The urgent case for cycle corridors

When we walk the halls of Planning, Transport and Legislative Assembly in the ACT today, we can be sure that none of those people we see will be there in 30 years. Community groups and councils lobby with MLAs and mandarins, who temporarily fill the roles. Building a cycle network is a long term task, requiring forward-thinking past the current political cycle. The cycle network will take 30 years to build. In that time, Canberra’s population will almost double. City builders think in decades and not years. Cycle corridors reserve the space to build that cycle network.


  1. A moment in time
  2. The end of Future Urban Areas
  3. Infill to the rescue
  4. A slow start
  5. Cycle corridors

A moment in time has discussed the fragility of human thought. Many people are ‘here and now’ types. In the article Section 6.1 We think like mayflies, we consider our difficulties thinking about our future. Even a few months seems a long way off. In the article Section 6.2 Lessons of history, we consider the benefits of being able to learn from the past, and we note that humans are not particularly good at that either. In the article Urban planning cycle: forty years is not unusual, we consider that suburbs are built to last 40 to 50 years – and only then will they enter a period of renewal. Please read that again. And then again. Once a suburb is finished, it takes decades before it is up for renewal again.

In just 20 years – that is 2041 – both Woden CIT and the Light Rail Stage 2 are estimated to be finished. Canberra will be a very different place.

The end of Future Urban Areas

Traditionally, Canberra has expanded outwards to find space for its growing population. This option is coming to an end. The Molonglo Valley development has clearly shown that we cannot do this anywhere near fast enough to keep pace with the population growth.

Population growth

Canberra is expected to have a population of over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017.

Canberra is expected to have a population of over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017. ACT’s population is expected to grow steadily at an average annual rate of 1.3 per cent. ACT Government, ACT Population Projections 2018 to 2058, January 2019, 17.

Demographics of the Molonglo Valley in year 2041

Residents 58,648
Employment 7,955
Retail Space 43,000 [m2 GFA]
Education (Enrolments) 5,300
Tertiary Enrolments 0

WSP, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Transport Modelling Report, January 2021, 6.

Molonglo Valley Timeline

The 2004 ACT Strategic Plan planned the Molonglo Valley as a Future Urban Area (FUA) for Canberra’s growing population. Molonglo Valley is taking longer than expected. The expected timeline is discussed in Molonglo Valley Stage 3 timeline 2004-2040 and the article Molonglo 3 East: timeline uncertainty provides evidence that the rollout is slower than that.

Molonglo Valley official timeline 2004-2040. Molonglo 3 Suburbs 3 and 4 by 2036, as suggested in ths timeline, seems unlikely. Molonglo Valley development timeframe page 6, ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent review of planning, development and built form (excellence in sustainable design) in the Molonglo Valley, Final Report, 23 March 2020
Molonglo Valley official timeline 2004-2040. Molonglo 3 Suburbs 3 and 4 by 2036, as suggested in ths timeline, seems unlikely. Molonglo Valley development timeframe page 6, ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent review of planning, development and built form (excellence in sustainable design) in the Molonglo Valley, Final Report, 23 March 2020

Infill to the rescue

With the failure of greenfield developments to meet demand, urban infill projects are the alternative. Infill is happening at a rapid rate with high rise developments sprouting like beans. High rise developments are not necessarily the best solutions, and the Australian Infrastructure Plan 2021 (released 3 September 2021) would like to see more of the “missing middle”. Medium density has many benefits, but not all that common in Australia (as Brent Toderian also noted). The ACT Planning Strategy and the ACT Greens/ACT Labor Parliamentary Agreement prioritises infill. Read more in Urban planning strategy.

1.1 Support sustainable urban growth by working towards delivering up to 70% of new housing within our existing urban footprint, and by concentrating development in areas located close to the city centre, town and group centres and along key transit corridors.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018, page 10

Infill development

Infill development (urban renewal) involves increasing the capacity of our existing urban area to support growth. It requires the strategic identification of areas where development can be focussed, including the following:

Urban intensification areas – the city centre, town and group centres and transit corridors which are areas of high accessibility.

Areas within the existing residential footprint – blocks or sites in appropriate locations with the capacity to accommodate increased housing supply, density and choice; for example, large blocks in accessible locations with the potential for dual occupancy development. This could apply to the RZ1 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

Areas close to local centres (400 metres /average 5 minute walk) – areas that could be suited to medium density housing typologies. This could apply to the RZ2 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

A slow start

With COVID-19 the advice is to go hard and go fast. For mitigating climate change, the advice was start early and go hard. Again, it is human nature to take too long to get started, to ramp too slowly and too late. We spend far too much time procrastinating at the beginning: should we or should we not. That’s why Agile has taken the business world on a storm. We all realise that it’s best to start and learn fast. Then improve and keep going. That’s where change management kicks in. Agile gives us a chance to educate, to get buy-in, to address outdated paradigms, and to establish new behaviours. Step change in behaviour, like ‘active travel’ cannot be ‘demanded’. Remember: Behaviour follows infrastructure. People change when the infrastructure is there.

The Delta mantra also serves well for building cycle infrastructure. It would be wise to start early and go hard. The Fast Track program in 2020 was a great disappointment in this regard. The article Fast Track: a fast, not a feast explains that the vast majority of Fast Track funds never found their way into compliant strategic cycling infrastructure (ACT Active Travel Standards MIS05).

The Fast Track investment in cycle infrastructure before the 2020 ACT Election was at first welcomed by the cycling community but disappointed. The Fast Track investment in cycle infrastructure in 2020 was so low that it would take 166 years to double the length of off-road paths suitable for cycling in the ACT.

The investment in Fast Track is too little, too late. After decades of neglect, there is good reason to make up for lost ground. Many of the older paths in the older suburbs need maintenance and many new paths need to be built for cycling. Much of the Fast Track investment is directed at projects that have no benefit to cycling. Only a very small part of the $35million will be spent on cycle paths. Cyclists are left out in the rain!

Fast Track is too slow,

The article 2012 ACT Strategic Cycling Network Plan, Spackman Mossop Michaels makes clear that we have internationally known since 2012 that cycle lanes are big and horribly outdated mistakes AND not compliant with Austroads standards. We need off-road cycle infrastructure instead. Furthermore, ACT Transport has been contemplating off-road cycle infrastructure since 2007 but made no great headway with the project. ACT Transport admits that most of the off-road cycle paths were built by the predecessor of the National Capital Authority before 1988 when the territory government was formed. Throw into the mix that dedicated bus lanes are planned to be cut and cycle lanes are an even greater risk and even worse idea!

Separation between car and cyclist are the key to cyclist safety and encourage cycling. Only off road cycle paths meet this requirement. The report prepared for the ACT Government back in 2012 by Spackman Mossop Michaels makes clear that cycle lanes are a mistake. Furthermore, comparison of the 2011 ACT Strategic Cycle Network Plan shows that very little progress has been made building the cycling network in a decade. Cause for concern.

2012 ACT Strategic Cycling Network Plan, Spackman Mossop Michaels, canberra,bike
Belconnen enlargement Trunk cycling network from the Commuter Cycling Network Study 2007
Blue lines are off-road bike paths. Belconnen enlargement Trunk cycling network from the Commuter Cycling Network Study 2007

The article Maintenance costs on concrete paths $302-683 million by 2030 tells us that most of Canberra’s off-road paths will be end-of-life by 2030 and need to be replaced. The article Active Travel investment 2019-2020: contracts valued $9.749 million shows that the actual investment in active travel is tiny in comparison. Finally, the ACT Auditor-General’s 2017 Report on community paths is damning and provides plenty of warning that the ACT Government needs to get on top of path maintenance. The most obvious thing is the lack of regular inspections.

We are coming from way behind. We have recognised that cycling is important for Canberra to replace other modes of transport, but we have not done anywhere enough to make it happen. The ACT has the same problem as all low cycling countries and cities in the world. High cycling countries show how it is done. The solutions are at hand but the public and political will is still weak.

A few months ago I rode to work. I had stopped to cross a suburban rat-running road. On the opposite shared path (any reasonable visitor would call it a very narrow footpath) a very elderly couple were out for a slow and unsteady walk. A middle aged cyclist in lycra came up from behind, ringing his bell and getting very close to them very fast, trying to get to the community cycling path. The elderly couple got startled and they got awfully close to the edge of the path when the cyclist pushed past them. My heart tripped. No Canberran should have to experience that. It is just simply not fair!

Cycle corridors

The reservation and preservation of cycle corridors recognises that Canberra is making a slow start with cycle infrastructure and that it will take decades to build the CBR Cycle Route network as it now stands. Since 2007, we may have procrastinated and not started building it at pace.

Cycle corridors will not generally match up with road or light rail corridors. There are many good reasons to keep them apart. As the article Section 8.3 The curious case of rapid transit explains, rapid transit corridors are not generally suited for a cycle network. The characteristics of a bicycle and with it the cycle corridors are different to that required for light rail. The same is true for the road network. Particularly, arterial roads serve a different function. The cycle network should be designed around what makes sense for bicycles. The Netherlands refers to the “invisible network”, that can often not be seen from the train or car.

Most people in 2050 will not be living in Future Urban Areas like Molonglo Valley, but rather within already existing suburbs. It is essential that we lick in corridors through these suburbs for a Future Cycle Network (FCN) that reserves the Cycle Network Corridors (CNC). Otherwise they are at risk of being overbuilt through urban infill.

The mechanism of reserving cycle corridors is similar in concept to that for Light Rail Corridors. The article Section 8.4 Reserving cycle corridors: à la light rail explains how the light rail corridors have been locked into the territory plan to be reserved and preserved for the future light rail construction.

Future Cycle Network (FCN) and Cycle Network Corridor (CNC) are not terms you will find in the Territory Plan and cycle corridors are not statutory. Without statutory protection, the plans we have for cycling today will succumb to other pressures, human forgetfulness, and limited oversight. Human decision-making is frail and, as discussed above, falls far short of the 30 years required to build a cycle network.

There is no better time than to act now!

Tuggeranong c1972 - NDC1877-10. Photo ACT Archives, (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Tuggeranong c1972 – NDC1877-10. Photo ACT Archives, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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