False is the claim that we have 1000 km of bike paths in Canberra. Even with the most optimistic estimate, only 568 km of paths meets the minimum requirements for cycling, and the asphalt paths are about half that. In the ACT we have 327 km of bitumen paths, 235 km of concrete paths, and 6 km with pavers – total 568 km. In comparison, we have 5900 lane kilometres of roads.
- 343 km lower estimate
- Taking stock of community paths
We evaluated the ACT Government’s own data (2019) and identified “cyclepath” and “footpaths” that were compliant with ACT Active Travel Standards for width.
The ACT Government manages road pavements for the ACT road network which is approximately 5,900 lane kilometres in length.Road infrastructure and maintenance, TCCS, accessed 20 April 2022.
343 km lower estimate
The 568 km is the upper estimate. A lower estimate of “343 kilometres of off-road cycle paths” is provided by the ACT Government Guidelines for community path repairs and maintenance (2012).
Footpaths and cycle paths (referred to as community paths) are provided to assist the community with walking and cycling activities. As at 30 June 2012, there was 2,533 kilometres of community paths in the ACT (2,190 kilometres of footpaths and 343 kilometres of off-road cycle paths). Community paths can be used by pedestrians, cyclists and motorised mobility devices (electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters/buggies that cannot travel over 10 kilometres per hour).Guidelines for community path repairs and maintenance, ACT Government, 2012.
The claim of 1000 km of bike paths from the TCCS ACT Transport Strategy 2020 is a fiction – facts are supported by data!
Paths come in all shapes and sizes and not all are equally suitable for cycling. The ACT Active Travel Standards mandate path widths of the minimum of 2.5 m in retrofit, and 3.5 m in greenfield developments. As all cyclists know, path width is a big part of cycling safety.
Data: “Footpaths in the ACT 2019”, Community Paths in the ACT 2019, Open Data Portal dataACT, This dataset is up to date as of August 2019. ACT Transport, accessed 7 August 2020.
The “Footpaths in the ACT 2019” spatial dataset from the ACT Government Open Data Portal contains the following information:
- Most paths in the ACT belong to ACT Transport, but ACT hospitals, Defence, the Federal Government and the NCA have their own paths.
- ACT Transport’s paths are surfaced with asphalt, concrete or pavers (concrete blocks).
- ACT Transport’s paths are categorised as either cycle or footpath (classification).
In the ACT, nearly all community paths can be used by both cyclists and pedestrians (and others). The distinction is not entirely arbitrary, as paths for walking and cycling are built differently due to their unique requirements.
Ideally, we would have a network of bike paths built to cycling specifications. The material of the paths is not that important compared to surface smoothness. Path width and turning dimensions are far more important when riding at speed, as it is not possible to suddenly stop or turn – let alone master 90 degree path angles.
Paths shared with unpredictable pedestrians, children, and dogs conflict with faster travelling cyclists and others embracing micromobility (scooters, skateboards, etc). The hazards are such that cycling on narrow paths less than 2.5 m may be permitted but cannot be marketed as being safe. A narrow path is only an option if it is one way or you have the path to yourself. Two-way shared paths should be at least 2.5 m in width. 1.2 m wide pedestrian paths will not do in the ACT in the future.
Cycle paths require safe separation from parked cars (dooring), hedges, walls, and other obstructions (see MIS05 standard). Data shared on the ACT data portal does not include this essential information. Therefore, the suitability of a path from the Open Data Portal dataACT for cycling is better determined by filtering the data by minimum path width (or wider) consistent with the ACT Active Travel Standards (MIS05).
Canberra bike calls these compliant paths “strategic bike paths” as they meet the requirements of a cycle network (read also Fast Track).
Taking stock of community paths
The ACT active travel standards have a minimum path width of 2.5 m. The reality is that many of the community paths are much narrower than this. Only 19% of the paths in the ACT are 2.5 m or wider (strategic paths). The most common path width is 1.2 m and makes up 54% of the 3106 km in the ACT. Many suburban streets, however, have no paths at all on the verge and pedestrians walk on the road, which is also often safer for the elderly due to lack of path maintenance.
Strategic bike paths: 2.5 m or greater
How much of the path network is of the minimum standard for cycling? The ACT Government makes data available to the community through the Open Data Portal data ACT. One of the datasets is the 2019 data for the community paths in the ACT. The total length of the paths for each path width is shown in the graph below for the community paths in the ACT.
- Total path network length: 3106 km.
- Most common width: 1.2 m and a total length of 1667 km.
- Next most common width: 2.5 m and a total length of 479 km.
- The portion of the path network that has the 2.5 m minimum width (retrofit) suitable for cycling: 19% or 581 km.
The data does not mention the approximately 1500 km of streets in the ACT without any community paths. There are many such streets, particularly in the older suburbs. The good paths are not evenly distributed across the ACT but rather a few suburbs have the lion share. Many of the wider paths are found in the newer suburbs. The older suburbs do poorly in comparison.
There is a massive backlog of investment required to bring the community paths up to the minimum standard required for active travel and cycling. Fast-track is welcome but currently too little to make a dent in the network.
The asphalt “shared path”
According the “Footpaths in the ACT 2019” data from the Open Data Portal dataACT, paths are made of concrete, asphalt and pavers with the following breakdown: 2655 km concrete, 390 km asphalt, and 12 km pavers. The cycling paths, we know as SHARED PATHS, are most surfaced with asphalt. Legally, almost all paths in the ACT are shared. This is why TCCS talks of community paths rather than footpaths. So, when Acting Executive Branch Manager, Roads ACT, City Services, told the Committee that the TCCS had “audited around 700 kilometres of the 3,000-kilometre network,” they actually mean ALL community paths and not just those paths made of asphalt SHARED PATHS.
* Data: “Footpaths in the ACT 2019”, Open Data Portal dataACT, August 2019, accessed 7 August 2020.
Active travel standard: Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05, ACT Government, April 2019