Pedal Power Launches Four-Point Plan for Active Travel in Canberra
Pedal Power has launched a four-point plan for Active Travel in Canberra. The plan, detailed in our 2023-24 budget submission, is designed to drive investment in cycling and active travel infrastructure, rebuilding Canberra’s status as Australia’s cycling capital.
More people cycle in Canberra than in any other state or territory in Australia, and this is no accident. The ACT has historically boasted some of Australia’s best cycling infrastructure – infrastructure that is safe, protected, attractive, pleasant to use, and offers genuine convenience to riders. However, despite this, Canberra risks losing its status as Canberra’s cycling capital.
More than ever, the car remains ‘king’ in Canberra. While the highest in the country, trips by bike still only represent less than 2.7% of the 1.3 million trips that Canberrans make every day. Just 35,000 trips are made daily by bike. For the sake of our health, wellbeing, and environment, we must support more Canberrans to switch from private car to active travel.
The ACT Government has recently released its Draft Active Travel Plan with a vision of getting more Canberrans to walk and cycle more frequently. Pedal Power commends the lofty goals of this report, as we commended Transport Minister Chris Steel’s March 2022 delivery of an ACT Government Active Travel Statement in the Legislative Assembly. This policy framework promises to deliver projects that will fundamentally transform Canberra’s active travel environment.
However, while the Draft Active Travel Plan is a good broad document, it has no timelines or commitment to increased funding to make it happen. It remains unclear when key projects and policy reforms will be delivered. If we do not implement the Active Travel Plan, and soon, Canberra will become a more car-centric environment, spread out, and hostile to active travel alternatives.
Globally, cities such as Wellington, Paris, Amsterdam, London, and New York are investing heavily in cycling infrastructure. The construction of systems of dedicated separated cycle lanes are seeing cycling participation skyrocket. Australian capital cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, are starting to do the same, risking them overtaking Canberra in the cycling stakes.
Our four-point plan will get Canberra back on track. It will drive investment in active travel to support the development of safe and convenient active travel routes, getting more people on their bikes, scooters, and walking to their destinations.
Our four-point plan is:
1. Invest to Design, Build, Upgrade and Maintain our Cycling Network
Many Canberrans are likely to be interested in taking up cycling regularly, but do not feel our network is safe or convenient enough to do so. Research shows that a large segment of Australian populations are ‘interested but concerned’ about cycling – i.e. they’d like to take up cycling, but face barriers to doing so. The main barrier these people face is a perceived lack of safety. This has already been recognised by the ACT Government in the Draft Active Travel Plan, who have said that “the most commonly cited reason for not cycling is safety, particularly interacting with busy and fastmoving motor vehicle traffic.”
It is often women and members of minority groups who do not feel safe riding. Census data from the ACT shows that male cyclists outnumber females by about two to one. Anecdotal evidence from Pedal Power also indicates that recent refugees, migrants, and, increasingly, children, often do not feel comfortable riding on our streets.
While the ACT Government has invested in some nation-leading cycling infrastructure projects in recent years, multiple gaps remain in existing infrastructure. This includes gaps in our cycle network, poor maintenance on many paths, a lack of lighting, segregated road crossings and secure bike parking, and an over-reliance on on-road cycle lanes, which makes many people on bikes uncomfortable.
The Draft Active Travel Plan presents a starting point for addressing these gaps through the development of a proposed cycling network for Canberra. As the top priority we recommend the Government design, build, and upgrade this network within the next five years, and build upon this network through invited feedback from the community and relevant active travel organisations1 to identify additional missing links. It is feasible and a valid social investment to complete construction of this network within the next five years – i.e. to be completed by the end of the next election cycle in 2028.
2. Create pedestrian and cycle-friendly neighbourhoods.
While separated cycling infrastructure is core to increasing cycling participation, we do not expect it to be built on every road in the city. To address this, cities around the world have been experimenting with low-traffic neighbourhoods, communities designed to prioritise active travel.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) aim to reduce rat running with traffic calming infrastructure that encourages people to use their footpaths and quieter local streets. LTNs work successfully in England by slowing streets to 30km/h, using physical barriers like planter boxes and filtering measures to prioritise people walking and riding bikes, in turn increasing safety and accessibility on our suburban streets. Building infrastructure to reduce motorised traffic speeds will improve safety and encourage more people to cycle. There is clear evidence that to reduce serious injury risk, speed limits in suburban streets (i.e. those that are currently 40-50km/hr) should be lowered to 30kph. The intent of LTNs is to encourage biking and walking for shorter trips and make local streets more accessible to the community, in comparison to drivers.
We call on the Government to trial LTNs in Canberra, as well as to reinvigorate their ‘active streets’ program, reduce speed limits to 30km/h on suburban roads and in town centres (those that are currently 40-50km/hr), to upgrade street lighting, and introduce an annual car free day to promote active travel every year in the city.
3. Invest in recreational cycling, rebuilding Canberra’s image as ‘Australia’s Cycling Capital’
Cycling is not just a means of transport but is also used for recreation by thousands of Canberrans. Cycling tourism also has the potential to bring in millions of dollars to the ACT economy through attracting thousands of tourists every year.
Canberra has some of Australia’s best recreational cycling tracks. The two best known places for Canberra’s cycle recreation are Stromlo Forest Park (SFP) for off-road riding and the paths around Lake Burley Griffin and our other human-made lakes for simply going on a social scenic ride. However, we risk this infrastructure becoming outdated if investment in upkeep and maintenance does not continue.
We recommend a systemic assessment of all public off-road cycling venues across the ACT to maintain the Territory’s reputation as Australia’s Cycling Capital. The ACT Government should invest in recreation tracks and campaigns to encourage Canberrans to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of cycling and to develop Canberra’s reputation as a cycle tourism destination.
4. Build a highly connected, diverse, medium density, city
In addition to cycling-specific infrastructure, Pedal Power calls on the ACT Government to develop more walkable and cyclable neighbourhoods, through increasing density and improving public transport connections. For its population, Canberra is one of the most spread-out cities in the world with a car-centric urban environment. Outer-suburban residents are largely reliant on cars for all their transport. Census data show that fewer than 3 in 100 people cycle to work in the ACT. This ranges from 11 in 100 in inner North Canberra (with a more walkable neighbourhood), down to zero in 100 in the outer areas of Gungahlin and Tuggeranong. Outer suburbs can be made more walkable with integrated public transport and secure bike parking nearby.
Around the world local Governments are adopting the concept of becoming ’15-minute cities’ – an urban planning concept where people can access the basic things they need – shops, schools, parks, leisure options, health care etc. – all within a 15-minute radius by foot or bike. The 15-minute city is a way to enhance everyone’s freedom, allowing us all to live close to services and to not be forced to rely on a car to get the things we need.
Public transport is also an essential element of an integrated transport system and is key to achieving a more sustainable and healthy future. Public transport is particularly useful for those trips that are not achievable in 15 minutes by foot or bike. Many cyclists already use public transport, whether they park their bike at a tram or bus stop, or they put it on to a bus or light rail vehicle. Increasing public transport access is therefore integral to building a sustainable and accessible integrated transport system. It is essential to ensure all public transport stops are accessible via active travel, that major public transport locations have secure bike parking, and that all mass public transport vehicles carry bicycles.
You can see our full submission with all our recommendations here.