Whitlam Local Centre and Traffic calming in the ACT: children centric street design

In late June 2022,canberra.bike released the report Traffic calming: children centric street design (see attached). At its heart is that child friendly streets do not happen by accident but rather because we design them that way. We give priority to children rather than people who wish to drive. That will make Whitlam shops and school a people friendly place.

Education is important – and not just via books and school learning, but also by growth of independence. International studies show an increased happiness in children that can move freely around their suburb. As parents, we will only permit this if we know they are safe. Traffic represents a threat to children and is a common cause of injury and death. Primary school children cannot judge the speed or distance of motor vehicles and cannot cross roads alone, without the supervision of an adult, unless the environment is traffic calmed and road speeds are very low.

The typical road in Canberra is far too wide and car speeds are far too high to consider the road safe for children. We, as parents, know it and we drive our children to school instead – for some until they are old enough to have their own driver’s licence – rather than let them walk, ride, or take public transport to school. Children are less active than they used to be with health issues, including obesity, at record levels.

The simplest exercise and greatest freedom we can provide to our children in primary school age is to walk to their local school. The ACT has many local schools. Most suburbs have one. The ACT should be ideal for walking to school. We know from ACT travel studies, however, that most children are driven to school.

Whitlam is a new suburb in the Molonglo Valley. Recently, the Suburban Land Agency hosted Whitlam Local Centre and School consultation. Since then, the Whitlam Local Centre – Design and Place Framework (SLA, June 2022) has been released. Alice Moyle Way lies between the Whitlam Local Centre and Whitlam Primary School. Both are yet to be built. The design of the street was not discussed at any length during the consultation; however, it was clearly stated that the street had the essential function of integrating both school and shops to make the precinct a child friendly place. The street as currently designed fails to do this as it is not adequately traffic calmed.

The old, standard designs from TCCS do not work. In Whitlam, every intersection has the same design whether it lies close to the shops and school or not. The concept of Movement and Place dictates that the character of the streets should be adapted depending on the pedestrian usage. The closer the street lies to the shops and the school, the higher pedestrian movement can be expected to be – particularly of vulnerable road users such as children.

Typically, in Canberra, our current approach is to build standard car centric streets. Afterwards, the ACT Legislative Assembly is inundated with petitions for traffic calming around schools, for which TCCS seems to have neither the time nor money to treat it seriously. As a direct result of poor planning, we cement in a strong car culture where we believe children are only safe on the back seat. This is then normalised.

The design of Alice Moyle Way needs to go back to the drawing board. We need a contemporary design which place the needs of children first and foremost. Crossing Alice Moyle Way should be child’s play. Only then, can we expect parents to give their children the chance to walk to school.

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