The ACT Legislative Assembly has a number of standing committees that investigate (inquiry), record (transcript of evidence), and report (report). One annual inquiry is the Estimates. The Standing Committee On Planning, Transport And City Services (PTCS Committee) is one such committee. Here are the sections from their report relating to cycle infrastructure and maintenance.
- PTCS committee recommendations
- How long is the path network?
- What are the ACT Estimates?
- The estimates process
- What you need to know
- Warant system for prioritising maintenance
- Lists kept by ACT Transport
- Footpath maintenance, prioritisation and upgrades (QTB)
- Cycle infrastructure neglect: Transcript of Estimates 2021
PTCS committee recommendations
Recommendations of the PTCS Committee relevant to cycling (Estimates 2020-21 and Annual Reports 2019-20, April 2021).
6.75 The Committee recommends that the ACT Government acquire suitable equipment so that it has the capability to assess cycle and pedestrian path surfaces across the network.
6.76 The Committee recommends that the ACT Government set a target of 90 per cent of bike paths and footpaths being maintained in good condition, as is done for roads.Estimates 2020-21 and Annual Reports 2019-20, PTCS Committee, April 2021, viii.
How long is the path network?
A more precise calculation of the ACT path network suggests the strategic bike path network has a length of 568 km. Total path length of all paths of any width is 3106 km.
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.
What are the ACT Estimates?
ACT Budget is reviewed through the estimates inquiry before the ACT Legislative standing committees and provide an opportunity to scrutinise the performance of the ACT Government. The 2021 Estimates for Transport were held before the PTCS Committee, 4 March 2021.
The committee inquiry is a verbal one but notes provided for the Minister and officials is almost always more detailed than their statments. FOI 21-023 request released these notes. For cyclists, community path maintenance is particularly important and the FOI provides further information on that.
A Question Time Brief is a similar document provided to the Transport Minister for question time in the ACT Legislative Assembly. This information is in the FOI 21-023 release as well.
The estimates process
Few would be aware of the ACT budget process. The process is the same every year and only the dates changes.
Overview of budget process
- Community consultation
- Budget formulation
- Budget presented to the Assembly
- Estimates inquiries
- Debate of the budget
- Passage of the budget
- Review process
The standing committees are part of the “estimates” process.
After the budget is presented, it is sent to the Assembly’s committees who then inquire into and scrutinise the government’s proposed spending. Committees examine sections of the budget relevant to their subject areas, while the Public Accounts Committee examines the budget as a whole.
Committees hold public hearings where members are able to question ministers and senior officials from government directorates and agencies about proposed spending contained in the budget.
The estimates process also provides an opportunity for members, particularly from the opposition and crossbench, to scrutinise the performance of the government and its directorates.
Each committee writes report at the end of its inquiry making recommendations to government.W Manager, ‘The budget process’, Legislative Assembly for the ACT, 2020, <https://www.parliament.act.gov.au/visit-and-learn/resources/factsheets/the-budget-process> [accessed 23 August 2021].
What you need to know
- There is no regular audit of the community paths.
- The 90% target for roads in good condition does not apply to community paths.
- For roads, TCCS has machines (vehicle-mounted ) to make inspection and maintenance easy, but this is not the case for community paths.
- The committee recommended that a machine(s) be purchased.
Maintaining paths will always be difficult if TCCS does not know the state they are in. Well maintained paths are important to active travel and cycling safety.
Lack of high-quality Active Travel infrastructure degrades the walking and cycling experience and can lead to real and perceived safety hazards for all transport users. This in turn reduces uptake of Active Travel modes and precludes the realisation of its benefits. …The notes prepared by TCCS for the Estimates 2021, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021. Source: FOI 21-023 2021 Estimates, TCCS, ACT Government.
The Acting Executive Branch Manager said that path maintenance had relied on reports from the community, but would be moving to a proactive approach. The TCCS investigation how to do this should be concluded in 2022. As of 17 June 2022, TCCS has still not made a further announcement about this – not done yet, apparently.
Warant system for prioritising maintenance
Warant system for prioritising maintenance is on the TCCS Community paths website. The principle is simple but the pipeline of works remains less transparent.
Requests to build missing links or to upgrade existing paths are received by TCCS from members of the public. TCCS use a Warrant System to confirm the need for, and priorities of all requests.
The Warrant System assesses whether a safe path can be provided for all path users. Safety, real and perceived, is always identified as a major barrier to active travel. If the safety criterion is met, four assessment criteria are applied to prioritise the requests.
o Strategic – how the request completes the routes identified in the ACT Strategic Cycling Network plan or Town/Group Centre Master plans which outline the priority improvement corridors, connections to the proposed surrounding network and its value within the network;Community path maintenance, Community paths, TCCS, accessed 17 June 2022.
o Community– proximity to community trip generators and attractors within residential areas, such as schools, shops, facilities, businesses and parks etc;
o Public Transport – proximity to relevant public transport facilities to increase the possibilities of multi-modal trips; and
o Demand – presence of desired lines or expected demand for a path, i.e. more compact developments are more conducive to active transport and public transport.
Lists kept by ACT Transport
ACT Transport keeps many lists that are updated and form the basis of the workflow. The list should illustrate the priorities for path repairs and maintenance.
- Community Path Infill Priority list: “The ACT Government has embarked on a program to progressively upgrade and enhance the local suburban community path network on a prioritised basis.”
- ACT Strategic Cycling Network plan: outlines “the priority improvement corridors, connections to the proposed surrounding network and its value within the network;”
- Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP): for the purpose of proactive asset planning forecast path upgrade and renewal funding requirements
Footpath maintenance, prioritisation and upgrades (QTB)
The notes prepared by TCCS for the 2021 Estimates before the PTCS Committee, 4 March 2021. The following is an extract from the notes prepared for the Shelly Fraser, Executive Director, TCCS (dated 24/02/2021).
• Roads ACT manage approximately 3,177 kilometres of community paths (foot and cycle paths).
• There are over 550 community path requests on the Community Path Infill Priority list.
• The ACT Government has embarked on a program to progressively upgrade and enhance the local suburban community path network on a prioritised basis, to fulfil the government policies to encourage active travel, reduce carbon emissions and improve health in the community.
• A primary goal of the ongoing investment in Active Travel is to encourage people to walk and cycle more often by identifying and completing missing links in the strategic walking and cycling network and upgrading facilities where usage is higher.The notes prepared by TCCS for the Estimates 2021, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021. Source: FOI 21-023 2021 Estimates, TCCS, ACT Government.
• Lack of high-quality Active Travel infrastructure degrades the walking and cycling experience and can lead to real and perceived safety hazards for all transport users. This in turn reduces uptake of Active Travel modes and precludes the realisation of its benefits. …
• Investment in walking and cycling infrastructure contributes to several national and ACT government policy directions, including the Healthy Weight Initiative, the ACT Climate Change Strategy, the ACT Planning Strategy and the Active Travel Framework.The notes prepared by TCCS for the Estimates 2021, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021. Source: FOI 21-023 2021 Estimates, TCCS, ACT Government.
• Community path upkeep is important to ensure that walking around our suburbs is both easy and safe. Community paths consist of footpaths, off-road cycle and pedestrian mall pavements, and are located across the urban areas of Canberra. …
• Roads ACT has a systematic inspection and repair program for the community path network within the ACT. High volume pedestrian zones are prioritised for planned inspections undertaken by in-house inspectors, such as the city centre, town centres and community facilities.
• In addition to planned inspections, all requests for service received via Access Canberra and Fix My Street are also inspected by Roads ACT. Once reported, an officer will assess any issues at a site as soon as possible.
• In general, if an issue presents an immediate safety hazard, Roads ACT will arrange for repairs to be promptly made safe, generally within ten business days.
• Replacement of damaged sections of path, when not an immediate safety concern, are packaged into larger value scoped works and contracted to local companies to repair. These are typically completed within six to nine months but can take up to 12-18 months depending on priority and volume of requests.
• A key aspect of Roads ACT’s approach is to recognise that asphalt paths are flexible pavement and there is an opportunity for preventative maintenance. Condition data is collected for asphalt paths, analysed and a planned preventative maintenance program developed, similar to the approach taken to develop the road resurfacing program.
• Planned path inspection frequency:
o Roads ACT has a systematic inspection and repair program for the community path network within the ACT. Suburbs are selected for this program based on the likely condition of their paths (e.g. due to age and trees) and budget.
o Currently 32 suburbs are inspected on a proactive basis under this program. High volume pedestrian areas are prioritised for a higher frequency of planned inspections undertaken by in-house inspectors, such as the city centre, town centres and community facilities.
o Dedicated cycle paths are usually inspected every three years. To date this program has focused on finding and reporting defects, such as trip hazards or potholes. (ed. The ACT Auditor report suggests that this is not done though.)
o City Presentation field staff will clean paths where reported through Access Canberra or Fix My Street.
• The COVID-19, Jobs for Canberrans (JFC) program created four new temporary positions for path inspector roles for TCCS. These temporary inspectors are working closely with the existing Roads ACT inspectors to undertake condition audits and defect assessments of the full path network across Canberra. These temporary functions will assist to capture the asset condition data that will improve Roads ACT’s proactive asset planning such as the ability to forecast path upgrade and renewal funding requirements through the Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP). As of 23 February 2021, the team has inspected 629km of the 3,177km network. The program is expected to be completed by 30 June 2021 when Jobs for Canberrans (JFC) program funding ceases.
• In parallel with the inspection program, Roads ACT is updating asset management plans for the community path network. This will ensure Roads ACT is prepared when the large quantity of data foreseen under the current inspection program is received.The notes prepared by TCCS for the Estimates 2021, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021. Source: FOI 21-023 2021 Estimates, TCCS, ACT Government.
Cycle infrastructure neglect: Transcript of Estimates 2021
Transcript of Evidence from the Estimates 2022, PTCS Committee, 4 March 2021.
Why does the TCCS not buy equipment?
The obvious question here is why does the TCCS not buy equipment that would work on a narrower bike path? It would be sensible to find out how high cycling countries in Europe have automated it. If the paths were widened to 3.5 m, a normal road machine would fit on the paths, as the standard road lane is 3.5 m wide. Greenfield development require a minimum of 3.5 m cycle paths according to the ACT Standard (MIS05).
For a good example, look to Tumbarumba Rail Trail. This asphalt cycleway was built with standard road construction equipment to a width of 3.5 metre. Obviously, cars are not permitted to drive on it – bikes only. The point is clear, we have problems in the ACT, because we make the paths TOO narrow.
… Minister Steel, TCCS has a target of 90 per cent of territory roads being maintained in good condition, but we do not have a target for bike paths and footpaths. Why is that?
… In the reporting period for the annual report we exceed our target in terms of road resurfacing, which is fantastic—the percentage of roads that are in good condition being, I think, 91 per cent during the reporting period. We are placing a greater focus now on the maintenance of footpaths and shared paths throughout Canberra.Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 84
I will hand over to officials to talk through some of the work that we have been doing to better audit our footpaths around Canberra and shared paths. … The work that will come from those audits will inform priority repairs based on a range of different factors. …
… can we have an indicator for footpath and cyclepath maintenance in future reports, and when might we get that?
… With regard to the comment Minister Steel made, compared to previous years, we have increased our spend on path maintenance, both cyclist paths—asphalt paths—and concrete paths.
We have also undertaken extensive condition audits of all shared paths—cyclepaths and footpaths—in the ACT region. To date, we have audited around 700 kilometres of the 3,000-kilometre network.
The purpose of that condition audit is to look at how we can program preventative maintenance rather than reactive maintenance. We have done a lot of work in the past year in that space. …
We have an indicator for roads maintenance. We have set a target. I do not know what the appropriate target would be for cyclepaths and footpaths, but it strikes me as a really good idea to also have a target for maintenance of cyclepaths and footpaths. Can we do that?
The current accountability indicator that we have for the road pavement in good condition relates to surface, bump counts et cetera. That is very difficult to manage for shared paths and even harder to audit for concrete. We are certainly looking at ways in which we can better indicate our performance with regard to maintenance, preventative and reactive. …
Why is it harder for an asphalt cyclepath than for an asphalt road?
Ms Fraser: When we do the road condition audits, we have a vehicle with a machine that undertakes road bump counts.
You do not have the equipment. Okay.
Doing that on a small, shared path is much more difficult. It relies on manual inspections. It is a lot more resource heavy compared to how we can audit the road pavement surface.Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 85
Why not regular audits?
Transport Minister Steel states, “I think audits of our shared path network and footpath network have been done (audited) in the past,” which is a bit worrying because a lack of audits for cycling infrastructure has been discussed for years. If there were any audits, they were never made public. Other audits, such as traffic calming are done on an annual basis (note by Ms Fraser).
The Act Auditor–General’s Report, 9 June 2017, reported the following.
5.16 The Roads ACT Asset Management Operational Plan for Community Paths in the ACT (2010) has a detailed description of service levels for community paths with policies and issues relating to the maintenance of community paths. However, the most recent version of this plan is dated 2010. Under the plan’s review timeframes, it should have been reviewed three times since 2010. Refer to Recommendation Six (a) for a recommendation in relation to this matter.Dr Maxine Cooper, Maintenance Of Selected Road Infrastructure Assets Report No. 5 / 2017, Act Auditor–General’s Report, 9 June 2017. 83.
… it would be great if you guys could come up with a useful accountability indicator. …
Can I add one thing about the accountability indicator? I just want to note that in the next year or so, with the government, we will be bringing in the wellbeing framework and doing a comprehensive review of our accountability and strategic indicators. We are in the process of doing a new strategic plan for the directorate. It is around finding things we can work on with the Audit Office in terms of how we can measure these sorts of things. We will certainly take your feedback into account as we go through that review process over the next 12 months or so. …
I get a sense that the discussion on this extensive audit of shared paths and bike paths is not one in a series of extensive audits, that it has been a long time since we have assessed this information. Is that correct or not?
I think audits of our shared path network and footpath network have been done in the past. …
We have a proactive maintenance program. We have inspectors who are regularly inspecting our path and cycle network through a proactive program. We also have a reactive program. If we get specific requests or concerns, we respond to those on a reactive basis.
As a cyclist, I have noticed a ramping up of maintenance on some of those cyclepaths, particularly down in Tuggeranong. …
It is really important that we keep on top of the maintenance. We want to encourage people to get out and cycle and walk more in our community, and we have seen a huge number of people doing that during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding I have announced today, allocating federal funding from the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, is $2.6 million in additional funding for repairs and maintenance of our footpath and shared path network. That is in addition to our existing allocation for this type of work, and it will go a long way. Of course, at the election, Labor made a commitment to invest more funding to this as well on an annual basis, noting it is a priority.Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 86.
Measuring cycling safety
Our data collection in the ACT is skewed towards motor vehicles. Injuries are recorded at our workplaces, in schools, and on the roads, but not in public spaces. Should a cyclists or pedestrian slip and fall, that incident – with or without injury – will not be record.
The hospital emergency departments collect statistics for health purposes. Injuries at emergency departments are reported including the cause and other information about patients. Fatalities are, not surprisingly, reported too (with the cause).
Any registered vehicle can drive on our road system. To be registered they must be road worthy and insured. Single vehicle or multivehicle collisions will be recorded, either by the insurance company (as part of the claim) or the police. Accident statistics can be obtained from the insurance companies or the ACT Government.
There is usually no recorded of incidents involving vulnerable road users. The exception being where a motor vehicle collides with a vulnerable road user on a road. If the pedestrian or cyclists is taken to hospital or dies, the incident will be recorded. Admissions at the hospital are recorded. Should the police attend the scene they prepare a written recorded too. Otherwise, our system does not collect data on pedestrian or cyclist incidents and injuries.
The legal system can note personal damage claims when pedestrians or cyclists collide, but usually only in the case of significant injury.
Pedestrians or cyclists will tell you the most common incident is falls, minor injuries and near misses. These fall below the reporting threshold.
Reporting such accidents is difficult as the police do not really want to know about them. They feel helpless to do anything about it. They are, however, obliged to collect the data and there is a process in place. The process is unwieldy, complicated and requires considerable effort from the injured person, with little gain – except the statistics.
Without these statistics, however, TCCS has nothing to work with. TCCS has a risk model for accessing the priority of path repairs (warrant) system. For a system driven by accident and injury statistics, the logical consequences of the lack of statistics for paths is that the paths are largely invisible and therefore seen as low risk. As a result, a path fault is unlikely to be put on a priority list for repaired.
Path faults can be reported through Fix My Street and faults will be prioritised for inspection should they be a safety hazard. Faults can be reported before accidents occur. Nobody needs to get injured. However, it can take a long time before faults are repaired with the average being 52.2 days. Faults on bike paths can take years to be repaired.
The need for traffic calming is assessed through the collation of data for traffic incidents and fatal collisions. This may work with registered motor vehicles on roads. It does not help with bicycle and pedestrian incidents. Traffic calming measures – Local Area Traffic Management (LATM) process – depend on these statistics to complete the assessment (Austroads Standard). The lack of data from the cyclist and pedestrian view point (lens) means cyclists and pedestrians are poorly served by LATM.
Shelly Fraser’s statement is telling: “We do not keep a register per se of accidents that relate to cyclist hazards. We rely on reporting through Access Canberra on serious or fatal incidents on the road network.”
The lack of data around cycle accidents that do not result in death or hospitalisation, or involve a collision with a motor vehicle, leaves considerable uncertainty about the costs of such accidents. Assessing traffic calming through the collation of data, presumes there sufficient quantity and quality of data to make a recommendation. Clearly, when the data is lacking, this approach will not bear fruit. In modelling, they say “garbage in, garbage out”. As good as the model may be, the predictions will never be better than the data you put into it. We need more and better data for cycling incidents.
You mentioned proactive and reactive maintenance. I am aware of a few cases where there have been serious accidents requiring ambulance attendance and there has then been reactive maintenance where those raised paths or whatever have been fixed. Do you keep statistics on the number of injuries relating to the lack of bike path maintenance? Do you have a goal for how quickly you would repair paths that have contributed to a serious accident?
We do not keep a register per se of accidents that relate to cyclist hazards. We rely on reporting through Access Canberra on serious or fatal incidents on the road network …
In our asset management system, we can trace where we have had requests come in and we can trace where we have fixed that defect or responded, or where it is up to in a works program or works order. We can certainly trace all that. Did I miss any part of your question?
The part about how long it might take you to fix the defects that may have contributed?
Ms Fraser: We endeavour to fix immediate safety hazards within 10 business days. Ideally, we endeavour to fix them within 48 hours. However, due to competing priorities or the volume of requests, our target is for up to 10 business days. We are meeting that quota. Other repairs that are not immediate—so there is not a make safe such as grinding or cold mix—are packaged up into larger portions of work and delivered based on location, for efficiencies.Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS Committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 86