2022 Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan

Does the ACT Government really believe that the average person is keen to cycle on the road along John Gorton Drive? Today saw the release of the Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan, which will set this concept into stone. The road designs of John Gorton Drive and Flemington Road are very similar, and experience shows that they do not work for cyclists.

Contents

  1. Lessons learnt in the Molonglo Valley
  2. Concept plan interpretation
  3. Gradient
  4. 2021 NCDRP Molonglo Group Centre recommendations
  5. John Gorton Drive design error

Lessons learnt in the Molonglo Valley

Over the last 3 years, canberra.bike has been writing about the design decisions for active travel in the Molonglo Valley. There is still no Active Travel Master Plan for the Molonglo Valley. Without it, we do not know where the cycle infrastructure corridors should or need to be. Once the Master Plan is done, EPSDD should be trying to put straight lines between destinations – particularly town centres, such as Belconnen Town Centre and Molonglo Group Centre, but also Tuggeranong. Note that the Molonglo Group Centre itself is a quite small area.

The Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool (ATIPT) should ideally inform planners where the Active Travel Network (ATN) should be, but this tool has not been updated for years, and it looks very old indeed. We keep checking it on a regular basis, with the faint hope that the John Gorton Drive will one day be realigned to cross at Coppins Crossing – something we have known since at least 2015.

Active Travel Infrastructure Practitioner Tool (ATIPT) – A web-based user interface that provides access to spatial mapping of the Active Travel Routes for walking, cycling and equestrian routes (ATRA) as well as access to planning and design policies, guides and other information relevant to the planning and design of active travel infrastructure in the ACT. The tool is available for use by all stakeholders including government agencies, developers and consultants and may be accessed at http://activeinfrastructure.net.au/

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

Concept plan interpretation

The Active Travel Network (ATN) from the Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan is shown below (Figure 6).

The GREEN double line running from north to south is John Gorton Drive, a four lane duplication. Riding on roads is not for the vast majority of bike riders. The Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan shows John Gorton Drive as a Main On Road Route. Only the bravest daredevils will ride in cycle lanes. Cycle lanes on arterials is not compliant with Austroads standards.

Best practice, is grade separated bike paths, which may be shared. Grade separated means NOT on road, but instead off road, meaning they are placed on the verge. The design of John Gorton Drive is the same as Flemington Road in Gungahlin, and until this day, there is NO grade separated infrastructure for a large section along Flemington Road in Gungahlin north of Mitchell. Grade separated paths will only come when planned and added to the the Concept Plan.

The many ORANGE lines are off road cycle paths. The lines correspond to the current location of dirt tracks through the area from the time when it was still a rural lease. In that sense, the active travel network is not planned but rather inherited. The tracks were laid out for the farm that was, not the suburb Molonglo is to become. This method is unlikely to create good cycling infrastructure.

The orange network is winding and indirect. That is typical for recreational trails. In the Molonglo Valley design, when grade separated cycle infrastructure is built, the design is for recreation. Recreational paths are not designed to be direct, fast, or to make it easy to cycle between destinations. If the paths are not of a high quality, grade separated, and direct, they are unlikely to make cycling sufficiently attractive for people to leave their cars at home – they fail the test for cycling for transport, as opposed to sport or recreation.

If we want a fast and efficient cycle network for transport and not recreation, we have to start building the paths where they count and not where they do not bother anybody.

Last year, EPSDD released the draft Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan and for cycle infrastructure for transport it was lacking. With the final Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan from 5 April 2022, nothing has changed.

Comparison of the existing dirt fire trails (tracks) with the planned location of the off road share path network from the Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan.

The alignment of John Gorton Drive was never suited for cycling. It is too step (12%) north of the river and due to the C-shape (optimised for transit) provides neither a direct route to the Civic nor to Belconnen. Riding to Woden and Tuggeranong is not on their map, which is strange, as they are both on the south side of Canberra. What really need is an Active Travel Master Plan for the Molonglo Valley, and we are still waiting for that.

The original Concept plan for the Molonglo has not changed much since its inception. Active travel was missing then, and it is missing now. The ACT Government (EPSDD) has yet to demonstrate that it can design an active travel network through Future Urban Areas (FUA) that is efficient and functional.

On the south side of Coppins Crossing, the gradient is close to 10% (180 m), on the north side 9% (100 m). Gradients above 5% are common.

The Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan plans shared paths through Coppins Crossing, which are not compliant with the Austroads standards. canberra.bike

Gradient

The cycle path design for the ACT is described in the Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) document and cites the Austroads standard Guide to Road Design Part 6A: Paths for Walking and Cycling 2017 (AGRD06A) for further details. 

4.4.1 Path design – Estate Development and Retrofit

Path design is to consider land use and route hierarchy contexts. For example, a trunk path on a Main Community Route through a green corridor in a suburban context will have a higher design speed than a trunk path on Local Community Route in an inner urban context. Path design will comply with AGRD06A, references to the relevant sections of AGRD06A are shown in brackets:

  • Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05), ACT Government
  • Width (AGRD06A Section 5.1)
  • Bicycle operating speeds (AGRD06A Section 5.2)
  • Horizontal curvature (AGRD06A Section 5.3)
  • Path gradients (AGRD06A Section 5.4)
  • Clearances and the need for fences (AGRD06A Section 5.5)
  • Crossfall and drainage (AGRD06A Section 5.6)
  • Sight distance (AGRD06A Section 5.7)
  • Changes in level (AGRD06A Section 5.8)
  • Surface treatments and tolerances (AGRD06A Section 5.9 and 5.10)
  • Lighting and underground services (AGRD06A Section 5.11 and 5.12)”

The Austroads AGRD06A standard includes recommendations for uphill gradients for cyclists. The “desirable uphill gradients for ease of cycling” depend on the duration of the climb (figure 1). For a 5% gradient, the “desirable” length of the gradient is no more than 80 m.

Figure 1: Desirable uphill gradients for ease of cycling, AGRD06A, page 34

Coppins Crossing does not come close to these requirements. Figure 2 shows the gradient profile along John Gorton Drive. Gradients are displayed on a colour scale, from a climb of +25% to a descent of -25%. The steepest climbs are in dark red and the colours span the rainbow to the steepest descent in dark blue. 

Figure 2: Whitlam to Coombs gradient profile, John Gorton Drive

Along John Gorton Drive between Whitlam to Coombs, the gradients can be as great as 10%. On the south side of Coppins Crossing, the gradient is close to 10% for a length of approximately 180 m, on the north side 9% for a length of 100 m. Gradients above 5% are common.

The circumstance at Coppins Crossing is not compliant with the ACT and Austroads AGRD06A standards. 

Figure 3: Histogram of gradients between Whitlam to Coombs along John Gorton Drive
Molonglo Group Centre cross section of the east-west arterial road
Molonglo Group Centre cross section of the east-west arterial road from the Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan.

2021 NCDRP Molonglo Group Centre recommendations

The 2021 Molonglo Group Centre and Surrounds Planning Framework proceeded the 2022 Molonglo Group Centre Concept Plan.

The Molonglo Group Centre and Surrounds Planning Framework was reviewed by the National Capital Design Review Panel (NCDRP) and their first sitting recommendations were released 11 June 2021 (FOI 21-52222). NCDRP suggested that the Molonglo Group Centre Framework could be much improved. The basic principles of the framework were rejected, instead, the design should follow the form of the land and integration into the river valley landscape. The changes are significant.

Transport

In urban planning, what TCCS would call transport is called instead “connectivity”. Interestingly, many points came out that have been raised by Canberra bike with regard to the Molonglo Valley. Most concerning is the trend to build in car dependence. As a showcase for a future urban area, this sets the wrong signals.

4.2 The Panel notes the critical importance of an effective, well integrated movement network to support vibrant community life and considers that there is an opportunity for the proposal to demonstrate how this will be achieved. 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). In developing the proposal further, the proponent is encouraged by the Panel to;

4.2.1 Consider how the various movement networks will integrate with each other (i.e. vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian) and with a future network of urban green spaces to form a complementary system (e.g. colocation of active travel links along sheltered green spines) that supports safe and sustainable travel and the health and wellbeing of residents. The proponent is also encouraged to engage in further analysis to develop an understanding of how the proposal should connect at its edges with surrounding suburbs and recreational opportunities (e.g. Stromlo Park), with an aim to ensure the proposal features robust connections that support the broader movement network of Canberra.

4.2.2 Ensure that the proposal retains the capacity for future integration of light rail. The Panel acknowledges the extension of the light rail network may be a long-term proposition for the Molonglo Valley, however notes that integration must be considered at this stage to ensure future retrofitting feasibility (i.e. both financial and physical feasibility).

4.2.3 Ensure that a functional public transport network (i.e. buses) exists and is in regular operation from the initial phase of development in the subject area, noting the critical importance of public transport availability and reliability in establishing desired patterns of use.

4.2.4 Ensure that a functional cycle and pedestrian path network is established in the initial phase of development with clear, safe connections to significant community facilities and key public spaces (e.g. schools, parks and other recreational areas). Similarly to 4.2.3, the Panel notes the critical importance of early establishment of a pedestrian and cycle network to support residents to form healthy active travel habits (i.e. children being able to safely cycle or walk to school will support their long-term health and wellbeing). The Panel also notes that a strategic
approach should be adopted to network planning to provide acceptable gradients for walkability of the network
.

4.2.5 Consider how land use planning and space allocation serves to reinforce or subvert the dominance of individual passenger vehicles. The Panel considers that there is an opportunity for the proposal to reflect the desired modal split (i.e. a greater emphasis on active travel and public transport) and therefore encourages the proponent to increase and more equitably allocate space for pedestrian, cyclist and public transport uses. ‘Mobility hubs’ where combined parking with green walls, active play roof spaces that allow for places for people before cars should also be investigated (see reference to Nordhavn and Jernbanebyen in Attachment 1).

4.2.6 Consider whether the John Gorton Drive and future East West Arterial can be revised to promote a fine grain, permeable, pedestrian-friendly and humanscaled environment, noting at present these are likely to constitute ‘hard edges’ that will divide the area and have considerable adverse impacts on the public domain (e.g. pedestrians, particularly the vulnerable such as prams and disabled users are unlikely to feel safe crossing the significant road verges currently proposed).

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.

Much to do. Let us see what comes up at the second sitting when the framework has been updated.

John Gorton Drive design error

John Gorton Drive has become infamous for the lack of grade segregated cycle infrastructure along its length. The design takes up a lot of space, but despite this, leaves little room to retrofit a bike path to the verge now. This is a major obstacle to active travel as John Gorton Drive is a Main Community Route.

John Gorton Drive approval granted 9 Feb 2022, found as attachment to Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 357.
John Gorton Drive approval granted 9 Feb 2012, found as attachment to Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 357.

The design for John Gorton Drive between Coombs and Wright was approved 9 Feb 2012 – see attachment to Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 357. The Design Application was assessed under the Transport and Service Zone Development Code (TSZ1) – see Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 164-171.

Under 4.4 Pedestrian Movement, the criteria C18 is of importance:

C18: Safe and convenient movement of public transport passengers, pedestrians and cyclists is provided

Response to C18 (shortened):
– Provision for on road cyclists has been incorporated into the design via a 2.0 m wide on road cycle lane.
– Provision for pedestrians via a shared path each verge has been allowed for.

Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 171
Transport and Service Zone Development Code (TSZ1), found as attachment to Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 164-171.
Transport and Service Zone Development Code (TSZ1), found as attachment to Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Draft Planning Design Framework August 2011, 164-171.

What is missing here is space for a grade segregated cycle infrastructure. It would seem that they assumed that people would ride in cycle lanes on an 80 km/h. Cycle lanes on any arterial are NOT compliant with Austroads and ACT Transport has be warned by consultants that they are unsafe as far back as 2012. Cycle lanes are an odd mistake in the ACT planning. Cyclist want to feel safe and for that reason will only consider cycling when segregated cycle infrastructure is provided. To achieve a mode shift cycling, cycle lanes will not do!

Remember, John Gorton Drive is a Main Community Route. The “provision for pedestrians” on the verge is insufficient for cyclist as a pedestrian path standard is only 1.5 m wide – much too narrow for shared use. The Active Travel Standards MIS05 would prescribe a 3.5 m wide share path built to the standard for a Main Community Route. This looks quite different to a low use pedestrian path. As the John Gorton Drive design has only allocated a narrow width for the path, we now do not have enough space to build the required 3.5 m share bike path. This leaves few others options except to reallocate road space, which is both expensive and unpopular.


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.

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