This serves well for the design of specifications and standards, but is far from the humanistic vision of place. We can see the simplification of the world that hierarchies and categories entail in the ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

A network structure that focuses on movement and place and location
Figure 7-3 A network structure that focuses on movement and place and location, ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

Hierarchy of travel

ACT Transport is responsible for movement and puts this aspect front and centre. The image below shows travelling through the city. The greater the distance, the more important movement is. The preferred modes of transport depend on the distance. We may choose to walk around the suburb, may ride to friends in the district, but we are likely to commute to another town centre by car or public transport.

A network structure that focuses on movement and place and location, ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

Every framework needs a 3 x 3 graph:

  • Place is shown from least important to most important, moving left to right along the bottom axis.
  • Movement is shown from least important to most important, moving from bottom to top on the vertical axis.
  • Urban environment is described as one of four types:
    • Movement Corridors
    • Vibrant Streets
    • Local Streets
    • Places for People
A movement and place framework for Canberra
Figure 7-4 A movement and place framework for Canberra. ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

Arterial roads such as Northbourne Avenue would be on the top left. This is consistent with the traditional view of transport planning. The bottom right quadrant is more at odds with traditional transport planning – here place making here overrides movement. In Places for People, kids can play on streets and drivers are guests. Cars are visitors in Places for People, as would be kids playing in a Movement Corridor such as Northbourne Avenue. Kids and cars do not mix – we all know that.

Austroads model

Austroads has a slightly different model for the Movement and Place Framework in the 2020 Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, AP-R611-20).

Proposed Movement and Place framework showing road street families page 4
Figure 7-5 Proposed Movement and Place framework showing road street families. 2020 Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users, Austroads, AP-R611-20, page 4

Austroads is the Australian national standards body. It conducts research to determine best practice. The Austroads Movement and Place Framework relates back to this work. Active Streets and Boulevards are described in other Austroads documents. For Austroads, Active Streets is something quite specific. Austroads documents are highly informative.

The Austroads` Movement and Place Framework defines six urban environments:

  • Movement Corridors and Connectors
  • City Hubs
  • City Streets
  • Local Streets
  • City Places
  • Active Streets and Boulevards

Architects and urban planners have long ago understood that their visions are better shown with pictures than words. Traditionally, they have drawn pictures and made meticulous models. Similarly, rather than defining the concept of City Places in words, photographs of good examples can say more. Photographs capture the essence of the idea and permit simpler comparisons. Below is the Austroads Movement and Place Framework in pictures.

Movement and Place Framework page 3
Figure 7-6 Movement and Place Framework. 2020 Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users, Austroads, AP-R611-20, page 3
Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014)
Figure 7-7 Artist impression – shopping centre. Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014)

The safety aspect

There are many good reasons for place making. The most important goal is to make cities more liveable (see ACT Planning Strategy) and to improve the quality of life, health and wellbeing. Physical activity, connections with the community, and an attractive environment (in which we feel safe) are most important.

When mixing cars with pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, the best way to make it safe is to reduce the speed limits. The chances of a pedestrian dying, when hit by a car, depends on the car’s speed, increasing from 10% at 30 km/h to over 90% at 50 km/h. A car’s breaking distance increases dramatically with more speed. Slowing cars down is the most effective way of improving the safety of vulnerable road users.

Generally, in Canberra, speed limits are set much higher than Austroads would recommend. Local Streets belong to people and should have a speed limit of 30 km/h. This is not the case in Canberra, even school zones have a speed limit of 40 km/h.

The recommended speeds and circumstances description are taken from the Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), page 9.
Table 7-1 The recommended speeds and circumstances description are taken from the Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), page 9.

Prioritising private motor vehicles

Generally, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure can be improved without works on the road. Paths are typically located away from the road on the verge or through parks. Building footpaths and cycling infrastructure are inexpensive compared to roads. Recent road duplication projects in the ACT would indicate that 30 km of cycle paths could be built for the same price as 1 km of newly duplicated road! Let us repeat that again: 30 km versus 1 km. And again: 30 vs 1!!
We need to advocate for Canberrans changing their mindsets.

Figure 7-8 Oh wow! Paradigm change!!

In recent years, local road upgrades were – and still are – driven by lobbying from private vehicle motorists, and by the construction of the light rail. Although the multiple benefits of better footpaths and cycling infrastructure are accepted, it has not changed the transport investment priorities. After the dust has settled, the road upgrades often provide minimal improvement of footpaths and cycling infrastructure. Sometimes cycling infrastructure even gets worse. Here are a few examples of recent and upcoming projects (Movement Corridors):

  • Gundaroo Drive (Federal Highway to Belconnen section) – no improvement to the cycle path (Principal Community Route)
  • Copland Drive roundabout – lack of priority crossing for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Flemington Road upgrade – cycle path removed (Principal Community Route)
  • Southern Cross Drive signalisation 2021 – cycle lane removed.

Between a rock and a hard place

The focus on car culture matters. Movement Corridors are all about Movement and not Place. We would expect the cycling infrastructure to benefit from upgrades to roads. This has often not been the case. Cycling has been marginalised by our ingrained car culture that drives road development.

One would then hope that cycling would get more attention by shifting to an example of place making. The Belconnen Town Centre upgrade, with the Belconnen Town Centre Place Design Brief (2021), has demonstrated that cycling might not fair that much better.

Belconnen Town Centre upgrade should improve active travel and create a sense of place. This must be welcomed. However, the consultations were never about cycling. The consultations were about place making and never queried the interests of cyclists directly. When creating place, urban planners still see bikes as means of transport. The assumption is that people park the car and walk, or take the bus. The neglect of cycling infrastructure investment would suggest that with ACT Transport too, bikes are also the poor cousins. In the ACT, cycling remains marginalised in the Movement and Place Framework, and fits uncomfortably in both movement and place. It should not be that way, and demonstrates how alien cycling is to most. For many people, cycling is a sport and not something you otherwise do. Many cyclists think that way, too. Our strong car culture is reflected in that cycling infrastructure is not given high priority.

In the image below from the Belconnen Town Centre Place Design Brief, the location of the Belconnen Bikeway is not obvious. The Belconnen Bikeway is part of the CBR Cycle Route C3a between Charnwood and the City – one of Canberra’s Principal Community routes. The colourful half-circle in the centre of the image is the Circus Site Precinct. The Belconnen Bikeway runs parallel along Joynton Smith Drive before turning into Emu Bank. The Belconnen Bikeway is largely neglected in the design, even though as a Principal Cycling Route it deserves careful attention due to obvious conflicts with local pedestrian traffic. The design does not make any attempt to mitigate the conflicts. There are always options, however, as the consultation never inquired about cycling, it has not been considered.

“If you think, plan, and design out of a windscreen paradigm, everything will look like a road built for cars!”

canberra.bike

The consultation showed little regard for the cycling connections east-west along Emu Bank (CBR Cycle Route C3a), and north-south along Benjamin Way (CBR Cycle Route C5).

Principal Community Route (PCR) –A subset of Main Community Routes (MCR) that form direct links between town centres. There are routes that are to include route labels and branding.

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)
Circus site precinct, Belconnen Town Centre Place Design Brief
Figure 7-9 Circus site precinct, Belconnen Town Centre Place Design Brief, Suburban Land Agency, 2021.

Transformation of Government

Roads are not part of the Territory Plan. The location of John Gorton Drive Bridge is incorrect in the Territory Plan. The reason lies in the silo structures and thinking of the ACT Transport and ACT Planning directorates.

A good example of typical tribal human behaviour and attitudes was the reaction of a director from ACT Planning at a recent District Planning consultation (as part of the planning review). We were presented maps of the Molonglo district. When we pointed out that the spatial data for the road network was wrong, it was shrugged off with: “That’s Transport!” The willingness to ignore an error as the responsibility of another directorate, and to remain stoically indifferent, can only be described as learned behaviour. Our car culture eats Movement and Place for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Amend the Territory Plan, Estate Development Code, the Municipal Infrastructure Standards and relevant legislation to consider how planning controls can adopt the following principles:
• new developments have permeable street layouts that provide safe and efficient walk and bike routes to centres, schools, public
transport
and other local activities and are capable of accommodating buses.
active travel infrastructure in all new and renewed developments, as well as support for emerging transport trends such as bike share and car share.

Moving Canberra 2019-2045 Integrated Transport Strategy, page 39

With a Movement and Place Framework mindset we are interested in both Movement (transport) and Place (planning). There is no hard border between leased blocks and road reserve. In the Movement and Place Framework, the local street and the surrounding housing combine to form a community.

By crossing the street, we traverse the invisible boundary between directorates, but it is not reasonable to assume that human beings care about it. The silo thinking of the directorates works against good outcomes and creating communities – and liveable spaces.

– The Environment, Planning and Sustainability Development Directorate is not resourced to promote cycling.
– There are no cycling targets in the ACT Transport Plan 2020 or the TCCS.

All quiet on the cycling front by Roger Bacon, Canberra Cyclist, #275 Autumn Edition 2021, Pedal Power ACT.

ACT Movement and Place Framework

The meaning of the Movement and Place Framework needs to be clarified in an ACT context. The Moving Canberra 2019-2045 strategy (TCCS) recognises that a Movement and Place Framework cannot be implemented by one directorate alone. It is going to be a group effort with collaboration between directorates, ideally with a ‘cross-over leader’ accountable for outcomes and benefits realisation. It will also require sponsorship, change leadership, and culture change.

The ACT Movement and Place Framework requires Whole-of-Government awareness and buy-in.

Moving Canberra 2019-2045 Integrated Transport Strategy, pages 17

We propose to apply the ACT Movement and Place Framework to integrate transport with land use planning

Moving Canberra 2019-2045 Integrated Transport Strategy, page 38

It is not clear what the ACT Movement and Place Framework will contain. Writing the ACT Movement and Place Framework will help reconcile conflicts between ACT Transport and ACT Planning. In some cases, it is reasonable to doubt that they are even aware of the issues. Everything looks rosy from within one’s comfort zone. The process of drafting a document will be eye opening and therapeutic. The Moving Canberra 2019-2045 Strategy currently provides the best description of the framework from any ACT document, but it is not all that recent (2018).

The Austroads Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (2020) is a good example of two concepts – Safe Systems, and Movement and Place – that have been brought together in a way that is helpful for both practitioners and the public. Something similar for the ACT Movement and Place Framework would be ideal.

Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users, Austroads 2020
Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users, Austroads 2020

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s