By Linda Laker
Our volunteer advocacy teams work tirelessly on your behalf to improve cycling in Canberra. The teams are established by ACT electorate, ensuring a focus on the most important local cycle pathway improvements that matter to you.
So who are these Pedal Power members who drive our advocacy efforts? In this second article in our series with the inside story about our advocates, this week Pedal Power caught up with Rob Dalitz who leads the Ginninderra advocacy team.
Rob had just returned from 10 days of cycling rail trails in Victoria. (We do let our volunteers have some time off 😊). Of the trails he did – Wodonga to Tallangatta, Tallarook to Mansfield and Murray to the Mountains, it was the fully-tarred Murray to the Mountains that he found the best. He saw first-hand how rail trails have brought so much into regional communities, not just in terms of economic benefits with new small businesses supporting cycling tourism, but with more locals cycling in towns like Mansfield. Having previously enjoyed cycle touring in Europe and for example, the massive number of people using trails along river valleys in Germany, he is firmly of the view that where you build the infrastructure, cyclists will come.
Rob has one bike – a Surly touring bike. He sometimes dreams of a mountain bike but space is the issue. Rob says his Surly is the most comfortable one he’s ever had – designed to carry a heavy load in comfort, a long distance. With Schwalbe tyres, he’s found it very comfortable and good on dirt, like out in in his local haunt of Gungahlin at Mulligan’s Flat.
Rob’s been involved in Pedal Power’s advocacy efforts for around a decade. Although he lives in Gungahlin, we’re lucky to have him leading the Ginninderra team. This came about after years of involvement in the development of the Belconnen Bikeway. He’d first become involved in that project due to his direct interest as a cycling commuter to his job at the University of Canberra.
As Rob describes it, advocacy needs time, effort and persistence. Unfortunately, some can see it as low return for effort. But as he says, the returns can be huge. And we are seeing the benefits of that with more substantial projects like William Hovell Drive.
‘Advocacy needs time, effort and persistence’
The reality is that there are often unbelievably long lead times. It starts with an idea; some work has to be done to develop that idea; some money gets allocated to do scoping; then probably it needs more money to do planning and detailed work for development approval; then it needs to be funded and finally it gets built. Each of those steps might take a year or more – so often the new or improved bike path you ride along could have been five years, or more, in the making. He cites the example of the Garden City Cycle Route as an example that has been rolling around for longer than he’s been an advocate.
However, Rob is optimistic about increased and improved infrastructure for Canberrans. In his early advocacy days, Rob reflects it was hard to get any traction. There was a sense that the ACT Government was living off what had been funded prior to self-government and that it was ‘all done’. Fortunately, there was a growing realisation of the need to include cycle paths – in new suburbs, as road works were undertaken etc. A sticking point continues to be the lack of consistency between agencies and an unfortunate tendency for the ACT planning system approving developments that override the rules. On the positive side, there are signs of a more strategic approach now that there is more – not enough, but more – funding.
Rob is realistic about the government needing to fund projects across all regions, which regrettably often results in funding ‘bit by bit’. He laughingly points out that he could use the entire cycling budget for the rest of the decade – 40 years of funding in one year – to just connect up and complete the paths in the Belconnen region.
In Rob’s view, the biggest change needed is acceptance by the ACT Government of cycling (and other active travel such as e-scooters) as a separate mode with its own infrastructure and budget needs; rather than the current approach which is to address cycling as an “add-on” to roads. Rob cites the experience overseas where, for example, hire companies have seen the opportunity in e-scooters and funded infrastructure because it’s good for business. That sort of increase in path users here would need a sea change in Government thinking.
The biggest change needed is government acceptance of cycling as a separate mode, with its own infrastructure and budget needs… not addressing cycling as an ‘add-on’ to roads
So the obvious question for Rob is, ‘what does it take to successfully advocate? ‘
Rob describes his advocacy approach as ‘incrementalist’ … the science of muddling through … for the long term. His view is that if you know roughly where you’re heading and you keep muddling through, often you’ll get there. The other approach – of having a ‘grand plan’ – may not succeed as if there is one piece of that grand plan that gets cancelled or changed or postponed, the whole plan may fall over.
Rob’s personal view is that advocates continue to press the case politely, but insistently. He’s increasingly seeing the bureaucracy on our side, and politicians on our side … but the big one, the budget, is not there yet! He’s heartened that government now will listen. It doesn’t mean that some projects seem to be “half-baked”. He cites the Belconnen Bikeway – it might still take another two to three years to complete with connection along Hayden Drive, but it is getting connected.
He’s increasingly seeing the bureaucracy on our side, and politicians on our side … but the big one, the budget, is not there yet!
For his Ginninderra team, this incrementalist approach means continuing to pursue solutions to Benjamin Way – using the opportunity of government’s long term plans improving liveability and accessibility outside Westfield from the lake to College Street to fix that gap. In the longer term, he has a passion for linking up all the suburbs in the west of Belconnen – some 30,000 people – to be linked to the Belconnen Bikeway. This needs a path of around five or six kilometres to feed all those people into Belconnen. As he puts it, “it would be like a cycling highway”.
One of Pedal Power’s key strengths is its advocacy. And this is member-driven. If you’d like to become involved and see improvements for cycling in Canberra, have a look at suggestions for advocating for your issue on our website.