Murrumbidgee Advocacy

Murrumbidgee Advocacy

By Linda Laker

“We’ve made the place so good that people want to come and live here.”

This week – for the third in our series with the inside story about our advocates – Pedal Power caught up with Mark Boast who leads the Murrumbidgee Advocacy Team.

Mark’s Trek Domane regularly takes him riding around 200kms a week including multiple times around Lake Burley Griffith, a ride of which he never tires. His other bike is a Giant Defy Advanced 2. He finds both bikes supremely comfortable as road/endurance bikes. Like many Pedal Power members, he’s always ridden a bike. As a ‘Defence Kid’ he spent much of his childhood in Canberra in multiple stints – attending variously North Ainslie Primary, South Curtin, and then Deakin High. He’s been permanently back in Canberra for more than twenty years after a long period in the United Kingdom. Cycling is a big part of his life for fitness and longevity and he can’t think of a better place than Canberra to participate in cycling. This keeps Mark and his wife here, even though Brisbane – as home of his children and grandchildren – exerts a strong attraction.

Mark sees a positive growth story for Canberra with its strong academic, research and skills base and the opportunities that might arise from technology and small scale manufacturing. And alongside that, he’s making a great contribution through Pedal Power advocacy as Canberra grows up, by being bolder and more inclusive. His driving mantra to increase cycling participation is that safety and efficiency is the main game.

Mark is strongly of the view that advocacy is not just fixing paths; it is planning for the future. Imagine a Canberra of the future with a population of one hundred thousand people more than today. This is not a pipe dream – various forecasts have Canberra’s population at 540,000 by 2035, only a little more than a dozen years away.

Mark has a background in military aviation and has a very strong interest in risk and safety. His career has also given him a strong interest in the behavioural side – the human factors and safety systems – not just infrastructure. He sees safety issues both for individuals and systems, applying just as much to those who cycle as to others (drivers, pedestrians, dog-walkers) as well as the insurance system. He flags issues such as 30kph speed limits on some streets – best practice overseas – but recognises that changing habits is very hard!

Mark’s Murrumbidgee Advocacy Team covers a very diverse area – geographically and demographically. It stretches all the way from Deakin back out to Woden, Wright, Coombs and Whitlam. The Molonglo River corridor path – still to be complete – has been a major work over quite a few years. Those familiar with this path probably wonder about the ‘diversion’ still in place up past the RSPCA. Mark was able to explain that one: the diversion is to avoid a nasty little dirt track to a very low bridge at present. There will be a new bridge built to replace that – and Pedal Power has pushed for this for a long time – giving a much better ride (particularly for cycling commuters), including from Denman Prospect. The delay? Money. Surprise, surprise. Hopefully, this will be progressed in the near term.

Mark has seen great benefit in establishing the electorate-based advocacy teams. As he says, advocacy for the ACT is “too big an elephant”. Having different people pick up different topics across the whole of the ACT, based on who’s available, resulted in a lack of continuity and local knowledge. Continuity in the electorate-based team is providing a better sense of when to move on from issues.

Mark reflected some really positive bike path improvements, such as in-kerb lighting on new Heysen bike path – which will encourage more cyclists and other users. In his view, it’s critical to try out innovations on major paths. Good and genuine consultation, with enlightened contractors, has made a big difference and helps to correct minor issues during construction.

But Mark would also like to see more of a focus on consumers/customers (i.e. taxpayers) informing how the ACT Government funds and contracts both capital works and maintenance of bike paths. An optimistic goal would be to get the Barr Government to set key performance standards for making Canberra the standard for great urban design and of a world-class going beyond “Canberra has the best cycling network in Australia ” which may not stack up anymore.

Mark is pragmatic and recognises we can’t win everything, no matter how well we advocate. One of the big enemies of successful advocacy in Mark’s view is continuing to prosecute the same arguments multiple times. It means that you can’t move onto new things and “you can never get to No. 11 on your Top 10 list”.

More challenging can be actually changing Pedal Power’s stance on an issue. Take, for example, the issue of on-road cycle lanes on fast roads. For many years, Pedal Power advocated strongly for these – including Pedal Power’s first demonstration ride way back in 1974 to achieve a bike lane on Belconnen Way. But, over time, it’s become clear that around the world, excellent alternatives are being built and used with much greater uptake and safety. (If you don’t already, consider subscribing to Cycling News Roundup compiled by Roger Bacon and emailed every Sunday to get a sense of the progress being made elsewhere, particularly internationally.)

Now here’s a thought: what if ultimately, this leads to making riding bikes on some roads illegal, with signage making clear “no cyclists”?

It’s about making different choices with risk planning and leadership from the top of Government – for example, shifting the view on underpasses which some consider to be dangerous (often arguing the case based on women’s safety) but what is more dangerous: an underpass giving safe crossing, or having to negotiate a four-way black-spot intersection?

Discussion with Mark on safety led to the very interesting area of encouraging more women to ride. Pedal Power surveys have consistently shown that safety is a prime concern for women. Mark sees a major improvement would be to increase off-road direct cycle links. And would benefit all those who cycle, and potentially encourage more cycling for transport.

It would move Canberra on from its circuitous bike paths, which although pleasant to ride on, do not lead directly from A to B, often don’t have good lighting, and are usually multi-user. Mark describes a vision of new direct cycle links as the next generation Canberra bike paths. If people are to be encouraged to leave their cars at home and cycle instead, there need to be efficient and safe road-like alternatives for bicycles (and other wheeled devices such as e-scooters, trikes, and mobility scooters). End of trip facilities and proper parking would be part of such a system. ACT Government cycling policy already supports this, but it needs funding priority, space, education and politically acceptable.

Mark’s team has recently commenced discussions at the request of the Deakin residents’ group try to find a way to create a safe bikeway across Deakin to Manuka. Now that’s a tricky one. Good on our Murrumbidgee Team for tackling such a difficult challenge and having conversations where new ideas can be explored.

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.