Tactical urbanism and traffic calming

Tactical urbanism street scene

Tactical urbanism is an agile approach for planning better cities. The traditional approach entails long reports and long consultations that take a long time to complete. Traffic calming is simply rebalancing the street design to give more space and priority to people walking and cycling. For people driving, this means narrowed roads and reduced speeds. Traffic calming is a common request for TCCS – and a long drawn out process. The Narrabundah investigation is currently in its second year with no outcome.


  1. Tactical urbanism: an agile approach to better cities
  2. Tactical urbanism in Canberra since 2019
  3. Traffic calming is everywhere in the Netherlands

Tactical urbanism: an agile approach to better cities

We all want better cities but it seems to take decades for any change. Tactical urbanism is an urban planning approach for delivering projects when needed. This webinar from Austroads tells us why we need it in the ACT.

Tactical urbanism: Planning big by starting small


Here are a few points from the Austroads webinar, 21 July 2020, on tactical urbanism.

  • People are the problem: we want change but get scared when we see it happen.
  • Loss aversion: our reaction to loss is stronger than that to gain. A minority will protest immediately and it takes a lot longer for the majority to voice their support for the benefits of the project.
  • The project is the consultation. The agile approach is about small changes with benefits immediately noticed – usually within weeks. If you do not like something, it will be improved soon but later.
  • The government planning process is typically for million-dollar megaprojects with 3 year approval time frames. The approvals for tactical urbanism come through in three weeks. It is hard for the government planning organisation to respond to small and cheap projects quickly. They do not know how to and must learn this lean change approach.
  • Tactical urbanism is about giving the community the opportunity to work on a project and experience the change before they consider making it permanent.

Tactical Urbanism – Streets for People. Austroads webinar, 21 July 2020.

With the motto ‘Short term action for long term change’, tactical urbanism refers to a city, organisational, and/or citizen-led approach to neighbourhood-building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyse long-term change that improves the experience of pedestrians and cyclists.

Cities around the world have been exploring and testing short-term public space initiatives in recent years and, beyond its immeasurable negative consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably created opportunities for further assessment and reflection in this direction. What and who are cities for? How will people move around and interact in our cities moving forward? Were cities in 2019 the cities we want in 2029? 2039? 2049? In this Austroads webinar, held on 21 July, leading practitioners Mike Lydon (US), Claire Pascoe (NZ) and Sara Stace (NSW) talk about the latest actions in tactical urbanism and how they influence the rethink of public space to build cities that are more inclusive, safe and prosperous for all.”

Tactical Urbanism – Streets for People, webinar, Austroads, 21 July 2020
Tactical Urbanism page 22
Tactical Urbanism page 22

Tactical urbanism in Canberra since 2019

The urban development process in the ACT is thorough but slow. Worst still, perhaps, the processes are neither imaginative nor flexible. Tactical urbanism tries to fix that.

What is tactical urbanism?

Imagine two people talking on a street corner. “How about we try out a few ideas to improve Woden Town Centre with any feasibility study, development application or approval?” This sounds scary to a process focused on accountability. The other replies, “OK, but it has to be cheap, temporary and easy to remove.”

That’s tactical urbanism. It is a place to try things out. Planters, seats and tables are brought in on the back of a truck. Set up in a few days and opened to the public.

It is anything but thorough. It is haphazard and learning through trial and error. Mistakes are accepted as part of the process.

An important part of tactical urbanism engages the public in improving the ideas. The government takes on board their suggestions and sends in a forklift to move things around and fix them immediately. The process of improvement is iterative. Finally, if people like the setup we can make it permanent. No hurry. We have many of the benefits now.

That is an agile way of doing urban development. Tactile urbanism is a feasibility study of sorts. It is, however, getting out and trying it, rather than a paper exercise. The old way of urban planning has its place but is slow and methodical but sometimes disappoints in cost, time and expectations. The design of the playground in Coombs on Edgeworth Parade is a good example of how messy the paper method can get. Both have their place. Tactile urbanism is suited to projects where a high level of community involvement in the design process is required.

Place making

Place making sounds abstract, but the idea is simple. We want town centres to be attractive and places that people would like to go and stay. This is the essence of good urban design. Making places that people want to be.

Previously, the town centres in the ACT have been places for work quickly deserted after hours and on weekends. The shopping centres increase weekend use of the space. Big box shopping centres such as Westfield are internally focus and the surrounds largely deserted. The ACT Government desires to change this.

The Woden Experiment

Back in 2019 there was a good example of tactical urbanism in Woden.

Woden Experiment begins next week – Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, 1 March 2019

Visitors to the Woden Town Square will enjoy an exciting new outdoor space from next Wednesday, 6 March (2019) when the new upgrades featuring picnic settings, activity and event spaces, and play opportunities is unveiled for the public.

Woden Experiment begins next week – Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, 1 March 2019

We hope the upgrades to the square will attract more people to use this challenging and often windy space.

It’s a genuine experiment. If the installations work we’ll make them permanent, if not we’ll go back to the drawing board.

Woden Experiment begins next week – Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, 1 March 2019

The ACT Government is also upgrading public spaces in other Town Centres but the Woden Experiment is important because following an evaluation of the project’s impact it will help inform a new place making guide to be used for other projects in Canberra.

Woden Experiment begins next week – Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, 1 March 2019

Traffic calming is everywhere in the Netherlands

Streets should be designed on the assumption that people make mistakes and to minimise the resulting consequences of those mistakes. Traffic calming should be built into every street. It should not be possible to drive faster than the speed limit. Remember: behaviour follows infrastructure!

Traffic calming

Cycling for Sustainable Cities, Austroads webinar, 19 October 2021.

We can make our city safer and better. Speed kills and not just motorist. Slowing cars down and give the public space back to people is traffic calming. Children are likely to benefit the most. Traffic calming – Cycling for Sustainable Cities.

Speeding cars, then change the street!

Weston Creek Community Council have complained about cars driving at excessive speed. This happens everywhere in Canberra. The answer is not more police or radar traps. Rather the streets should be designed, or in the ACT case, should be redesigned so that it is not possible to drive a car at more than the speed limit. The street design itself through narrowing horizontal and vertical deviations ensures the speed is kept at the required level. The below video gives a few examples.

“Traffic Calming is Everywhere in the Netherlands” from the YouTube channel Not Just Bikes.

Curb extensions

Curb extensions make intersections safer and easier to cross for both pedestrians and cyclists. Here are a few examples.

Temporary changes fall under tactical urbanism.

Priority crossings in the ACT

Priority crossings slow cars to allow bikes and pedestrians to cross the road. Priority crossings and zebra crossing give people riding and cycling priority over those people who choose to drive.

Path Priority crossing – A crossing type that includes Give Way or Stop sign control to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists over motor vehicles.

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)
Bike only path, Cooinda Street / College Street. Belconnen Bikeway under construction, stand 11/10/2020
Priority crossing slow cars to allow bikes and pedestrians to cross the road. Cooinda Street / College Street. Belconnen Bikeway under construction, stand 11/10/2020

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s