Intersections in the ACT: doing bad, better?

Raising London Circuit, TCCS, Facebook, 1 July 2022.

The new London Circuit / Northbourne Avenue intersection is an opportunity for best practice in intersection design. Former, and deeply ingrained car centric design has progressed to “doing bad, better” (to quote Brent Toderian). ACT Labor and TCCS have promised global best practice intersections since the 2020 ACT Election. The newest design, for Raising London Circuit, still has many problems. Those problems and design options are found in this article.

Finally, grade separated bike paths on London Circuit!

canberra.bike has been advocating this for years with TCCS. Finally, the London Circuit design abandons bike lanes and replaces them instead with grade separated bike paths – which take up the same space but are MUCH safer! The bike path and footpath are separated by a small garden. This is a great idea, as it discourages pedestrians from walking on the bike path. The grade separated bike paths are seen in the images below, painted in the standard GREEN.

  • Raising London Circuit, TCCS, Facebook, 1 July 2022.
  • Raising London Circuit, TCCS, Facebook, 1 July 2022.
  • Raising London Circuit, TCCS, Facebook, 1 July 2022.

But issues remain

This intersection has a few design issues. Firstly, there is no light rail here. On the Northbourne median strip, the design has added a concrete arch with the footpath diverted around it. On the south side of the intersection this will not be possible as the Light Rail Stage 2B is on the media strip (see video below).

BEFORE, Location of City South Stop, Light Rail Stage 2A, Virtual Engagement Room, Light Rail to Woden, ACT Government, accessed 1 July 2022.AFTER, Location of City South Stop, Light Rail Stage 2A, Virtual Engagement Room, Light Rail to Woden, ACT Government, accessed 1 July 2022.
BEFORE/ AFTER, Location of City South Stop, Light Rail Stage 2A, Virtual Engagement Room, Light Rail to Woden, ACT Government, accessed 1 July 2022.
Light Rail Stage 2A video, ACT Government.

The second problem: to cross the road, the pedestrians must cross 6 lanes of traffic. The concrete arch on the median adds to the distance. Pedestrians in Canberra have to wait TWICE to cross Northbourne Avenue and 2 full light sequences. This is why it takes soooooo long to cross the road. Anyone who understands human behaviour knows that this will lead to people growing impatient. Accidents are designed in! Crossing to the corner diagonally opposite takes twice as long again. Drivers, on the other hand, only wait one light sequence – in their safe and warm living rooms on wheels. Switching the lights faster for pedestrians is possible but not currently practised in the ACT.

Promising the best

Back at the 2020 ACT Election, ACT Labour promised “global best practice to improve safety for all road users at intersections”. Is this it? Since then, Minister Steel has repeated the statement regularly (see quotes 9 September 2020, 3 October 2020, and 23 March 2022).

best practice road intersection design and protected cycle way design from around the world, to inform trials in areas supported by the ACT Movement and Place Framework that prioritise walking and cycling.

ACT Labor Policy Position Statement, 9 September 2020, 15. (no longer online)

Considering new, best practice design for intersections that prioritise walking and cycling

Labor’s city-wide plan for active travel, 3 October 2020, 2020 ACT Election.

The new design guide will challenge, or go beyond, Australian standards. New best practice standards will be developed to make Canberra streets and intersections safer for people who are not travelling by car and make streets more vibrant in key parts of the city. The design guide will also consider how “quick-build” protected cycling lanes could be designed in Canberra’s context and put into use.

The design guide will adapt Australasian and global best practice to improve safety for all road users at intersections and mid-blocks, provide priority for people walking and people cycling, and provide guidance on how existing road lanes in Canberra could be converted to protected cycle lanes in Canberra, based on changing needs such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This piece of work is exciting, and we look forward to engaging with interested stakeholders on how improved design can contribute to a city with living streets, safer for all road users, with less delay for people walking and cycling.

Transport Minister Steel, Hansard 23 March 2022, ACT Legislative Assembly, 466-471.

Dutch intersection design

The design for the London Circuit IS NOT international best practice! Although it is better for cyclists with grade separated bike paths, the conflict at the intersection remains. Dutch intersections are recognised as global best design, reducing the conflict for pedestrians and cyclists, TAKING UP THE SAME SPACE as Australian intersections.

Right: Dutch design of an actual junction with cycle paths in red. Left: the same ideas used on an American road to see if it could be done. State of the Art Bikeway Design – A further look, Bicycle Dutch, accessed 1 July 2022.
State of the Art Bikeway Design, or is it? Bicycle Dutch, accessed 1 July 2022.

The response in the English speaking world to Dutch intersections is humorous – a classical case of the “not invented here syndrome”, where people reject that with which they are unfamiliar, no matter how cutting edge it is.

There were of course comments that you can’t really take seriously: “Yuck. That seems like a parody of over-engineering.” And if someone dares to criticise anything American there is always this: “could be some anti-American bias there.” 

State of the Art Bikeway Design – A further look, Bicycle Dutch, accessed 1 July 2022.

Many miss the whole point of the design.

Because a lane change IS a dangerous thing to have to do. Some commenters were concerned about the remaining space for motorised traffic.

“large vehicles are to move closer to the centre of the junction, possibly disturbing traffic flow”
[there] “appears to be a sharper turning radius for the Dutch motorist”

The radius is the same as for the conventional US junction. But yes, it appears to be sharper, thus making traffic go slower. One more advantage. 

State of the Art Bikeway Design – A further look, Bicycle Dutch, accessed 1 July 2022.

Others to seem to think this is new and experimental design that should be tested. Well it was… for about 50 years now. Almost all junctions in the Netherlands with separate cycle paths were built exactly like the schematic design in the first video.

State of the Art Bikeway Design – A further look, Bicycle Dutch, accessed 1 July 2022.

Intersections modelled on the Dutch design can now be found in Canada, the US, and New Zealand. There are many good videos on the subject, including this one from Matt Pinder, a traffic engineer working in Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

Aussies, go, go, go! Really, TCCS, it is NOT THAT HARD.

Matt Pinder. A traffic engineer working in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. How to Design a Dutch-Style Protected Intersection: Designing large suburban intersections that are safe for people walking and cycling is possible! Protected intersections are a leading way to do it. You’ll find them all over the Netherlands, and they’re starting to emerge in other cities now, too.

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