A plan is as good as its execution

There does not appear to be a lack of ideas for a better cycle network for Canberra but we have poor performance building them. The recent Fast Track program demonstrated this. The paths that were built were mostly below the minimum standard for cycling and unfortunately did not form networks.

Designing a cycling network by asking people to “suggest a path” brings with it the question, what to do with a list of unhelpful suggestions. The crowdsourced approach is great for stakeholder engagement but a disjointed “wish list” is unlikely to lead to cycling networks. Fast Track has demonstrated this.

In a landscape of changing political priorities, plans do not always turn out as expected.
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Planning bike networks is doable

One would think that the best practice for planning road networks would also apply for planning a bike network. The high standards are, however, not translated across. Bike network planning does not use computer modelling, ABS Census data, population growth estimates, or traffic monitoring on existing paths. The ACT has no regular path monitoring, cleaning or maintenance programs. The maintenance of the bike network does not appear as an item in the ACT Budget documents. Repairs are ad hoc and it can take years for the most simple things to be fixed. So, what can be done?

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Moving Canberra and the Conservation Council

The ACT Government’s 2019 Moving Canberra strategy was welcomed but essentially a rerun of the 2015 Active Travel Framework. The 2015 document was much more specific but failed for the lack of priorities, goals, and legislation. To say this another way, the ideas were good but the follow up poor. The 2019 Moving Canberra is vaguer and less specific than the 2015 strategy. The 2019 Moving Canberra creates a sense of urgency to do more of everything but lacks any recognition that strategy failure is not caused by the lack of ambition but rather the difficulty of implementation. 

Canberra.bike has hardly mentioned ACT Government 2019 Moving Canberra strategy because it added little to the active travel debate. The ACT Conservation Council responded to it in a well-written submission. I will quote highlights from the submission here that are relevant in 2020. Between 2015 and 2020 the problems of cycle infrastructure investment remain largely the same in the ACT.

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Cycle highways for commuting

Addressed to the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

The ACT Government has recognised the importance of investment in capital projects as part of the stimulus to offset the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 health threat. In 2018 and 2019 the ACT Government released multiple policies to make Canberra a more liveable city, to combat the effects of climate change, and to prepare the city for a population of 500,000, who will need to commute to town centres and Civic across town twice daily. It is expected that our infrastructure will collapse under the peak period loads without the strategic investment in active travel and the construction of cycle highways. Even though it might still be the commonly held mental model, Canberra cannot still live by small city standards but rather mature into a regional metropolis.

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CBR cycling: we have a plan

The “CBR Cycle Routes” are a network of cycle routes between Canberra’s town centres. They do not all exist yet, and if people do not know about them, they almost certainly never will. Cycle paths are not built without community support.

Background to the urban planning process is found here.

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When strategies collide: climate change, active travel and environment

The ACT Government goals found in the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25, the Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan 2019, and the Active Travel Framework conflict and are difficult to reconcile. These strategies show commonalities but as with any specific project, there will be trade-offs. In the Molonglo Valley, active travel is poorly served.

The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals cannot be met with Recreational Routes, and that is all the Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan 2019 is likely to produce. The Active Travel Framework describes both Recreational Routes and Community Routes. Riding to work must be attractive, direct and safe, if we are to achieve the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals for active travel. We need cycle highways and more Community Routes. Only 3% of Canberra’s commuters currently ride to work – and this is actually a downward trend!

The Molonglo Valley Development demonstrates the tensions that arise in urban development. The Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve and Whitlam Residential Estate show no clear benefit for the active traveller. This should be a reason for concern. A good overarching network of cycle highways will not occur by accident.

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Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (PATACT)

Another important document for active travel in Canberra and urban planning, and another very long title. This post is an introduction to Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (ACT Government, January 2019). Because the title is so long it is often simply referred to it as PATACT.

ACT Government, urban planning, ACT, Australia
Figure 1: The cover of Planning for Active Travel in the ACT: Active Travel Infrastructure Interim Planning Guideline (PATACT)

The ACT urban planning documents often build on one another. This one is no exception. This document was released in January 2019, which may seem a long time after the release of the Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel in 2015, and Light Rail Network –Delivering a modern transport system for a growing city (Light Rail Network), October 2015. The last two documents describe the ACT Government’s strategy for active travel as well as the light rail component of active travel. With PATACT the ACT Government describes what that means for non-road infrastructure and urban planning, in particular cycling.

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Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel

In 2015 the ACT Government released a strategy for active travel. The document is called Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel but also often referred to in short as the Active Travel Framework. This documented outlined the ACT Governments thinking regarding the future development of the ACT transport network. The concept of active travel is incorporated in the health, urban planning and environment strategies and now the well-being buget too. “Active travel” is an abstract concept and leads to confusion. “Active travel” also quite broad in scope and this continues to create difficulties.

Figure 1: Cover of Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel (aka. Active Travel Framework)
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Clear words for clear goals

Clear words for clear goals: making Active Travel meaningful

An email sent to Shane Rattenbury on 24/2/2020 (minor edits)

To achieve the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals, less people will be driving. The strategy does not deny anybody the right to drive.

If people are to leave their cars at home, then the Active Travel Network needs to be very attractive. COMMUTING is one of the primary reasons many people own a car. We cannot live without work and for the majority this involves a twice-daily commute. The 2017 ACT Household Travel Survey shows that the daily commute is one of the longest journeys made. Schools, shops, doctors and sport are usually in the local area and the distance travelled is almost always shorter. Not surprisingly, commuters are least likely to leave their car at home. Getting to work is serious. 

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