Molonglo Valley: active travel planning errors

Planning mistakes are evident from the Molonglo Valley traffic chaos. EPSDD still has much to learn about planning for pedestrians and cyclists in new estates. Molonglo is only 10 km from Civic. The rapid uptake of cycling for transport has not eventuated due to poor design, with a car culture and car dependency as a result. Cycling for transport requires fast and direct, grade separated cycle infrastructure. What has gone wrong in the Molonglo Valley?


  1. Molonglo and active travel
  2. Population growth
  3. Environmental considerations
  4. Costly aborted light rail plan
  5. Molonglo 3 East tipping point
  6. Cycling comes last

Molonglo and active travel

Molonglo was chosen due to its proximity to the city and thought to promote the adoption of active travel. Up until now, the vision has not played out as hoped due to car centric planning and outdated assumptions in the Estate Development Code and Territory Plan.

The staging of the Molonglo Valley Future Urban Area (FUA) is such that active travel has also not been prioritised and therefore not been available from day one. This was recognised as an error by the National Capital Design Review Panel (NCDRP), as it permits establishment of car dependencies within the arriving population. In the decade or more that it takes to complete the cycle infrastructure in the Molonglo Valley, the habits of the residents will be deeply entrenched as per our car culture, and people will be unlikely to ride a bicycle for transport – even when the paths are built. Old habits die hard!

Further, the Panel notes that transport infrastructure must be operational from day one to ensure desired patterns of use are established (i.e. if sufficient public and active transport networks not provided during the establishment of the suburb, then residents are likely to become habituated /entrenched in car-reliant patterns of movement).

FOI 21_52222 The Panel`s Advice, Molonglo Valley First Session, Molonglo Group Centre and Surrounds Planning Framework, National Capital Design Review Panel, 11 June 2021, 8-9.

Molonglo Group Centre

Population growth

We cannot build our way out of congestion! With the rapid population growth, the roads will exceed their designed capacity and congestion will ripple across the network. The peak periods and average travel times will get longer and longer.

Canberra is expected to have a population of over 700,000 by 2058.1 The Molonglo Valley is expected to have a population of 58,648 by 2041.2

With such rapid population growth, mode shifts away from personal motor vehicles to walking, cycling, and public transport are essential.

Molonglo Valley population growth

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.

Environmental considerations

The Federal Government NES 2011 and the Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan protect the Molonglo River Reserve from further pollution from the surrounding suburbs. The Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan reduced the number of crossing by half to just 6, of which 3 are high level crossings: John Gorton Drive Bridge, East West Arterial Bridge, and Butters Bridge. Now we have a 4th: the Tuggeranong Parkway Bridge will be duplicated for car traffic. This will also require EIS exemption, and that will take a long time to get.

And yet again, modern and adequate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians has been forgotten. High level cycling and pedestrian bridges are not planned! Such bridges are cheap and easy to build usually, however, the arduous environmental approvals process does differ greatly with the size of the bridge (a big and dirty car bridge versus a small and clean cycling bridge). The river is not the problem, but the Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan is.

Only 3 high level bridges planned

Three (3) low level river crossings and three (3) high level bridges are expected. That is all. The low level crossing are Southwells Crossing, Clos Crossing and Coppins Crossing. The high level bridge crossing are Butters Bridge, John Gorton Drive bridge (2025), East West Arterial bridge (2030s).

Table 9.1 Infrastructure in the reserve – present and anticipated

A high level bridge (Butters Bridge)

Downstream of Coppins Crossing. Carries the sewer line above to the MVIS and also designed to serve as a pedestrian and cyclist crossing.

Bridge maintained by ACT Government and sewer maintained by Icon Water. Maintenance access required for the bridge (TCCS) and sewer (Icon Water). …

Infrastructure planned or likely to be required to complete the development of Molonglo

A bridge for John Gorton Drive.

Location over the Molonglo River in the Coppins Crossing area. This will be a significant construction project with potential impact on the reserve in the Coppins Crossing area. There will be ground and river disturbance during construction. Multiple services are likely to be carried with the bridge. Access below the bridge will be required for maintenance.

An East-West Arterial bridge.

Location in the Bulga Crossing area. This will be a significant construction project with potential impact on the reserve. There will be ground and river disturbance during construction. Multiple services are likely to be carried with the bridge. Access below the bridge will be required for maintenance.

Table 9.1 Infrastructure in the reserve – present and anticipated. Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019, 101.

Costly aborted light rail plan

Molonglo valley was designed for light rail. John Gorton Drive is a C-shape, as it is designed for rapid transit. The light rail idea was dropped but still remains at the heart of the Molonglo Valley’s DNA. Without the light rail, Molonglo can never work. No bus lanes were planned along John Gorton Drive in anticipation of the light rail’s construction. That will hurt!

In this sense, the design of the Molonglo Valley is contradictory. The DNA of the Molonglo Valley design presumes the construction of the light rail. It is cheaper to design the light rail in from the beginning, rather than add it in as an afterthought, ripping up existing infrastructure. We have not completed the options study for the Molonglo Valley light rail route. The route has not been decided. The light rail could return to Civic via Belconnen, or more directly along the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin. We do not know yet.

We cannot make decisions about the design of Molonglo 3 East Stage 3. The design of the Bindubi Street / William Hovell Drive Interchange depends on the route the light rail will take back to Civic. The uncertainty hampers design decisions within the Future Urban area and the development of the concept plan.

Section 8.3 The curious case of rapid transit

The explanation why John Gorton Drive is a C-shape

If you are thinking like a motorist, this is silly. Why would we carry people to their destinations by the most direct possible route, which in many cases would be east-west? The answer: because transit travel time includes the waiting time imposed by frequency, and to maximise frequency, we need to run the fewest possible route miles of rapid transit service. The more distance we need our lines to cover, the less frequently we can afford to run them.

Approaching only via the ends of the C means that our transit lines can run along the spine of the C, serving many parts of Molonglo without having to branch. That means, in turn, that our frequency remains concentrated, instead of being dissipated as branching would require. In short, you may have to travel a slightly longer path than you would go if you were driving, but only with this patter can we ensure that you will have services coming whenever you need it.

Molonglo: A case study in transit-friendly suburban structure, Human Transit, Jarrett Walker (2011), 202.

Molonglo 3 East tipping point

Both the Molonglo stage 1 and 2 demonstrate that the road network has reached its limits. With the new population of Molonglo 3, the cup will overflow. Light rail and cycling would be the solution but will not be built until last.

5.3.1 SIDRA Results: AM Peak

The AM peak results using 2041 demand indicate the following: …

The intersection of Bindubi Street connections / William Hovell Drive is operating well over capacity with the westbound right turn from William Hovell Drive into Bindubi Street and the eastbound William Hovell Drive through movements experiencing long delays and queues.

Appendix E – WSP, Transport Modelling Report, Phase 1, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study, March 2021, 30.

Molonglo sends shockwaves through the road network, with grid locks on William Hovell Drive, Tuggeranong Park Way, and Cotter Road. The East West Arterial adds more traffic to Tuggeranong Park Way and demands a second bridge. Molonglo 3 East will see the construction of 2 new interchanges, 2 new bridges, and the East West Arterial. It will not come cheap with estimates reaching half a billion already.

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Road infrastructure investment 2020-2040 (Molonglo era)

ProjectFunding (million)
John Gorton Drive Bridge $176
East West Arterial road and bridge $228
Bindubi Street / William Hovell Drive Interchange $47
William Hovell Drive Duplication $63
Monaroo Highway upgrade $213
Canberra South-West Corridor Upgrade $100
The estimate costs/funding for selected road works in the ACT. Last updated 23 March 2022.

Cycling comes last

We have strange priorities in the ACT. We will spend $1 billion on road upgrades and $1.9 billion on light rail stage 2. One might think something was left over for cycling but this is not the case. The energy expended on roads and light rail leaves little capacity – or political will – to address the painfully overdue cycle infrastructure.

Cycling remains in the doldrums. We need better standards, capability, and money for cycling. We need to accelerate the rollout. Currently, light rail and cycling infrastructure in the Molonglo Valley comes last. Roads are built first, and CBR Cycle Route C10 may not be finished before 2040.

For the next 20 years of commuting from the Molonglo Valley will be by car. The development of cycle infrastructure is currently dependent on the development of road corridors. Road corridors are designed, prioritised, and sequenced from the perspective of the motor vehicle network. Changes are a slow, expensive, and tedious process. The cycle network is typically excluded from this process. For example, the CBR Cycle Route C10 is not included in the cost estimates for the East West Arterial.

Our current approach of tying cycle infrastructure to the development of roads makes the realisation of cycle infrastructure very slow and too cumbersome. We need an agile approach and rapid development of cycle infrastructure instead.

To accelerate the development of cycle infrastructure, we need to decouple the cycle infrastructure from road planning. Our ingrained car culture is like and old and rusty anchor. To be successful, we have to plan a cycle network independently of the road network and prioritise its construction well ahead of the road network. This is the idea behind cycle corridors. First, we need to plan the network but we have not done even that!

Update 1 April 2022 – John Gorton Drive fails on active travel

This post was put on Facebook by Martin Miller (15 April 2022) and we tend to agree. We are now planning Stage 3 and John Gorton Drive is still not fit for cycling.

John Gorton Drive is an absolute failure in ACT Transport Planning & Design. It should have been the exemplar transport corridor with bus lanes, separated cycleways, walking paths and with safe, modern intersections. There are no separated “cycling infrastructure” that was installed from the start rather than dangerous cycle lanes. I’ve seen kids scooter along them, because there was no paths along the road. Over designed intersections with overly generous slip lanes. Some shared paths have been Installed as an afterthought. It bifurcates the suburbs that has been big problem for town centres like Woden Valley. The Main road should have gone around the district rather than threw it.

Martin Miller, Facebook, 15 April 2022, commenting on Yvette Berry’s John Gorton Drive Post
Posted by Martin Miller, Facebook, 15 April 2022.


1 ACT Government, ACT Population Projections 2018 to 2058, January 2019, 17.

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

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