Developing an reporting standard for active travel

We do not have an accounting standard for active travel and need one. Here we consider how one could be created that permits comparison of active travel spend across directorates and budget years, and discerning between cycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Canberra.bike calls for an Active Travel Reporting Standard.

Contents

  1. Context
  2. Definitions
  3. How the budget is structured
  4. Active travel benefits are diverse
  5. Similar ideas
  6. Active travel reporting standard
  7. Active travel definition
  8. Breaking down investment
  9. The priority pyramid
  10. Prioritising cycling
  11. Conclusion

Context

This article is longish at around 4000 words. The article is the first in a series of articles on the work of developing a report standard for active travel: Active Travel Reporting Standard (ATRS). Here are the articles in sequence. The first two are finished and the remainder still in work.

  1. ATRS part 1: Developing an report standard for active travel (status: published)
  2. Chris Boardman interview and principles summary (status: published)
  3. ATRS part 2: Chris Boardman ideas applied to the ATRS
  4. ATRS part 3: Carbon emissions and health benefits
  5. ATRS part 4: ATRS is logically the responsibility of the Active Travel Commissioner

Definitions

The ACT Government reports often refer to directorates by the function. In an oblique way, we do the same here. Many functions are bound into one directorate, and often different functions report to different ministers, leaving a rather messy impression.

FunctionMinister responsible
ACT SportMinister for Sport and Recreation
ACT TransportMinister for Transport and City Services
ACT HealthMinister for Health
ACT EducationMinister for Education and Youth Affairs
ACT TourismMinister for Tourism 
ACT PlanningMinister for Planning and Land Management
ACT EnvironmentMinister for the Environment
Climate Change StrategyMinister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction
Suburban Land AgencyMinister for Housing and Suburban Development
ACT Government website for the 2020-2024 ACT Legislative Assembly.

These definitions by function are more useful than referring to the directorates, as the directorates have functions bundled in strange ways. Here are two examples for the directorates TCCS and EPSDD.

Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS)

Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) covers both transport planning (including the transport budget) and municipal services (City Services). Traditionally, municipal services in Australia are a local government function, however, as the ACT is a territory the Territory Government takes on this responsibility. This may seem self-evident for somebody living in Canberra but is rather unusual. Businesses often refer to capital expenditure and operational expenditure. Operational expenditure includes the maintenance and repair of existing assets in an ACT context and falls under municipal services. Capital expenditure is quite different and refers to new infrastructure, including big ticket items such as road duplications. Capital expenditure and operational expenditure are separated in the ACT Budget under New (Capital) Works (NW) and the Better Infrastructure Fund (BIF).

Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD)

Another odd example is the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD). Taking a look at the EPSDD organisational chart (attached) reveals functions that are important but often at odds with each other. EPSDD has a messy allocation of functions across five ministers (Minister Vassarotti, Minister Gentleman, Minister Rattenbury, Minister Berry, and Minister Barr). Below are examples of important functions in EPSDD for the active travel agenda. Active travel goals are found within the ACT Government strategies from these areas.

Planning and Urban Policy, Executive Group Manager, Carolyn O’Neill reporting to Minister Gentleman, responsible for the ACT Planning Strategy.

  • Strategic Planning Reform
  • Land Strategy
  • Territory Plan

Climate Change and Energy, Executive Group Manager, Gene McGlynn reporting the Minister Rattenbury, responsible for the ACT Climate Change Strategy.

  • Climate Change and Energy Policy
  • Climate Change and Energy Programs
  • Climate Change Partnerships

How is the budget structured

The ACT Budget is a number of documents and not just one. The published documents are only a fraction of the information that the ACT has at its disposal, and in reality often raises more questions than it answers. However, the budget provides a gist in which direction the Government would like to go. The reason why we need a Active Travel Reporting Standard is that the budget is not detailed enough to make transparent active travel investment.

The 2021-2022 ACT Budget included the following sections: Budget Speech, Budget Outline, Related Statements and Budget Statements. The Budget Statements are most interesting and are broken down into Budget Statements A to I, covering all directorates but also other entities such as: Legal Aid Commission, Suburban Land Agency, City Renewal Authority and Major Projects Canberra. Major Projects Canberra is worth keeping in mind as it controls almost $1 billion worth of investment in this budget (about 20% of the ACT Budget).

Budget Statements A
  • ACT Executive
  • ACT Integrity Commission
  • Auditor-General
  • Electoral Commissioner
  • Office of the Legislative Assembly
Budget Statements B
  • Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (CMTEDD) together with associated agencies
Budget Statements C
  • ACT Health Directorate
  • Canberra Health Services
  • ACT Local Hospital Network
Budget Statements D
  • Justice and Community Safety Directorate
  • Legal Aid Commission (ACT)
  • Public Trustee and Guardian for the ACT
Budget Statements E
  • Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate
  • City Renewal Authority
  • Suburban Land Agency
Budget Statements F
  • Education Directorate
Budget Statements G
  • Community Services Directorate
  • Housing ACT
Budget Statements H
  • Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate
  • Transport Canberra Operations
  • Cemeteries and Crematoria Authority
Budget Statements I
  • Major Projects Canberra

Active travel benefits are diverse

Active travel is attractive because of the many benefits beyond transport, including health and wellbeing, environment, planning.

  • People who ride bikes are healthier and happier and live longer and better lives with less disease.
  • Bikes have no emissions and more energy efficient than any other transport mode. Over half the remains emissions are from private motor vehicles.
  • The population of Canberra continues to grow and with it the demand for housing. 70% of the new population will live within the existing footprint of Canberra. The biggest challenge ACT Planning has is how to better utilise the existing space. Roads can take up 30% of a new suburb, and road reserves make up a large portion of public space. Cycling provides much better utilisation of the public space than motor vehicles.
  • Finally, the ACT Budget is tight, and cycle projects return a positive return on investment for the ACT Government. In comparison, individual car use is subsidised by the taxpayer.

Active travel projects are therefore likely to be found in those directors where the benefits are accrued which will include ACT Health, ACT Education, ACT Planning, and ACT Transport. The Active Travel Reporting Standard must be such that it can be applied across directorates and include entities such as Major Projects Canberra. To do this we need to think carefully how we define active travel and what is included and excluded.

This may seem an impossible task but it has already found in the 2021-2022 ACT Budget for other important concerns. Where there is a will there is a way.

Similar ideas

Here are examples of the way, similar things are done currently in the 2021-2022 ACT Budget.

Women’s Statement 2021-22

The Women’s Statement is found in the Related Statements of the ACT Budget and links to the ACT Women’s Plan 2016 – 2026.

“The ACT Government seeks to support those most impacted by the pandemic, including by advancing women’s economic security, safety, health and wellbeing. The ACT Government continues to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality, as articulated in the ACT Women’s Plan 2016 – 2026.”

ACT Government

Women’s Budget Statement 2021-22 (html)

GGS standard for Government accounts

The General Government Sector (GGS) standard permits the comparison of the ACT Budget in the interest of transparency. Similarly, the Active Travel Reporting would be a section of the budget that would permit transparency regarding active travel investment. 

“The Government Finance Statistics (GFS) sector classification is used for the presentation of consolidated financial statements. Consolidated statements are provided for the General Government Sector (GGS) and the Public Trading Enterprise (PTE) Sector. Total Territory statements are also included. Definitions of these sectors can be found in the Glossary.”

ACT Government

Wellbeing Budget

Much has been made of the Wellbeing Budget that is now part of the ACT Budget. Over time, this may provide budget guidance and show trends. The ACT Wellbeing Budget does not provide useful reporting of active travel investment and cycle-related investment

“The ACT Wellbeing Framework is helping the ACT Government and community work in partnership to lift the quality of life of all Canberrans, particularly those with lower wellbeing than average.”

ACT Government

Active Travel Reporting Standard

The Active Travel Reporting Standard has the following goals:

  • Provide definitions for active travel investments.
  • Distinguish between investment for pedestrian and cyclist: break down active travel investments into that for cycle infrastructure and related actives (riding to school), and that for pedestrians (Age Friendly Suburbs program).
  • Permit the comparison of the active travel investment over time (successive budgets).
  • Permit the identification of active travel investment in all directorates (in particular ACT Transport, ACT Health and ACT Education).
  • Permit tracking of projects and investment by distinguishing between planned and actual dates for both start and completion of projects.
  • Permit all projects to be linked back to the Budget Papers and standard tables (NW, WIP, BIF).
  • Standardise the allocation of the active travel investment to wellbeing indicators.

Getting active travel moving is tough with limit resources and investment. Therefore, projects must be prioritised to make the most difference. Prioritising cycle infrastructure projects will be discussed further below, however, we must have a list of OFFICIAL Cycle Infrastructure Priorities. Without it, cycle investment will be prioritised by the status quo – a car culture.

  • Include an approved Cycle Infrastructure Priorities list needs to be signed off by somebody outside the TCCS power structure.
  • Link active travel investment in the budget back to the OFFICIAL Cycle Infrastructure Priorities list.

Active travel definition

The discussion here is just a start to trigger a conversation about what we actually mean when we say ‘active travel’. In this section we define the terms: pedestrian, cyclist, motorist, commuter, mode (of transport), multimodal (travel), mode share, micromobility device, disability device and active travel.

Active travel is transport and not sport or recreation. Canberrans enjoy their sports and many sporting clubs in Canberra which are gaining funding from ACT Sport. Transport is about routine, incidental travel between destinations that may include home, work, education institutions, shops, sport facilities and/or visiting people we know.

Transport can take on different forms. We can walk there (PEDESTRIAN), ride a bike (CYCLIST), drive a car (MOTORIST) or travel in a private motor vehicle (PASSENGER). PUBLIC TRANSPORT in Canberra could involve the use of bus or light rail. People do these things, and many Canberrans would do all these things in a single day. Such mundane activities including walking to the shops or bus stop, riding to school, or driving to work. The last of these is special, and we call these people COMMUTERS.

The different types of transport are call transport MODES and usually name of after the device that a person would use for transport. Here are the typical names: private car (motor vehicle), passenger (in a car), bicycle, walk, and public transport.

The object of the ACT Government strategies (Planning, Transport, and Climate Change strategy) in recent years to encourage the use of alternate modes of transport. Reducing car dependence is achieved through the uptake other modes: public transport, cycling and walking. The redistribution of resources and public road space is planned to public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. 

Most Canberrans still drive to work but it is not the only way to commute. Public transport, cycling and walking are alternatives. Congestion at peak periods is increasing on our roads. The peak hour has become the peak period with AM and PM peak and the valley in between these two peaks gets ever narrower as the traffic spreads itself across the day. Commuting is still associated with the use of a private motor vehicle but that must change. Therefore, COMMUTING is defined as travel to work or education (children in particular) and could be with any of the transport modes.

MODE SHARE should be quickly defined. The objective is to make different transport modes available in Canberra so that we can choose between them. The distribution of trips between the different transport modes is described by the modes share. For commuting, private motor vehicles (as driver or passenger) still hold over 80% mode share in comparison to cycling which has remained at around 3% for a decade.

MULTIMODAL travel refers to the use of more than one transport mode. This is particularly common with public transport where people may have to walk up to 1 km to the bus or light rail stop. Another example, but less common, is walking and bike hire.

MICROMOBILITY refers to the use of wheeled and electric powered devices as an alternative to walking. Some would regard them as not being active travel as one would typically stand passively on these devices. While this is true, micromobility devices use the same infrastructure and are legal in the ACT and not uncommon. It seems unproductive to split hairs on this point, so here we will bundle them into active travel as neither cycling or walking but still active travel.

DISABILITY DEVICES are a special category as they are common but essential and included in the Disability ACT. The Disability ACT has implications for the ACT Active Travel Standards, the building codes and the Estate Development Code. To distinguish between mobility devices, we can take a wheelchair into a building but will need to leave the scooter outside. The use of disability device is also active travel even when the device is motorised.

DESTINATION has a formal definition in ACT Planning or ACT Transport documents but we will consider it here a home, shops, community centre, place of work, education facility. Visiting a friend is travelling to a destination. This aspect of the definition differs from the formal definition.

ACTIVE TRAVEL could therefore be a person walking, cycling or using micromobility or disability devices with the purpose of travelling to a destination. It should be noted that the primary purpose of these trips is transport and not sport. One of the many benefits of active travel is the health benefit which it shares with any sport. Sport is not active travel.

This still leaves many areas that are not discussed which include car sharing, taxis/Uber, and autonomous car and buses. These aspects of travel (as service) are neglect for now.

Breaking down investment

The Active Travel Reporting Standard must distinguish between the investment that benefits different transport types, including that for pedestrians and cyclists but excluding that for motorists. “Think Three” is the key. The investments for the cyclist must be easily identified. 

Currently, with broad aggregation of investment in the budget, it can be difficult to determine the cycling component. For example, New Works investment in the 2021-2022 Budget just has one amount ($10.8 million) for “Active Travel”: the projects cannot be identified and neither can the nature of the project (cyclist or pedestrian). 

Canberra.bike’s work on the Fast Track program identified cycle infrastructure particular of strategic importance (STRATEGIC CYCLE INFRASTRUCTURE) as that which meets or exceeds minimum path width of 2.5m compliant with the ACT Active Travel Standards. For Fast Track, this was a length of just 3.5 km. With this slow build, it will take us 166 years to double the length of the cycle network. Canberra continues to grow, however, and Canberra is expected to have a population of over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017. 

The ACT Government argues for a “holistic approach” to cycle investment and often bundles active travel into larger projects. This is particularly true for transport projects. ACT Transport’s culture is a car culture reflected in planning outcomes that favour the status quo. ACT Transport focuses on the traffic we have (historical bias) rather than building for the traffic we need (strategic vision). Traffic modelling tools develop from the idea of building efficient road networks. The ideas of efficient and movement are built into the tools (assumptions) counter to the desire to remake our cities at a “human scale” and create “Place” (see Movement and Place).

Only recently have tools become available that permit network design that aligns with aspirational values for cycling. A good example of this is the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) with its “Go Dutch” scenario. We want more than just efficient transport (last century thinking). We aspire to make cities better places to live, improve the health and wellbeing and reduce emissions to combat climate change. The Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) is designed for sustainable transport (cycling) and calculates the benefits to the population health and emission reductions. In this way, it allows transport ambitions to move beyond zero deaths on roads to extending people’s lives.

Costing active travel projects is relatively easy for a project that is a dedicated project, such as “build a pedestrian path to the shops” or a bikepath between Coombs to Civic (CBR Cycle Route C10). It is more difficult to know what the value of the active travel component is for larger projects that include facilities for different transport modes: Integrated Transport Systems. ACT Transport is rather fond of this approach.

In the Active Travel Reporting Standard (ATRS), we could ignore all projects that are not dedicated pedestrian or cyclist projects. This may not, however, always be viable with design of Integrated Transport Systems. It may be necessary to break down the total project investment by mode (pedestrians, cyclists and motorists). Unless you have an accounting practice for doing this we will not achieve reliable accounting as every consultant / directorate will do it differently. 

One option is to build a baseline from Territory data of similar projects and apply it to an Integrated Transport Systems. For example, we know that in Melbourne an inner city bikepath costs about $1 million/km including drainage (which most paths in Canberra do not have). A 5 km duplication may cost $40 million and include a 5 km bikepath. This would mean the active travel component is $5 million. A new light rail stop might cost $12 million (Mitchell) but include a path extension to the existing cycle network and bike parking costing $0.5 million, which is the active travel component.

A duplication is used reluctantly in this example only because they are common and expensive. Light rail is mentioned in a similar vain, as we want a bikepath running parallel to the light rail between Civic and Woden. However, we do not really want cycle infrastructure tided to major projects. This will be discussed below.

The priority pyramid

The priority pyramid has been part of the published ACT Transport Strategies since 2015 (2015, 2018, 2020) and represents a hierarchy of transport modes that should be reflected in transport investment. This goal has never been achieved.

  1. Pedestrian
  2. Cyclist
  3. Public transport
  4. Private motorist
Hierarchy of prioritisation by mode: pyramid for the importance of each mode of transport in ACT investment.
Hierarchy of prioritisation by mode: pyramid for the importance of each mode of transport in ACT investment. This model is found in all ACT Transport Strategies since 2015, including ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

In the above figure, the private motorist in this is at the bottom of the hierarchy. However, in our car culture, the private motorist remains at the top of all transport investment (duplications), road design, space prioritisation in our cities, pedestrian prioritisation at signalised intersections, parking infrastructure, the onus of proof by road collisions, speed limits, and more. 

Changing the engrained car culture of ACT Transport will take time. A Active Travel Reporting Standard should assist in accounting for these priorities and in measuring the shift. Without it, we get just more creative accounting biased towards cars. 

The mode share prioritisation has implications on Planning, too. “Transport corridors” must be fit-for-purpose. Pedestrians, cyclists, rapid transit and cars have very different needs due to their travel speeds and characteristics.

Prioritising cycling

A number of attempts have been made to prioritise cycling investment, so that we build the most important ones first. Examples include the 2012 strategic planning study, ACT Transport’s CBR Cycle Routes and lists of projects (ranked) from Pedal Power ACT and the ACT Greens. Some commonalities can be found between these lists, however, the lists have little commonality with road duplications. 

Duplications are driven by the car culture. It turns the pyramid for hierarchy of prioritisation by mode on its head. Recent examples include the William Hovell Drive duplication that has a cycling component (bikepath). William Hovell Drive does not feature on any of the above cycling priority lists. The investment here is prioritised on the needs of the car network. The cycle network has little benefit from stranded assets.

This must change. The Netherlands talks about the Invisible Network, as the cycle network is designed independently of roads. To avoid conflicts between motorists and cyclists, the cycle infrastructure avoids roads. Canberra should prioritise cycling investment in this way. 

Canberra.bike has written about the nature of cycle corridors and the importance of the identification, reservation and preservation of these corridors, similar to what we have done for light rail. We have yet to start doing this. ACT Transport prefers to align the hierarchy of roads with the hierarchy of cycle paths, and builds Principal Cycle Routes (PCR) besides high polluting arterials. This promotes roads duplications and wasting funds that could otherwise be spent on pedestrian and cycle projects. 

For this reason, the Active Travel Reporting Standard should discount projects that have little strategic importance to the cycle and pedestrians network. Firstly, we need to identify the priorities of the cycle and pedestrians network. Secondly, we need to disregard (or heavily discount) money that is spent on fake “cycle and pedestrians” projects that are not found on this list. 

In this way projects such as the William Hovell Drive would probably fail the pub test as “active travel” or “cycle” projects. They are really nothing else but another demonstration of the dominance of our – and regional NSW’s – engrained car culture. 

Conclusion

More thought needs to be put into the Active Travel Reporting Standard, and it must be given priority, otherwise we will stand where we are now with the 2021-2022 ACT Budget, on the back foot due to poor accountability and reporting of active travel in the Budget Papers

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