When talking about cycle infrastructure in Canberra it is easy to mix up three different discussions. The past perspective is the network that we have inherited. The reasons for the design are often lost. Those going for a ride want to know how to get around. They need a safe network, that is well maintained, and equipped with wayfinding signage. Maintenance and signage are short term, ongoing, and tactical. The focus is on the here and now. Canberra is expected to have a population over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017. The discussion is about the network we need but do not have. We have three different perspectives for the same network.
Demographics of the Molonglo Valley in year 2041
Residents 58,648WSP, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Transport Modelling Report, January 2021, 6.
Retail Space 43,000 [m2 GFA]
Education (Enrolments) 5,300
Tertiary Enrolments 0
Since 1988, Canberra has had a territory government. Before that the territory was administered by the National Capital Authority (NCA). Most of the bike paths in Canberra were built by the NCA. It is noticeable that the suburbs built after 1988 have very few bike paths. This continued until the noughties, when the ACT Government seemed determined to correct the error in Gungahlin.
Below is an example of a sign for a CBR Cycle Route (C4) at the Yarra Glen crossing, in Woden Valley from around 1989 (ACT Archives). In the old suburbs, CBR Cycle Routes are nothing else but the existing decades old network… rebranded.
Canberra.bike has a number of articles on the history of ACT bike paths. Here are a few.
Making the existing infrastructure work today, no matter how poor it may be, is the reason behind the CBR Cycle Routes. People cycle more if they know where they are going. Waysigning paths increases the use of the paths, and it is also relatively inexpensive. In 2020, most of the CBR Cycle Routes were retrofitted with way signs. The network has become more welcoming, but some problems remain. CBR Cycle Routes can still be very confusing at intersections or where multiple routes share a corridor.
The idea of rebranding 1970s shared cycle paths as CBR Cycle Routes came from the development of local active travel standards, including on-road and off-road cycle infrastructure mostly between 2015-2018 (but starting in 2008).
The thinking of a cyclist is simple. We just want to ride and need to know how to get to our destination. We ride on what is available, whether commuting to work or visiting a friend. Wayfinding signage make the existing infrastructure much more useful.
For those who would like to take advantage of the hidden paths in Canberra, you will need the help of an app. Many routes are not marked and, although they may require frequent turns, can be more direct.
Canberra.bike has a number of articles on wayfinding signs.
It is quickly apparent that the existing active infrastructure in Canberra falls far short of the minimum standard prescribed in the Active Travel Standards (Section 5). This applies both to the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists, which are in many ways quite different and therefore poorly served by shared bike paths (accidentally) conceived in the 1970s.
The focus of this article is cycling, so let us put the requirements for pedestrians to one side for the moment. Active travel encourages all modes of transport, many of which are underutilised in Canberra due to poor infrastructure. Walking is often the simplest way to get anywhere.
People will cycle more often with better infrastructure. The CBR Cycle Route to Tuggeranong is typical of many CBR Cycle Routes, with the path characteristics changing within a kilometre from good to bad and back again. Our cycling network is a patchwork quilt made from Canberra’s planning legacy. Cycling remains unattractive on paths with frequent sudden changes in direction, when the quality of the infrastructure is poor, when they are poorly lit and maintained, or intersections across busy roads are laid out to the detriment of the safety of cyclists.
The Active Travel Standards point the way to what is acceptable and good. The ACT standards make frequent reference to Austroads which are often more detailed and there may be little reason to deviate from them. Austroads provide several options and often local authorities will favour a specific approach.
Building new cycle infrastructure versus replacing an old one is quite a different proposition. The design for new greenfield suburbs can be optimised to encourage cycling. In old suburbs, the only space for new and better cycling infrastructure may be within the existing road reserve. Adding new cycling infrastructure to existing suburbs can be challenging due to the urban planning legacy.
Building a good cycle network can take decades to build. Funds and other resources are finite. It is worthwhile taking a strategic approach. The aim should be to develop a cross-city network of cycle paths. Paths suitable for commuting need to be straight, direct, consistent, safe, and standardised.
For strategic and design purposes, canberra.bike refers to the desired cycle infrastructure as cycle highways. Cycle highways connect town centres with fast and direct off-road routes. By optimising planning and investment, the cross-city cycle network can be realised quicker. It all starts with reserving and protecting cycle corridors.
Light rail corridors are a good example. Light rail has specific characteristics. The corridors must be chosen so that they are suitable for light rail. Light rail is prescribed in the Planning and Development Act 2007 (Part 7.2A Capital Metro facilitation) and other Codes. One document worth mentioning is Guidelines for Light Rail Planning: 01 Corridor Preservation. It ensures that public land is reserved and protected and fit-for-purpose.
Cycle corridors, too, need to be reserved and protected public land that is fit-for-purpose. The construction of cycle highway may take decades. Without a network plan and space allocated for that purpose, it will never be built.
Cycle corridors are currently called Active Travel Route Alignments in the ACT Active Travel Standards. Active Travel Route Alignments are not a statutory instrument and the poorly considered in new developments. The current planning process still favours the long tradition in the ACT of building cycling infrastructure where it does not bother anybody. Driven by a changing political wind, this approach begets inconsistency. Furthermore, the ACT planning apparatus functions largely independently of the ACT Legislative assembly, with direction of the Territory Plan. Without statutory instruments, direction and strategic significance are lacking. The battle must be then won one street at a time, which is neither effective nor efficient.
Active Travel Route Alignments (ATRA) – The spatial alignment datasets of the five Active Travel Route types.Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)
The Active Travel Standards defines a hierarchy of cycle path types. At the top of the hierarchy are cycle highways, the motorways of the cycling world. Canberra.bike refers to them as cycle highways to capture the strategic and aspirational ambition. The ACT Active Travel Standards refer to them Principal Community Routes(PCR), which are in turn fed by a network of Main and Local Community Routes (MCR and LCR respectively). Local Community Routes may already exist in a suburb and are commonly proposed in new suburbs. CBR Cycle Routes are a subset of all paths that have wayfinding signage required for daily navigation.
CBR Cycle Routes, Principal Community Routes, and Cycle Highways are different perspectives of improving and promoting cycling in Canberra.
- CBR Cycle Routes serve our needs today for getting around the city.
- Principal Community Routes (PCR) are part of a technical framework and standards for active travel that can be referenced in the ACT urban planning codes (statutory documents).
- Cycle Highways is a term used in the context of a strategic discussion to improve the ACT planning instrument to better include the needs of cyclist in the reservation and preservation of corridors for the construction of a fast, cross-city cycling network.
Active travel strategy and standards
Canberra.bike features a number of articles on the active travel standards. The following article was written to tie them all together.
Another article defines what a good and safe cycle path means in the technical terms of ACT Standards.
The Active Travel Standards cover every facet of active travel and are structured hierarchically. The relevant information on Cycle Highways is scattered through many documents. To tie them all together and provide a summary in one place, the following articles were written.
Addressing Cycle Highways in a strategic context is the focus of two articles.