urban planning

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.

urban planning

Letter to Yvette Berry on active travel

The active travel facilities planned for Whitlam Stage 2 fall short of expectations. As human behaviour follows infrastructure, this lack of future proofing active travel facilities is directly detrimental to achieving an increase in active travel in the ACT.

This ACT Government held an Active Travel Design workshop (12 December 2018) and stated that the background to the new Active Travel Design Guidelines included “poor infrastructure outcomes as a consequence of planning intent getting ‘lost in translation’”. My analysis concludes that this observation is likely relevant for the planning of the brand-new estate Whitlam. My concern is that the failure to systematically integrate active travel principles in the planning process, as well as the dominance of decade old legacy planning practices, will most likely result in the missed potential to develop active travel facilities in the Whitlam and other new estate developments in Canberra. Consequently, this will not only make the roads less safe for vulnerable road users but also not achieve any set active travel goals.


Language matters. Let’s do some definitional work!

Are you getting confused about the terminology of the Active Travel Routes Network?

Having studied several languages, I have learned early on that nothing is more personal than the words we choose to use. Nothing else is also more divisive and confusing in our day to day communication. (As a side note, if you like to read a fantastic book about the English language that confirms my sentiment, check out Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue.)

So, let’s try and clarify what all this confusing lingo in the ACT active travel guidelines means for us.

urban planning

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.

urban planning

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. 

urban planning

Cycle highways and the Active Travel Framework

The aim here is to link the “cycle highway” vision with the Active Travel Framework. The term “cycle highways” is disconnected from the planning mechanism in the ACT, in particular those of the ROAD AUTHORITY and PLANNING AUTHORITY. It is necessary to show where cycle highways sit in the active travel key statutory and non-statutory planning documents.

The relevant text for cycle highways is scattered throughout a number of these documents. In this document they are gathered together in one place.

It is not only the scientists who dissect and divide. Engineers do it as well with urban design. The city is categorised and divided into pieces and everything is given a name. A whole nomenclature evolves around classifications and hierarchies. It all has a reason, but the initiation can be demanding.

Active Travel contains an abundance of new terms. As a convention I will capitalise technical vocabulary and add definitions in the glossary on this website.

urban planning

Greenfield developments and active travel

It is unrealistic to expect the ACT Government to fund all active travel infrastructure from general revenue as capital works. It cannot be done. Alone the maintenance to a high standard an ever-expanding bike paths network is a challenge.

The sale of land for dwellings will always be a top priority for the ACT Government due to the expected population growth and ever-growing costs of servicing the existing Canberra population. The ACT budget is spent on the services that are regarded by most Canberrans as essential (health, education, etc).

We are proud of Canberra, our bush capital. The environmental regulations will continue to be front-of-mind for estate planners to protected and preserve these environmental assets. The downside is that it comes at a price. There are many places in Canberra where you will not get approval to build a bike path.

Land sales are revenue, so the ACT will prioritise that over finishing suburbs (and bike paths). The land release will remain staged. This type of estate planning is within a bounded area and the bigger picture outside those boundaries, such as cross city cycle highways, are left off the map.

We will need to accept that without capital funding, the active travel infrastructure will never be built all at once, but in a fragmented way.

Riding to work requires cycle highway networks that span the city. With the above constraints, it is achievable but not quick or easy. Without long term planning and enduring effort, it will never be achieved.

urban planning

Active travel between Whitlam and Denman Prospect

For active travel, we need networks and not just fragments. We want to be able to travel across the city over distances of 10 km and more. When we see an active traveller they are, generally speaking, not travelling to this place but THROUGH it, on the way to somewhere else. It is not clear what their destination is only that they needed to travel through this area. When building the Active Travel Network we are building thoroughfares. 

It is important to understand the way the city is planned and developed. If we want to shape and prioritise the development of a good active travel network it will require interventions during the planning phase. This particularly true for cycle highways for riding to work. The design requirements are different from the paths for recreational riders and locals that seek a destination within a suburb.

Denman Prospect and Whitlam are two suburbs in the Molonglo Valley, south and north of the Molonglo River, and part of the Molonglo Valley Stage 3. Whitlam Residential Estate is now under construction and the planning of the Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve (Nummerak) has proceeded to a development application.

This is a case study of these two independently planned developments that are of particular interest to active travel in the Monlonglo Valley. One of the basic principles of urban planning is “permeability”. Urban environments that are permeable allow easy and direct routes for pedestrians and cyclists independent of the road network. Cars have high travel speeds and ease of travel (effort). For pedestrians and cyclists this is not the case and “ease” means a direct route. How does the Whitlam Residential Estate and the planning of the Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve stack up.