Clear words for clear goals: making Active Travel meaningful. A post inspired by an email we sent to Shane Rattenbury on 24 February 2020 relating to the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25.
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. Canberra will need to move on from its ‘small city standards’ and mature into a regional metropolis.
To achieve the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 goals, less people need to drive their car, so that those, who must, can. Most Canberrans drive to work. If people are to give up their habit of commuting by car, then the Active Travel Network needs to be very attractive. The benefits must be greater than the disbenefits. We cannot live without work. In the future and with flexible work and hybrid teams becoming more common, more Canberrans may have the possibility of working from their home office, but for many it will still require 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 mostly shorter. Not surprisingly, commuters are least likely to leave their car at home. Getting to work is serious business.
“Active Travel” is a vague term that is hard to understand and not particularly intuitive. It causes a great deal of confusion. It is noticeable that Principal (PCR) or Main Community Routes (MCR) have been branded “CBR Cycle Routes”. This makes a lot more sense to tourists and most Canberrans. Most people do not regard riding a bus as active travel, but it is because the “last mile” between the bus stop and the home, workplace, shops and schools, is usually walked. The ACT Disability Act further expands the function of the path network beyond walking, with the term “mobility device”.
The Active Travel Framework does not grasp the central importance of commuting in our daily lives. Commuting hides in the background of this document – implied but rarely in the spotlight.
Understandable, precise, and shared language in the active travel discussion is important and much needed for raising awareness and achieving buy-in. A common alternative to “active travel” in ACT Government documents is “active transport”. This is an improvement. Bikes for commuting are used for transport, not fitness. It would be better to change the wording to “riding to work”, “commuting to work”, “cycling commuters”, and “cycle highways”.
Cycle highways are a sticking point. The routes and paths must be designed correctly. Frequent commuters ride quickly and will only stop when they must. The commuter requires good quality, smooth, safe, and well-maintained paths that provide direct, low gradient routes, and can be used in all weather (even after heavy rains) and times of day (safe at night). Cycle highways are swept and cleared of debris. For construction sites, a safe and easy temporary path is provided to get around it. We cannot expect people otherwise to leave their car at home. Drivers understand what good infrastructure means.
Cycle highways are high-speed paths built for their utility and need to be designed with similar thoroughness and thoughtfulness as roads. But the requirements are quite different. For example, cars prefer to travel at speeds of 80 km/h, but pedestrians are very slow. Canberra’s urban planners and the ACT Government should note that “cycle highways” are not likely to be built by additions to existing road or pedestrian infrastructure that have been designed for a different purpose. The design of cycle highways cannot be compromised.
Bikes are getting faster and there are more of them. Shared paths will not work. Even with a normal bike, a cyclist commuting commonly reaches speeds of 20 km/h. Electric bikes are faster still with speeds of over 25 km/h, even uphill. Electric bike sales are still booming. Riding downhill, bikes can reach even higher speeds. Austroads cycle path design guidelines include path radius for speeds higher than 30 km/h. Riding to work requires a separated and dedicated infrastructure for bikes.
Infrastructure needs to be given the priority by the ACT Government as it takes a long time to build. Cycle highways are not the last step – they should be the first. There are other barriers to commuting including business clothes, sweating, hair, makeup, secure storage facilities for bikes, and clean and hygienic change rooms with big enough and well vented lockers.
 ACT and Queanbeyan-Palerang Household Travel Survey, ACT Government, 2018, <https://www.transport.act.gov.au/about-us/planning-for-the-future/household-travel-survey> [accessed 7 July 2021].
 Wilkins et. Al., HILDA, Melbourne Institute, 2019, 79.
ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25 active travel goals
In 2019, the ACT Government released the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25. Active travel is one important pillar of this strategy:
“Once emissions from electricity are zero, transport will account for around 62%.” Key priorities to 2025 to reduce emissions will be to “encourage active travel by continuing to improve cycle paths and walkability.” Further, it “will require substantial changes in the way we plan and build our city”, and “there will need to be a greater emphasis on increasing active travel (for example, walking and cycling) and public transport use to reduce transport emissions to 2025.” Actions (goals) from the ACT Climate Change Strategy to 2025 include:
3D Encourage active travel
3.8 Implement the Municipal Infrastructure Standards for Active Travel and develop best practice guidance for industry and stakeholders to inform better design outcomes for active travel infrastructure.
3.9 Prioritise walking and cycling and enhance active travel infrastructure to improve safety and connectivity of the active travel network.””3E Reduce car use
3.15 Investigate and implement options for encouraging a shift to public transport and active travel through planning…”ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-25