Molonglo Valley: active travel Whitlam to Denman Prospect

Butters Bridge, Molonglo Valley, Canberra.

A case study of Denman Prospect and Whitlam – two suburbs in the Molonglo Valley, south and north of the Molonglo River – that are of particular interest to active travel in the Monlonglo Valley.


  1. Introduction
  2. ACT Suburban Land Agency
  3. Separated by a fence
  4. Questions
  5. Drawings of interest
  6. Pedestrian access between the reserve and Whitlam


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.

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 Estate and the planning of the Namarag stack up?

ACT Suburban Land Agency

Urban planning is done on a block by block basis. Blocks are packaged into areas, and areas are designated for a purpose and handed to a directorate for further planning. Whitlam Estate was developed by Suburban Land Agency (SLA) (see the Concept Master Plan 2018 below). Namarag is part of the Molonglo River Reserve (see Reserve Management Plan 2019) and the responsibility of the Environment, Planning and Sustainability Development Directorate (EPSDD). The SLA reports to the Minister for Housing and Suburban Development, Yvette Berry.

The big issue for active travel is that the goals of the SLA for Whitlam and those of the EPSDD for the Namarag are different. Whitlam and Namarag are side-by-side, but there is a gulf between their priorities. Each is planing its own patch and defined their job in such a way that they largely ignore what is happening over the fence.

From the Namarag Development Application:

“These residential estates will provide open space amenities such as parks and playgrounds, irrigated playing fields and picnic facilities. Namarag is not to be an urban open space. Instead, the design of the reserve aims to reinstate natural reserve values with high quality, innovative and best practice landscape, restoration and preservation techniques.”


Separated by a fence

Active travel seems to be thrown over the fence to the SLA to be considered for Whitlam. As the Namarag is sandwiched between the Denman Prospect and Whitlam, it is not a satisfactory approach. 

The Butters Bridge has been buried in the middle of the Namarag. Completed in 2016, it is an active travel bridge across the river that makes it possible to ride from north to south. The alternative is to navigate steep gradients down to the Molonglo River and then up the other side again. The Coppins Crossing Road is not safe for bicycles as it was never designed for them. 

We need a rideable network of paths across the Molonglo Valley between Weston and Belconnen, Stromlo and the city. It is not clear when such a network will exist due to the fragmented nature of urban development in the Molonglo. In the long term, other bridge crossings may be provided, but it is not clear when we will get a rideable network of paths.

The reality is that we have to deal with the planning and construction work that is happening now and nudge the ACT Government in building an active travel network across disjunction projects. Namarag and Whitlam are two of these and worth a closer look. Denman Prospect is left out of the discussion due to the absence of information about that estate at this time.


My questions are the following:

  1. Are there going to be paths between Molonglo and Namarag? 
  2. What is the nature of these paths?
  3. Are these paths connected the Whitlam Active Travel Network (ATN)?
  4. Are there connections to the Butters Bridge?

These answer to these questions is yes. However, the design of the paths is unlikely to be of much value to a cyclist riding to work. In the terminology of the Active Travel Framework, the paths are likely to be of the type Local Community Route and Recreational Route. Further, these routes are not found on the Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool

What is going on here in the Molonglo is made clearer with a closer look at the Whitlam Estate Concept Master Plan 2018 and Namarag Development Application.

In the Whitlam Residential Estate Concept Master Plan 2018, a Local Community Route visible around the edge of the estate. Access to Namarag is planned on the southern tip. Typical of Residential Estate Concept Master Plans, they don’t include the connections to other paths outside the estate but only include paths that are within the estate. 

The Namarag Development Application (nr. 01936012) proposed access points are shown between Namarag and Whitlam but with few details. The Development Application is a large document but does not mention active travel, bikes or cycling.

The construction of Namarag is now complete. The construction of Stage 3 of the Whitlam Estate has begun. Until 2025, with the completion of the John Gorton Drive Bridge, we will lack a safe and quick cycle route across the Molonglo River Reserve. Until then, the south of the Molonglo Valley will remain cut off from the north.

Whitlam Residential Estate Concept Master Plan 2018

Whitlam Residential Estate Concept Master Plan, CONCEPTMASTER-201834628-01 20180706, endorsed TCCS 06/07/2018.

Namarag Development Application

Number: 201936012

This landscape Development Application report presents the landscape design for the Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve (Namarag) located within the Molonglo River Reserve (MRR).

The report has been prepared by Oxigen for WSP to set out the overall vision, objectives and strategies for development of the reserve.

Namarag is a 40 hectare site located within the Molonglo River Reserve, Canberra’s newest Nature Reserve comprising 1,400 hectares along the Molonglo River. The reserve forms an important habitat connection corridor for wildlife in the region, including supporting species of national ecological significance. Namarag is identified as a vital restoration, recreational and cultural hub for the emerging communities of the Molonglo Valley, including Whitlam to the east and Denman Prospect to the west. These residential estates will provide open space amenities such as parks and playgrounds, irrigated playing fields and picnic facilities. Namarag is not to be an urban open space. Instead, the design of the reserve aims to reinstate natural reserve values with high quality, innovative and best practice landscape, restoration and preservation techniques. In addition to core restoration objectives, the reserve has a strong focus on celebrating Ngunnawal culture and connections to country, including fostering opportunities for on country practices, education, and celebration.


Drawings of interest

  • Car parking – ACCESSPLAN-201936012-03
  • Signage to access points – ACCESSPLAN-201936012-05
Molonglo Special Purpose Reserve plans, Namarag main arrival plan, drawing 024LSCAPE-201936012-MAIN_ENTRANCE_PLAN-01

Pedestrian access between the reserve and Whitlam

Namarag site Investigation and Civil Design, November 2019, application for Environmental significance Opinion; Environment, Planning and Sustainability Development (EPSDD) directorate; page 35

Points of interest:
(1) car park and vehicle entrance from Whitlam (outside the reserve)
(13) car parking in the reserve

Butters Bridge, Molonglo Valley, Canberra
Butters Bridge, Molonglo Valley, Canberra

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