Pushing uphill in Whitlam

Local Community Route crossing Sculthorpe Avenue, close to Shillam Chase, Whitlam, ACT

The story here is not that cycle paths in the ACT are often poorly built. Bike riders in Canberra know how of this because they experience it every day. What if far worse, is that we can see it in the designs years before they are built. Whitlam is an example where already in the Development Application it was clear that the suburb had not been designed for cycling and that some path were so steep to be madness. The page of the plan is flat but Whitlam is most certainly not. This article is a story of what should not happen.

This is the history of a bike path in Whitlam that is too steep to ride and documented as a warning in a series of articles between 2020 and 2022 on the following dates: 25 February 2020, 31 March 2021, 30 April 2021 and 6 April 2022 .

Part 1 – 25 February 2020

One of the big factors that make a bike path rideable is the path gradient. If it is too steep, and we will find ourselves pushing uphill. Bike paths, poorly designed, can be too steep to ride. A case study of Whitlam active travel network.

Main Community Routes

Main Community Routes are on either side of Whitlam running north-south, but the utility of the routes will be reduced by the very high gradients traversing the deep river valley. Both Coppins Crossing to the east, and the other route to the west, are low-level crossings. Unless measures are taken, the gradients on these paths could exceed Austroads guidelines.

Local Community Routes

The Local Community Routes along the streets are steep in places but should be rideable. The utility is then dependent on the treatments for the frequent crossing of the adjacent side roads. The most rideable paths across Whitlam are along streets. The Local Community Route along the ridge, starting at the roundabout (figure 6) is too steep to be rideable (Austroads standards). The path is therefore poorly labelled a Local Community Route but would be better referred to as a Recreational Route, for which gradients are much less important. The lack of a direct east-west Main Community Route through Whitlam is likely to make the Local Community Routes more important. The schools and shops in Molonglo 3 are adjacent to John Gorton Drive. The Local Community Routes are feeders to the school and shops.

Analysis

The Molonglo River Reserve is a narrow river corridor with steep drops down to the river (figure 1).

Figure 1: Gradients along the Molonglo River Reserve

The housing estates are being built either side of the Molonglo River on the “flatter” sections. The creeks flowing into the river have strongly eroded the valley. Figure 2 (map) and 3 (legend) show the gradients of a natural landscape from a Whitlam survey (2014) before the ACT Suburban Land Agency had flattened it out. Gradients of 5-10% are most common, but around Deep Creek the gradients exceed 25%.

Figure 2: Whitlam – the gradients of the natural landscape before it was graded by the ACT Urban Land Agency to take the creases out of it
Figure 3: Whitlam – legend for the gradient’s colours from the plan

The Austroads standards for bike path design recommend that a bike path never exceed 12% as children cannot ride down this gradient safely. The same standard recommends that riders struggle with prolong section of riding uphill of gradients of just 5%.

For reference, the bike path up Aranda hill from the Glenloch Interchange has for a short 100 m section with an 8% gradient. Generally, the gradient on Aranda hill is much more moderate, nevertheless, most people regard the 70 m rise to the top of path as challenging.

Whitlam Estate Plan

The Whitlam Residential Estate Concept Master Plan 2018 shows that the estate was flattened through cut and fill. Still, the suburb is not all that flat. Most of Whitlam has a significant slope. Because of this, Molonglo Valley Stage 3 district playing fields will be built north of William Hovell Drive on the horse paddocks adjacent to Coulter Drive.

Here are three views of Whitlam.

  • Figure 4: Overview of the Whitlam Residential Estate
  • Figure 5: Deep Creek Pond and drop into the Molonglo Valley, Whitlam Residential Estate
  • Figure 6: Local Community Route from Deep Creek to the centre of the suburb

Note here that the yellow areas where the houses are to be built are generally flatter than the green surrounds (figure 4). The edge of the estate drops off into the river valley (figure 5). The ridges that could not be removed are to become parks (figure 6). These parks are often the steepest sections of the estate. For that reason, one would not build Local Community Routes on the ridge, but the Whitlam Estate Plan shows that this is planned.

Figure 4: Overview of the Whitlam Residential Estate. (CONCEPTMASTER-201834628-01 20180706)
Figure 5: Deep Creek Pond and drop into the Molonglo Valley, Whitlam Residential Estate. (CONCEPTMASTER-201834628-01 20180706)
Figure 6: Local Community Route from Deep Creek to the centre of the suburb. (CONCEPTMASTER-201834628-01 20180706)

The ridge bike path

Some paths in Whitlam are very steep. This is true of the bike path long the ridge, climbing from the roundabout on Sculthorpe Avenue. In 2020, this road did not have a name and was called “Road 01” on the Whitlam Estate Development Plan (EDP).

Unfortunately, it is not possible to calculate the gradient of these paths from the Whitlam Estate Development Plan. No doubt the ACT Suburban Land Agency has this data, but it was not part of the Development Application for Stage 2 (Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application 201936061, 10 September 2019).

It is worth noting that gradient analysis of bike paths was not mandated in the development application process. Without such analysis at an early stage, there is no way to know if the planned alignments are suitable for cycling. This must be seen as a major oversight of the planning.

Figure 7: Future Local Community Route (PURPLE) up the hill from Road 01 (PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01)
Figure 8: Legend Active Travel Network, Whitlam Stage 2 Development Application(PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01)

Figure 9 shows how the Whitlam Active Travel Network. Local Community Routes follow the streets for the most part, in some case adjacent to Local On-road Routes. The equestrian routes (YELLOW) have, at the best, recreational value for cycling. The PINK line winding its way through Whitlam is also a recreational route. The Main Community Routes are light BLUE, and run north-south on both sides of Whitlam. The Main Community Route on the east side runs along John Gorton Drive.

Figure 9: Overview of the Active Travel Network for Whitlam (PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01)

Part 2 – 31 March 2021

Whitlam Stage 1 and Stage 2 are finished and Stage 3 is on the way. The roundabout discussed here is part of Stage 3. The article Pushing uphill in Whitlam part 1 found poor planning of active travel network in the Estate Development Plan. Here is an update.

Figure 10 shows the ridge beside the roundabout on Sculthorpe Avenue (previously called “Road 01”). The ridge will be a park and a Local Community Route built along it.

Active Travel Network Existing and Future Plan, Whitlam Stage 2 DA ATRA, PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01
Figure 10: The ridge runs left to right (PINK route) across the top of the map. Active Travel Network Existing and Future Plan, Whitlam Stage 2 DA ATRA, PLAN-201936061-ACTIVE_TRAVEL_NETWORK-01

The photo, below, shows Sculthorpe Avenue as it appeared in 2021-2022, looking across the flat area where a roundabout will be built. Sculthorpe Avenue was otherwise finished in Stage 2 in 2021 except for this area.

Photo 1: Sculthorpe Avenue Stage 3, below Shillam Chase, 2021.

A Local Community Route is planned along a steep ridge from this roundabout. At the time of writing Pushing uphill in Whitlam part 1,  we estimated that this path would have a gradient between 10 to 15%. A site inspection at the time the photo was taken in 2021 confirmed that the gradient far exceeds that recommended by Austroads standards for cycle paths (Guide to Road Design Part 6A: Paths for Walking and Cycling, 2017). 

Constructing a bike path up a hill this steep would require a serpentine route cut into the hill with switchbacks to keep the gradient below 5%. The Estate Development Plan discussed in Pushing uphill in Whitlam part 1 suggested this is not the case. This was later confirmed with the Suburban Land Agency (SLA).

Part 3 – 30 April 2021

Many of the problems we have with active travel are due to years of poor design. The Molonglo Valley is a good example. In Whitlam, the ACT Government is building a Local Community Route with a gradient of 12.4% which is not compliant with the Austroads Standards (AGRD06A).

The problem remains: we continue to build cycle paths that are not suitable for the average cyclist (compliant with Austroads recommendations).

canberra.bike (2021)
Community path "trunk path 1 part a", New park in Whitlam. Tender SL200309, Project Whitlam Stage 2D 17-1289, File 17-1289 2D-L501 LANDSCAPE AND SETOUT
Community path “trunk path 1 part a”, New park in Whitlam. Tender SL200309, Project Whitlam Stage 2D 17-1289, File 17-1289 2D-L501 LANDSCAPE AND SETOUT

The tender documents for this hill/park at Whitlam show the steep section of the path along the ridge, now called “Trunk Path 1 – Part A”. This ridge path was previously discussed in Pushing uphill in Whitlam part 1 and part 2.

From the roundabout, the bike path rises 24 m along a length of 208 m with an average gradient of 12.4%. In contrast, Austroads recommends only short sections above 5%! As discussed in Pushing uphill in Whitlam part 1, active travel network is often flawed in its design. “Trunk Path 1 – Part A” is a good example of this poor design. The plans on the ACT Government tender website are removed when tenders close, but the landscape plan is attached below.

Tender SL200309, Project Whitlam Stage 2D 17-1289, File 17-1289 2D-L501 LANDSCAPE AND SETOUT
Gradient profile of the “trunk path 1 part a”, New park in Whitlam. Tender SL200309, Project Whitlam Stage 2D 17-1289, File 17-1289 2D-L501 LANDSCAPE AND SETOUT

Relevant information

  • Tender: SL200309
  • Project:  Whitlam Stage 2D 17-1289
  • File: 17-1289 2D-L501 LANDSCAPE AND SETOUT
  • Plan: 2D-L501.16 on page 16

Part 4 – 6 May 2022

The lower section of Whitlam Stage 2 has opened so that we now have access to the ridge bike path that as been the topic of discussion for over two years now. In Whitlam, the bike paths have not been built along alignments that provide low gradient that bicycle need. The result is some of the steepest paths in Canberra.

This is the 4th post on the topic. The video profiles the steep section of path. It is hard to believe, but Whitlam Stage 2 was opened over two years since the development application was released.

Local Community Route in Whitlam. A very steep path up the ridge from Sculthorpe Avenue with gradients above 12.4% canberra.bike
Whitlam Stage 2 (stand 6 May 2022) showing Sculthorpe Drive partially completed. Whitlam Stage 3 is under construction. The steep Local Community Route (LCR) up the hill, along the ridge, is featured on the left.
Whitlam Stage 2 (stand 6 May 2022) showing Sculthorpe Drive partially completed. Whitlam Stage 3 is under construction. The steep Local Community Route (LCR) up the hill, along the ridge, is featured on the left. Map: OpenStreetMap and contributors.
Whitlam Stage 1 to 3 overview, SLA March 2022
Whitlam Stage 1 to 3 overview, SLA March 2022
Whitlam Stage 3 overview, SLA March 2022
Whitlam Stage 3 overview, SLA March 2022

Dependent projects

If you would like to ride south of Whitlam that will require any and possibly all the of the following projects to be completed.

  • John Gorton Drive Bridge – expect completion 2025
  • Denman Prospect North – construction started
  • Molonglo Group Centre, the north of John Gorton Drive – may be complete in the late 2020s
  • Whitlam Stage 3 – 2023

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