The luxury of a footpath

Pathway crossing Longmore Crescent at Gaunson Crescent. View from roadway centre. c1989

For a long time, suburbs were built for cars – footpaths were seen as optional. Canberra’s older suburbs often lack paths. The newer suburbs are better and the paths make them pedestrian friendly.

Community paths

Although we still often call them footpaths – unless clearly sign posted – all paths in Canberra are shared. Community paths are part of active travel and the user groups can be most varied.

User groups – Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians are made up of different groups of users that have different values and needs. Pedestrian user groups include walkers, joggers, people pushing prams or strollers and those using wheelchairs, both motorised or non-motorised. Cyclist user groups include primary and secondary school children, family groups / recreational cyclists, commuters, neighbourhood / utility cyclists, and touring and training cyclists (refer AGTM04 Table 4.12).

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)

Missing but required

Walking on the road is neither fun nor safe. As a pedestrian, we are keen to get off it. Preferably we should have concrete or asphalt paths alongside every road. The Disability ACT and additions of active travel to the Territory Plan suggest this is the goal, but in many suburbs most streets lack paths for pedestrians. Austroads has the following to say:

Footpaths tend to be taken for granted but are too often not provided in local streets… This happens as a result of a failure to make even the most basic provision for walking in urban areas. There are a number of important consequences from these long-standing practices. First, pedestrians are forced to walk on roadways when the space normally provided for footpaths is blocked by overgrown trees and other vegetation, parked vehicles or otherwise unsuited for walking because of wet weather and/or poor surfaces. This results in pedestrians, often children on foot and/or parents with young children, prams and strollers, negotiating traffic while walking on the road alongside approaching traffic travelling at 50km/h or higher. On occasions, pedestrians will have their backs turned and have minimal lateral clearances. Such conditions are far outside the boundaries for low-risk walking and often remain in place for decades due to insufficient funding to rectify the situation. Mobility-impaired people and older and younger pedestrians using local streets become even more vulnerable in these circumstances.

A secondary effect of a lack of basic walking conditions is that people are more inclined to driver, particularly when transporting children to and from school, which adds to the problems of car dependence, human inactivity, congestion around schools and the resultant risks that children face when interacting with traffic.

Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), page 109.


An important part of the Territory Plan is the ACT Government mapping database ACTmapi. All the spatial information of the Territory Plan is made available in ACTmapi. ACTmapi documents a great deal, including land use (zones), block and administration boundaries, and the area of the ACT for which the NCA is accountable. It is an important date source for municipal administration of the territory as it shows the local (corridors) for all services, both above and below ground. Heritage information is found in ACTmapi as is Canberra Nature Park and the Federal Government NES offset areas.

ACTmapi website, a few of the options, ACT Government, accessed 22 May 2021
ACTmapi showing Jacka, the areas under the responsibility of the Suburban Land Agency (light green) and NES offset areas (brown) in Northern Gungahlin.

A tale of haves and have-nots

Canberra is a city of the haves and that have-nots, at least are far as community paths are concerned. The old suburbs often have very few paths and the new ones often have paths on both side of the street. The new suburbs are much better for active travellers.

A north-south divide is not evident. Many suburbs in the north and south have few paths, but in others suburbs the opposite is true. The suburbs of Canberra have not been cast from a single mould.

Analysis of path infrastructure

If the goal is to have a path along every street in every suburb, then t his goal has not been achieved. Some suburbs are clearly luckier than others.

Categorising suburbs – low or high density

  • Low density – suburbs with few paths and the maps of the suburb are mostly blank. The lines that show paths are typically along major roads.
  • High density – suburbs with paths often on both sides of the road. The appearance is that of a chequerboard, typical for suburban street networks.
  • Mixed suburbs – areas with suburbs side-by-side of distinctively different character, typically a new suburb beside a much older one. The contrast between low and high density suburbs is most noticeable.

Legend for ACTmapi maps

The maps from ACTmapi show community paths, but roads are hidden:

  • community paths – thin yellow or green lines
  • suburb boundaries – thick yellow lines.
  • district boundaries – brown lines
  • state border – black line.

Mixed density

The mixed density case contrasts the high and low density suburbs. For example, in the Inner North Reid has many paths, but Campbell has very few (see below). Similarly, the map of Amaroo is largely blank, but Forde and Bonner show a path grid. Good and bad, side-by-side.

Braddon Reid Campbell
Braddon, Reid – high density – but Campbell is low density – mixed case
Forde Amaroo Bonner
Forde and Bonner are high density but Amaroo is low density – mixed case

High density

High density suburbs with paths often on both sides of the street include: Crace, Wright, Coombs, Deakin, Forest, Barton, Parkes, O’Connor, Turner, Braddon, Ainslie, Franklin, Harrison, Gungahlin, Throsby, Moncrieff and Bonner. I will call these suburbs “pedestrian friendly”.

Crace – high density
Wright Coombs
Wright, Coombs – high density
Deakin Forest Barton Parkes
Deakin, Forest, Barton, Parkes – high density
Oconnor Turner Braddon Ainslie
O’Connor, Turner, Braddon, Ainslie – high density
Franklin Harrison Throsby
Franklin, Harrison, Throsby – high density
Gungahlin Franklin Harrison Throsby
Gungahlin, Franklin, Harrison, Throsby – high density
Moncrieff Bonner
Moncrieff and Bonner – high density

Low density

There are many suburbs where the map is largely blank. Main and minor collectors may have paths on one side. A path on one side of the road is better than most streets in the suburb, which have none.

Most of Canberra suburbs fall into this category and will not be listed here. Maps of the suburbs are shown below.

Nicholls – low density
Palmerston – low density
Giralang Kaleen
Giralang, Kaleen – low density
Melba Spence Evatt
Melba, Spence, Evatt – low density
Hawker Weetangera Macquarie
Hawker, Weetangera, Macquarie – low density
Cook Aranda
Cook, Aranda – low density
Duffy Holder Weston
Duffy, Holder, Weston – low density
Rivett Sterling Waramanga
Rivett, Sterling , Waramanga – low density
Kamba north
Kambah (north) – low density
Kamba south
Kambah (south) – low density
Wanniassa Oxley Monash
Wanniassa, Oxley, Monash – low density
Bonython Isabella Plains
Bonython, Isabella Plains – low density
Gordon Calwell Condor
Gordon, Calwell, Condor – low density
Gordon south Banks
Gordon (south), Banks, Condor – low density
Richardson Gilmore Chisholm
Richardson, Gilmore, Chisholm – low density
Gowrie Fadden Macarthur
Gowrie, Fadden, Macarthur – low density
Torrens Farrer Isaacs
Mawson, Torrens, Farrer, Isaacs – low density
Hughes Garran Red Hill
Hughes, Garran – low density

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