Submission to a standing committee of the ACT Legislative Assembly on the canberra.bike. Here is the executive summary.
The goal of the submission is to create an environment in Canberra where we all (from 8-80 years) can cycle safely and easily, at any time of day, and in all suburbs.
The ACT Government’s strategic direction is outlined in the ACT Planning Strategy, the 2019 ACT Climate Change Strategy and the 2020 ACT Transport Strategy. This submission aligns with the ACT Government’s strategic direction.
Cycling in Canberra is weak by world standards. Not many Canberrans cycle for transport and it has been that way for decades.
International evidence suggests that it will not change without much more active and visible top-down leadership and investment. The objective of this submission is to encourage both.
The assumption here is that the ACT Government would like more active travel but the implementation of relevant strategies is either delayed or lacking. Systems thinking is needed to deliver on the ACT Government’s strategic direction, and consequently ACT Transport and ACT Planning must work together. Currently, this seems not to be working sufficiently well to produce a good outcome, and noticeable positive change for the cycling community happens at a slow rate.
The content of the submission was selected using the following principles. The principles are laid out as dichotomies: paradigm shifts are needed from A to B.
- Systemic error – It is about identifying systemic issues and barriers and not about one-time mistakes.
- Collaboration – It is about ACT Planning and ACT Transport working together and not about the two working in silos.
- Strategy – It is about strategic approaches to the improvement of the process and not about the technical aspects of active travel.
- Future orientation – It is about what we can do in the future and not about what has happened in the past.
- Leadership – It is about change leadership required by the Legislative Assembly and not about business as usual with ACT Planning and ACT Transport.
- Culture – It is about addressing underlying cultural issues within Government and not just about explicit ACT Transport and ACT Planning accountabilities and processes.
Listed below are the contents of the submission, section by section.
Section 1: Breaking the car habit
Change is like trying to turn a flywheel. You push, and push, and push. At first, despite great effort, there is precious little movement. It seems, the flywheel just does not want to turn. This is where we find ourselves in Canberra with low cycling participation rates (mode share). We talk a great deal about active travel but little changes in practice. The problem is all too often that we ‘wait and see’ and do not push hard enough early on. Or there is no sponsorship or no ‘mass movement’. We find ourselves discouraged by our lack of success. The problem is so daunting that we get distracted and give up too early.
This section outlines a two-pillar strategy to get the flywheel moving. Strategies are long term and this one is no exception. The first pillar involves changes to the planning system to permit cycling corridors to be reserved and preserved for the future construction of cycle highways. The second pillar is the culture change required for cycling to succeed in a deeply engrained car culture.
Section 2: Cycling network design
Canberra’s cycling for transport readiness can be looked at in terms of cultural maturity. Prosci’s ADKAR model for change management starts with Awareness and Desire. Climate change has made us aware that we need to consider another approach. After contemplating climate change for more than 20 years, there is some indication that people have bought into the notion of making active travel part of the way forward. After the development of the Active Travel Key Documents between 2008 and 2018 the process stalled. The cycling infrastructure has not improved much over the last decade in older suburbs, investment in cycling infrastructure has largely stagnated over successive budgets, and in new estates, such as the Molonglo Valley, we see disappointments galore for active travel – and cycling in particular.
England is another low cycling country, like Australia. In 2020, it was jolted out of its slumber with COVID-19. Regular cyclist Boris Johnston kicked cycling into high gear. Cycling is now being championed and sponsored at a national level. After many decades of slow change things are now agile and accelerated. The change is illustrated by the way the UK Government now thinks and talks about cycling, and many policies have been developed in little time. When there is decisive change sponsorship, things can happen quickly. This section is about what we can learn from this transformation.
Section 3: Cycling in the ACT
The long history of cycling stagnation is fleshed out with studies, charts, and statistics in this section. The ACT Government carried out one study in 2017, that has never been repeated since. This study is not mentioned here as it is covered in ACT Government presentations.
Section 3 is about the ACT and Australia, and three studies. Australia is a low cycling country. International studies provide a benchmark for good practice and a plethora of studies are available in this context. Consideration of all known international data would be too broad for this submission.
The data from Canberra and Australia shows that cycling for transport is not making headway. Young people give up cycling when they gain their driver’s licence. Commuting to works hovers in the ACT at 3% mode share. There is a lot of room for improvement and something has to change.
Section 4: Safety
The ACT Government has a duty of care to the citizens of the Territory and no less is this the case with road safety for all infrastructure users. While the ACT Government cannot be called very transparent in publishing road safety statistics, sufficient public data is available to show that while the road safety of motorists has improved, the circumstance for vulnerable roads users, including cyclists, is getting worse. Road safety is still framed in terms of how we can make driving safer. We have seen the continual improvement of both passive and active safety measures and the Safe Systems approach on roads. In a metal box, the driver is relatively safe. The same cannot be said for vulnerable road users that are subjected to an increasingly aggressive car culture.
This section provides data on the trends, risks, and costs of Canberra car culture, where vulnerable road users have ‘no place on our road’, and the young and the old are particularly at risk. They are disadvantaged not only due to cognitive (or physical) limitations but also due to the lack of options. Some of the best reasons for fixing active travel in Canberra are health, human equity, and safety. We should not need a big, heavy SUV to feel safe in the public realm. Road reserves can be as much as 34% of the area of Future Urban Area.
Section 5: Active travel
A brief introduction of active travel at a non-technical level. This submission is not about the technical aspects of active travel, which is well documented in the ACT Active Travel Key Documents. Combined with Austroads Standards there is enough there to build a good network. We are not failing because of a lack of standards. Rather the problem lies elsewhere.
This section introduces the active travel network for cycling and identifies gaps where it is failing. Knowing is not doing. The ACT Active Travel Key Documents is what we know. What we are doing is stagnating. The stagnation since the ACT Active Travel Key Documents were finalised in 2018 is noticeable. Much of the policy work that is recommended in these documents is still yet to start or be completed.
Section 6: Territory Plan
The ACT Planning Review was the result of the general opinion that the ACT Strategies (see above) translate poorly into planning decision making. The ACT Strategies cover sustainability, health, and transport. Cycling ticks all these boxes. The businesses case for cycling is a no brainer. ACT general revenue indirectly subsidises drivers by continuously investing in road infrastructure projects. A person cycling would save the ACT Government money. Investment in cycling infrastructure brings a return on investment.
The Territory Plan is part of the reason why good, fast cycling infrastructure between town centres for commuting cyclists – cycle highways – has not been and is not likely to be built. The ACT planning has been critiqued for hampering innovation. The comment, while likely directed at urban architecture, is still true for urban planning and design. Cycle highways are not possible without inclusion in statutory documents, such as the Territory Plan. Something recommended in the ACT Active Travel Key Documents, but yet not done. This section illustrates what is wrong with the territory plan from a cycling perspective.
Section 7: Movement and Place
Movement and Place Frameworks are widely accepted in Australia. We can make our cities more liveable. Space is always scarce in a city. We need to use the available space more efficiently. Finding a better balance of this space is the purpose of the Movement and Place Framework. In essence, space must be reallocated to people by “place making” at the expense of motor vehicles. Building cities around a car is accepted as a failed 20th-century experiment.
This section explains what the Movement and Place Framework means for cycling and the challenge to implement the Movement and Place Framework in the ACT, as it will require the collaboration of both ACT Transport and ACT Planning. This is something recommended in the ACT Active Travel Key Documents, but yet not done.
Section 8: Cycling corridors
Cycling corridors are the mechanism by which strategic assets (public realm space) can be secured for good, fast cycling infrastructure between town centres for commuting cyclists, thus providing an alternative to driving. The cycle highways will not be finished quickly and they do not have to be. However, they will never be built unless the corridors are reserved and preserved. Parallels are drawn to an approach used for light rail, a mammoth 40-year project. Cycling highways are, in comparison, much cheaper to build, but unfortunately the progress is typically slow in low cycling countries. With little money and organisation, a great deal can be done immediately to ensure that the much-needed cycling infrastructure can be built in the future.