Her Way: a recommendation report

Her Way is a report from Labor MLA, Dr Marisa Paterson. The report is welcome and appropriately has a photo of her on the cover sitting on a bike. The report does not really say much new about people riding bikes that has not been said in similar reports from other Australian cities. We should celebrate though that active travel is finally thawing after a long period of stagnation.

Report scope

The report is part of the work to mitigate the impacts of the light rail construction and continued efforts to increase female cycling participation. The draft paper was released in winter and since then Dr Marisa Paterson’s office has been gathering data, including a survey of 100 Canberrans (presumably women) as well as consultation with the usual community organisations from the ACT Government list.

Research shows that the best time to create new behaviour is at a time of disruption – whether this be a new job, a new home or other significant life milestones.

Introduction, ‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021.

The report title “Her Way” is well-chosen, allowing many interpretations. The report represents a path to enlightenment, describes Ken Behrens’ transport habits, and the challenges faced by active travellers struggling to find the most direct and safest routes. We are unlikely to want to walk or ride next to duplicated 80 km/h arterial roads, no matter how often we are told by ACT Transport that this is good for us. Particulates and noise aside, there are better ways to ride around Canberra. The routes we take are a product of the mode of transport. Finding a route is one of the many challenges of the novice cyclist.

Key principles

Key and guiding principles for the ‘Her Way’ campaign and this Recommendation Report, based on global best-practice active travel methodologies and expertise, include:

• ensuring a data-driven and evidence-based approach to interventions, messaging, campaigns and activity;
• focusing not on the bike or public transport per se but on the type of city in which we want to live and the type of lifestyle we wish to have;
• providing a quality of experience by walking, bike riding and public transport – ensuring ambience and amenity of the environments passed through (and of which safety is a critical contributing factor);
• ensuring appropriate language and messaging throughout any media, marketing or promotional activities about active travel and public transport – including from key influencers;
• ensuring that public perception is not about ‘something being taken away’ or ‘being given to someone else’ (i.e around road usage) but that an opportunity is being provided;
• being willing to take low-cost risks, trials, pilots and experiments;
• reducing the perceived fear and reluctance of change by those who will remain averse to increased bike-riding, walking and public transport.
• continuing to ensure urban planning and transport policy are integrated to provide positive shared space outcomes which prioritise amenity and safety for walking, riding bikes and catching PT.

‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021, 4

People first and foremost

When discussing transport, it is easy to forget that people are first and foremost in how we design our city. We want Canberra to be a more liveable city. We are people who walk, people who ride, people who catch public transport, and people who drive. In a city with record car registrations (2020 data), the car has become a Leviathan and vulnerable road users dare not tread its waters. A century of motoring history has left a deep inprint on our collective psyche and – alas – ingrained the car’s right of way in the city’s DNA. The implications are great.

The report throws the light back on people, with a particular emphasis on the women living on the Southside. The DNA of women on the Southside is not any different to those on the Northside, nor to men for that matter. Transport design leaves the impression that Canberrans are cogs in a large machine.

Metropolis (1927) Fritz Lang

Canberra has finally commenced the discussion of what type of city we want. Urban planning has made great headway in the last decades. The future is not a car dystopia. We are inventing a new vocabulary to describe what we value, such as human scale and amenity. Most struggle to understand what such words mean. We know what we do not want: try riding on a cycle lane alongside an 80 km/h duplicated arterial road or try walking across such a road, waiting 3 minutes in the middle for the light to change. We feel intimidated by the monsters that we have created.

People can readily express what they fear or do not like. On the other hand, we do poorly articulating what we do want. For this reason, the traditional ACT Government approach of consultation is likely to deliver more of the same old same old. As a society, we have a deep love affair with the status quo. Our preoccupation with real or perceived loss blinds us to any potential gain or improvement. We hang on tightly to our childhood experience, driving with our eyes glued on the rear mirror, and seem not to notice that the world around us is constantly changing. We need new ideas for new times.

The National Capital Design Review Panel is trying out new ideas. The ACT Planning System Review would like to see better planning outcomes with less process. Our planning system is already antiquated, although the territory is relatively new. The box ticking of the current system has been gamified by developers, producing perverse outcomes. Our planning system does not stop shonky developments and does little to reward good ones. The National Capital Design Review Panel and the ACT Planning System Review provide some hope for improvements.

Climate change and health

We all know that climate change (and the environment) and our health are important. Our experience with tobacco shows us that providing information does little to change people’s habits, that big business has its own agenda, and that the young have much on their mind, but not necessarily their future health. Government policy may strive to improve society, but we are strangely resistant. The electorate is the bane of good policy and the application of an evidence-based approach. Good ideas are hard to implement.

We know the statistics, we are getting fatter, unhealthier and dying from our excesses. Since the 1970s, we have been warned by governments around the world (with campaign such as “Life. Be in it.”), that our unhealthy lifestyle is killing us. ACT Health data shows Canberrans are getting more obese – not only the adults but the children, too. We have an ACT Health Strategy that recognises our lifestyle as the cause of many health problems. Paradoxically, while we complain about treatment waiting times, we do nothing about our lifestyle, which can be the cause of the illness. Our health system has become the victim of its own success. While extending people’s lives, our health system succumbs to the cost of the treatment of affluent illness.

Robyn Williams has hosted the Science Show on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation since 1975. One of his earliest broadcasts was interviewing an Australian scientist on climate. 40 years later, he aired a segment from this interview as in introduction to another program with the same theme. The ACT Government now has a Climate Change Strategy that echoes through ACT Government policies. We have just had another fast and furious COP26 with the same plot and little progress.

Transport is now one of the leading causes of climate change emissions – 60% in the ACT. Our poor lifestyle is a major cause of our poor health. The Her Way report notes in one sentence:

Health, sustainability and environmental considerations were not noted by respondents as a significant contributing factor to transport decisions.

‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021, 6.

Clearly, much work remains to be done.

Our children

As a society, we give our children less freedom and independence. We coddle our children due to our own anxieties, not helped by the ongoing media’s narrative of the many ways how they can come to harm.

Childhood might now be safer, particularly on the roads, but when this is mainly achieved by shutting young people in their homes, this is something of a pyrrhic victory.

Walker, Peter. The Miracle Pill (p. 218). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

More children are now driven to school by their parents than at any time in Australia’s history. Visit any ACT school and you will see long car queues around the block around drop off and pick up times. The kids are driven from door to door. It becomes the teacher’s job to take them out for sport. Some ACT schools have now prohibited children under 10 from walking home, even when they have older siblings (‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021).

Some parents feel they must drive, so they can rush off should the school call. Others report the day is too short due to the school run. Many children go to school outside of their suburb, only increasing peak hour traffic. Reopening schools after COVID, the traffic on ACT roads increased by 30% according to ACT Transport data (2020).

Looking after children is time-consuming, but few parents (in this study) consider the option of giving their children more self-sufficiency. Time could be saved by simply enrolling our kids in a local school in walking distance from our home. A house key is a useful accessory for a child who would like to walk home.

Only a small number of respondents (12%) are interested in making
travel changes for journeys to take children to or from school.

‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021, 6.

Perhaps we should consider other options.

Individuals might be able to re-think their situation to better assess their transport options with regard to trip-chaining, including the following suggestions:
• Number one tip that any productivity consultant is going to give you is that you can reduce your workload by delegating tasks or simply removing tasks from your list.
• Do you really need to drive 12yo kids to school? Can’t they walk, ride or bus themselves?
• Does it really need to be you transporting the kids? What about arranging a round robin with parents of your child’s friends in the neighbourhood?

‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report, Dr M Paterson MLA, 22 November 2021, 9.

The report cites that some kids would like to walk to school but their parents won’t allow them to do so.

Funding for active travel

The report does little to critique the lack of spend on active travel. The measly spend on Electric Bike Library and Age Friendly Suburbs initiatives is not enough. The Age Friendly Suburbs has a budget of less than $1 million per annum (from a $6,000 million budget), little more than a splash of paint on 3000 km of footpaths. The roads around schools are not laid out to encourage pedestrians, but rather the flow of traffic. People hurry to drop off their own children safely but often ignore the safety of others.

Much more needs to be spent to improve active travel infrastructure around schools.

ProjectPotFour Yrs $,000Completion datePage
Keeping our city moving – Better infrastructure for active travelWIP$4,159June 202236
Connnected and sustainable Canberra – Active travel investmentsNW$10,870June 202538
Active travel – Age Friendly Suburbs and Cycle Path MaintenanceBIF$6,300June 202539
Route Planning Study Gungahlin Town CentreBIF$200June 202239
Total 2021-2025$21,529
The new investment in Active Travel. Data: Table 18: 2021-22 TCCS Infrastructure Program, Capital Works, 2021-2022 ACT Budget Statements, TCCS, accessed 8 October 2021

Another approach is to open streets for pedestrians only around school opening and closing hours. An example of this is the Open Streets program at Coburg North Primary School, Melbourne. It remains to be seen if this approach is reconcilable with “busy” parents”, who want to drive their kids to school.

canberra.bike data: 2021-2024 ACT Budget papers
canberra.bike data: 2021-2024 ACT Budget papers

First steps

The ‘Her Way’ Recommendation Report is a first step to coming to terms with active – or should we better say – smart travel. The ACT Assembly has accepted recommendations. This puts a few runs on the board for active travel in 2021, in otherwise what was another very quiet year. We can hope that good things will come of this in 2022.

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