Fast Track: fading glory

Main Community Route (MCR), Belconnen Bikeway, Belconnen, Canberra

Some boast about Canberra’s bike paths, but what we see is the product of past investment. In recent years, the network development has largely stagnated. There is no indication that the investment in cycling infrastructure is rising to meet the challenges and active travel opportunities ahead.

Summary

Fast Track was an initiative of the ACT Government to counter the economic fallout of COVID-19. The initiative was applauded. Sadly, the benefits for cyclists were limited. Fast Track data showed that it would take Fast Track 166 years to double the length of off-road paths suitable for cycling. This is unfortunate as the Canberra cycle network is long overdue for maintenance, expansion, and closing gaps. Canberra is growing faster than the cycle network.

What is Fast Track?

The ACT Government the Fast Track program included path infrastructure. That was great news, but missing were the priority cycle infrastructure projects.

Delivering jobs and supporting local business during COVID-19

The ACT Government is fast tracking infrastructure projects to deliver jobs and support local business. The program focuses on work that can start immediately and supports local jobs, businesses and our Canberra community. The projects include infrastructure and maintenance work on government-owned community buildings, schools and other facilities across the city. The $35 million program will support the ACT economy and provide Canberrans with better infrastructure and services long into the future.

ACT Government Fast Track, accessed 16/6/2020

Problems with narrow paths

A 2 m path is barely wide enough for two bikes to pass without pedestrian use. It is especially tricky for mountain bikes with wide handlebars. As we all know, mountain bikes are getting more popular in Canberra due to poor quality paths and to cope with the gaps in the paths network. The 1.5 m paths (some narrower) found in older suburbs are inadequate. Two bikes cannot pass on these without one leaving the path. Sharing a narrow path with a pedestrian – especially when elderly – is problematic. This makes them of little use for the commuting cyclist.

What makes a good path?

The ACT Active Travel Standards developed since 2013 are all about building good quality infrastructure for cycling. Austroads, too, has a standard just for cycling. The links below provide further information about this topic.

What is strategic?

A strategic path project conforms to the ACT Government’s own Active Travel Standards. The most obvious change from the old way of building things is greater path width. With many more people using the paths, they need to be wider. Width is a strategic factor. The minimum retrofit path width is 2.5 m.

The list of Fast Track projects has been filtered to identify those with at least a minimum retrofit path width. Paths 2.5 m or wider are included in the Strategic Fast Track List as strategic cycle paths.

Of the $25 million Fast Track program announced on 11 June 2020, very little was allocated to strategic cycle paths. Fast Track slowed in 2021 and with the 2021-2022 ACT Budget ground to a halt. Path maintenance in the ACT Budget is down to $4.159 million for the 2021-2022 financial year. Well down on the $25 million figure for Fast Track program from 11 June 2020.

Fast Track is too slow

The Fast Track investment in cycle infrastructure before the 2020 ACT Election was at first welcomed. Unfortunately, Fast Track investment in cycle infrastructure in 2020 was so low that it would take 166 years to double the length of off-road paths suitable for cycling in the ACT.

The investment in Fast Track is too little, too late. After decades of neglect, there is good reason to make up for lost ground. Many of the older paths in the older suburbs need maintenance. Many new paths, too, need to be built for cycling. Much of the Fast Track investment was directed at projects that have no benefit to active travel. Only a very small part of that will be spent on cycle paths.

Few compliant paths

The ACT Government has currently committed to 14.4 km of new paths funded through Fast Track. Only 3.5 km of those are compliant with the ACT Government’s own Active Travel Standards (MIS05). Canberra.bike describes these as of strategic importance, as they increase the likelihood that people will take up cycling. Non-compliant investment is ORANGE and the strategic investment GREEN in the following charts.

ACT Government Fast Track: The few new paths are largely non-compliant (orange). Data: ACT Government Fast Track website, accessed 8 August 2020.

Strategic cycling investment

Taking stock on community paths” provided a summary of the community paths in the ACT before COVID-19 (2019) and the portion of those that are suitable for cycling.

  • Total path network length: 3,106 km.
  • Most common width: 1.2 m and a total length of 1,667 km.
  • Next most common width: 2.5 m and a total length of 479 km.
  • The portion of the path network that has the 2.5 m minimum width suitable for cycling: 19% or 581 km.

The 581 km of suitable paths is shown as the grey area below. The green box shows the new length of paths that will be added to the network as a result of the Fast Track investment. At the current rate, it will take 166 years to double the length of off-road paths suitable for cycling! The new paths have a total length of just 3.5 km.

Have a look at the below area comparison, with grey being existing infrastructure pre-COVID-19. The lonely green “comparative by area” cube reflects the Fast Track investment.

Visualised area comparison of new investment versus existing investment. Fast Track investment in cycle paths that CONFORM to ACT active travel standards. Data: ACT Government Fast Track website, accessed 8 August 2020.

Community paths for pedestrians

The Fast Track investment on paths is mostly for paths that are non-compliant with the ACT Government’s own active travel standards for “retrofit”. The standard (MIS05) specifies a minimum path width in new estates, such as Whitlam in the Molonglo Valley, that are built on a greenfield. In older suburbs, the standard permits narrower paths of just 2.5 m. New community paths should NOT be narrower than this. Unfortunately, much 10.9 km of the 14.4 km of new Fast Track paths are too narrow (76%). The ACT Government will have to go back and widen or rebuild these paths at some stage.

From a change management point of view, it is essential that the paths are wide enough for all target groups to use. Make them too narrow, and you trigger resistance and conflict. As a consequence, this will make a positive change to active travel even more challenging. Canberra.bike already noticed pedestrians complaining about cyclists on “their” paths. This is a trend to be nipped in the butt quickly. The paths are there for everybody. The paths are there for everybody.

The 2,525 km of community paths narrower than 2.5 m is shown as the grey area below. The orange box shows the new length of non-compliant paths that will be added to the network as a result of the Fast Track investment. The new non-compliant paths have a total length of just 10.9 km.

Visualised area comparison of new investment versus existing. Fast Track investment in cycle paths that DO NOT conform to ACT active travel standards. Data: ACT Government Fast Track website, accessed 8 August 2020.

Fast Track project list

The ACT Government website listed (8 August 2020) 50 community path projects being built as part of Fast Track. The path designs for the vast majority are non-compliant. Those that are compliant with the ACT Government’s own standards (MIS05) for active travel are of strategic importance, as they increase the likelihood that people will cycle.

The strategic projects are listed at the top of the table and the non-compliant below. Paths lengths of less than 50 m are listed as 0.0 km. A 10 m section of 3 m path can be most beneficial in joining two parts of the cycling network. Joining gaps is highly beneficial.

TownSurfacewidth (m)length (km)importance
Tuiggeranongasphalt2.50.8strategic
Wodenasphalt2.50.8strategic
Wodenasphalt2.50.7strategic
Gungahlinasphalt2.50.5strategic
Gungahlinconcrete2.50.3strategic
Central Canberraasphalt2.50.2strategic
Central Canberraconcrete3.50.1strategic
Belconnenconcrete2.50.1strategic
Central Canberraasphalt2.50.0strategic
Central Canberraasphalt3.00.0strategic
Belconnenconcrete1.51.5non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.8non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.6non compliant
Tuiggeranongconcrete1.50.5non compliant
Belconnenasphalt2.00.5non compliant
Gungahlinconcrete1.50.5non compliant
Wodenasphalt2.00.5non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.4non compliant
Gungahlinconcrete1.50.4non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.4non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.4non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.3non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.3non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.3non compliant
Belconnenconcrete1.50.3non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.3non compliant
Central Canberraasphalt2.00.3non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.3non compliant
Belconnenconcrete2.00.3non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.3non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.2non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.2non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.2non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.2non compliant
Tuiggeranongconcrete2.00.2non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.1non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.1non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.1non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.1non compliant
Wodenconcrete2.00.1non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete2.00.1non compliant
Wodenconcrete2.00.1non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.1non compliant
Belconnenconcrete1.50.0non compliant
Wodenconcrete2.00.0non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.0non compliant
Gungahlinconcrete1.50.0non compliant
Gungahlinconcrete2.00.0non compliant
Central Canberraconcrete1.50.0non compliant
Wodenconcrete1.50.0non compliant
All projects14.5km50 projects
Fast Track paths list . Data: ACT Government Fast Track website, accessed 8 August 2020.

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