New year resolutions are quickly forgotten, and so it seems are ACT cycle priorities. Canberra has a strategic infrastructure list for cycling since 2012. There is much to be done to improve safe cycling in the ACT. We do not lack lists, however, cycling in the ACT continues to be hijacked by motor vehicle priorities. The latest chapter of this saga is being written at William Hovell Drive. The cycle lanes on William Hovell Drive are not likely to get much use. Certainly they are not a priority. Our efforts should be focused on cycle priorities.
The cycle lanes on William Hovell Drive distract from the important work. One obvious open wound is Northbourne Avenue, for which we have a plan, yet little progress. This article will end with City And Gateway Urban Design Framework.
Begin with the end in mind
Our days are short and we all seem to be time poor. It would make sense to get up in the morning with a list of priorities of what is important and consistently work on them over days, week, and months. In time, perhaps we will see progress, but not without a laser focus on these important things.
With the William Hovell Drive we are doing the opposite. William Hovell Drive is not important for cycling and would not make the list of top ten action points. William Hovell Drive is the result of windscreen thinking resulting from our long standing and strong car culture. This may not be the optimal way to think about future proofing cycling in Canberra. Road duplications have very little to do with cycling.
We will therefore explain why William Hovell Drive seems to be a cycling time waster, before moving to something that is important for cycling in Canberra. The list of important things for cycling is so long that it is beyond the scope of this article, but with certainty William Hovell Drive is not one of them.
“If you want to take urban biking seriously you need to build more, you need to build a lot more, a lot faster, separated cycling infrastructure. Not on every street, but on every street that has high volume and high speeds. Painted lanes will not do. You will not even get close to 10% mode share.“Brent Toderian, CURF Seminar – Place based development, CURF University of Canberra, 36:19 to 36:50
Reasons not to talk about William Hovell Drive
There are many reasons and here are just a few.
The wrong infrastructure in the wrong place at the wrong time
Spending money on cycle lanes on William Hovell Drive is a poor investment, as it is the wrong sort of cycle infrastructure, in the wrong place, and it does nothing to improve CBR Cycle Routes, which are still underfunded.
The discussion of what can be done to improve cycling in the ACT and setting priorities is an important one, considering how long it takes to get started and to get it finished (7 to 8 years on cycling projects is the norm). Why waste time with William Hovell Drive duplication?
Strategy drives long term investment, not ad hoc decision making
If we were setting an agenda for a meeting to increase the mode-share of cycling in the ACT we would choose items that are known as barriers. The barriers to cycling are well researched and road duplications are not on the list. The discussion of cycling infrastructure along William Hovell Drive takes place for the wrong reason – not because it is a priority, but rather because it is spot lighted in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Remember the opportunity cost
The economic concept of opportunity cost is valuable here. Every day we spend discussing William Hovell Drive is a day lost to discuss other important cycling matters. Opportunity is lost in the dust kicked up on William Hovell Drive. Politics is hampered by distractions. Getting our agenda on the table is half the battle. Permitting William Hovell Drive to derail our priorities appears to be counterproductive.
Planning fails cycling
Why do we not have the cycling infrastructure that would make us world class? Comparing our cycling infrastructure with that in the Netherlands for instance shows us that we have a planning and culture problem as much as anything. What we should be talking about is outlined in Section 1 of the canberra.bike’s Submission to the Standing Committee on Planning, Transport and City Services. Why we should do it, and the evidence supporting it, is described in the sections following that.
Movement and Place
Most people live in cities and the trend globally is for cities to get bigger. As the population increases, space in the city becomes increasingly scarce. Increasing the area of the city creates unwanted sprawl. Urban planning is the challenge of managing the available space effectively.
Cars take up a lot of space. They are not particularly space efficient (see below). More public transport, cycling and walking reduces the crowding and noise stress in a city. Private motor vehicles are a failed experiment, as they lead inevitably to congestion as the city grows.
Traditionally, we have designed our cities around an engineering mindset that sees the city as a machine. The design of the city was optimised around transport to move people within the city as quickly as possible. In the post war era, it was generally believed that private motor vehicles were the answer and it resulted in a flurry of road construction with ever more and wider roads. This development is now considered a failed experiment. More roads encourage more private motor vehicles, and with it more congestion. The investments spiral out of control into the realms of the unaffordable.
The second effect is that vulnerable roads users tend to be pushed aside by motor vehicles. A strong car culture protects the rights of the motorist but neglects everybody else in society. The “road safety” discourse prioritises the safety of those sitting in a metal box above the safety of pedestrians and cyclists using the public realm. Many recognise the danger to ourselves and our children by avoiding the roads – unless we are suitably protected by an ever bigger private motor vehicle. Just look at all the parents driving their kids to work.
Movement and Place breaks away from the old and deeply ingrained – and therefore unquestioned – way of thinking. It recognises that we need a road network for freight, construction and buses. The congestion on our roads is mostly from private motor vehicles and the source of most of the emissions stem from transport. Many Canberrans have been led to falsely diagnose the problem. You could argue that our road network is sufficient, but overrun by a fleet of ‘1 person per 1 car’. The cost of the use of private vehicles to government and the taxpayer is not adequately reflected in the cost of private vehicle ownership. Across the globe, private motoring is subsidised by taxpayers. It’s a matter of ‘this is just the way it is… and has always been… and we’re all mindlessly accepting it!’ But – look at other countries and you will see that this mindset is currently being challenged.
Movement and Place is about prioritising people and wellbeing. For any space in the city, the priorities found in movement and place compete and need to be reconciled. Movement is about transport, and Place is about people, what we see in the ACT with ACT Transport (Movement) and ACT Planning. A Movement and Place Framework is, however, nuanced and allows us to consider the balance and interelationships between the two.
Place – A place comes in to existence when people give meaning to it. Places with a strong sense of place have an identity and character felt by local inhabitants.City And Gateway Urban Design Framework, December 2018, 76.
Place making – A multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.City And Gateway Urban Design Framework, December 2018, 76.
Movement and Place shifts our thinking towards place making. What type of city do we want to live in? What qualities should the area where we live and work have? What makes us happy and connects us? The Movement and Place Framework helps us allocate space for people. We know quite well what people need, and it has been proven again and again in many studies. Our wellbeing is improved by exercise, open spaces, green, and social connections. A busy road that produces traffic noise, emissions, and dust has a negative effect on our health and wellbeing, as does driving to work in congestion. The psychological and physiological effects are measurable. We often call it stress. Design the cities differently and they are cleaner, safer, and healthier for us. We can design and build a city that sets new standards. We just need the political will to do so.
The first step is to designate areas of the city for place making. Place making is designing a precinct for people. Cars are outcast or guests at the best. There are many tests of place making. Do people gather there? Would you feel safe walking there at night? Would you feel comfortable having your children play there without your constant surveillance? Place making is abstract but quite well understood. Place making is about the way we design our building and the public realm space in between.
It should not be a surprise that in areas where placemaking is of importance, motorist will be discouraged (even excluded) and road speed limits will be low at 30 km/h or less. The human experience of scale and speed becomes important. We are threatened by the too big and too fast. Our cities are big, but where we live should be our size. Children find a cubby house attractive because it is built in their size. Our cities are have grown huge, with populations above 25 million. People have not changed in their nature. We require the place where we live to have a “human scale”. Building at a human scales means building a living space with close integration of the public and private realm where we feel comfortable. It is to be expected that different communities have different requirements and this can be accommodated in the spaces we create.
Human scale – Human scale reflects a sympathetic relationship between the built form and human dimensions where people are not overwhelmed by the built form. Human scale contributes to a person’s perception of buildings or other features in the public domain. It is typically referred to when discussing the bulk and scale of development.City And Gateway Urban Design Framework, December 2018, 76.
Place making is often poorly done. The Frankenstein of Place is found in Communist era standard housing and grandiose fascist Übermensch architecture. These are extremes, but Canberra has made mistakes, such as tall towers with multi level podium parking, blank concrete walls and parking existing at ground level, and a ground plane that is both clinical and minimalist. People will rush to and from such towers, preferable by car, and the social interactions are reduced to the bare minimum.
Social cohesion – A cohesive society works towards the wellbeing of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility.City And Gateway Urban Design Framework, December 2018, 77.
The National Capital Design Review Panel is an effort to improve the quality of the larger developments through free consultation. The National Capital Design Review Panel is unlikely, however, to do much for cyclists as it does no fall within their terms of reference. The consideration of the development is largerly defined by the boundaries of the block. Cycle networks require consideration of much greater distances between town centres.
TCCS Movement and Place Framework
Not surprisingly, TCCS takes a road centric view of Movement and Place. The intention back in 2018 was to develop a Movement and Place Framework in collaboration with ACT Planning (EPSDD). Unfortunately, we have not got one yet.
Arterial roads or movement corridors, such as the William Hovell Drive, fall in the top left corner of the Movement and Place matrix (figure 2.1 below) – movement is a high priority, but place is very low. In comparison, cyclist infrastructure is found towards the bottom right. The cycle highways concept covers the requirement of high movement cycle highways connecting town centres but the existing road network is not the starting point in the design process.
Garden City Cycle Route yet to begin
If you think the ACT Government is letting us down with the cycling infrastructure in the City and Gateway along Northbourne Avenue, you would be right. The City And Gateway Urban Design Framework is already three years old and little has been done for cycling.
- Protect bike lanes were promised on Northbourne and we have not got them.
- The recent tender of the upgrade of Haig Park did not include any bike infrastructure.
- The Braddon Streetscape Upgrade Listening Report (see attached) for the upgrade to Lonsdale Street stated that no cycling infrastructure was planned – but you can still park there.
- The active travel street, Mort Street, passing the Braddon precinct has not been upgrade, even though it is now designated as the preferred cycle route.
- And what has happened to the Garden City Cycle Route through the north of Canberra including Haig Park and the Braddon Precinct. Nothing to be heard.
Comment: Provide a separated cycleway through Braddon between the Inner North and Civic, in line with the Active Travel Framework, as a retrofit to Lonsdale Street under the MIS 05 (or to Mort St).
Response: Mort Street has been identified as the preferred north-south connection through Braddon for a separated cycleway. We are collaborating with TCCS to prepare for this outcome.Braddon Streetscape Upgrade Listening Report, consultation 7 April-26 May 2021, YourSay, ACT Government, email 26 July 2021, PDF 3.
Lonsdale Street and Mort Street were also discussed in the Transcript Of Evidence, Standing Committee On Planning, Transport And City Services, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 141, that can be read here.
Map 19 shows the Braddon precinct. Morton Street is an Active Travel Street. Garden City Cycle Route runs along Lonsdale Street.
On map 12, protected cycle lanes can be seen along Northbourne passing Macarthur Street.
Note the protected cycle lane (in this case grade separated) in figure 15.