Have you noticed how angry people have become about our path network lately? People walking are frightened and angry about the speed and behaviour of people on bikes and scooters. Riders are angry about the behaviour of people who are walking and not paying attention, or not looking out for their animals. And they all have a point. We do all need to adapt our behaviour to ensure that everyone can safely use our paths.
But this is not just an issue of managing behaviour. It is also one of design.
Our path network meets many needs: paths are commuting corridors, exercise facilities and dog-walking routes. They support recreational strolls (and rolls), and they delight us with sights and views to admire. Our paths are also used by people of varying ages and abilities, including the very young, the very old, people who are fit and active, people with disabilities, and people who are frail. While this mix of demographics and uses might always be expected to create some level of conflict, the tensions are exacerbated when our paths become overcrowded.
Path congestion has been particularly amplified on Canberra's Principle Community Routes and popular lakeside routes during the COVID pandemic, but it is a problem that has been building for many years.
Key parts of our path network were built through the 1980s and '90s, when our population was much smaller than it is today. With population growth, many parts of our network are no longer fit for purpose.
We all recognise that our arterial roads are critical to our prosperity, and we expect these roads to be monitored to support good traffic flow. As our population grows, we all expect our road systems to also expand. When new suburbs are built, we expect to see roads widened or duplicated to cope with volumes of traffic. Our path network needs the same treatment.
Just like roads, our paths need to be maintained, widened, and duplicated to accommodate increased usage. We don't just have a problem with care and common courtesy, we have an infrastructure problem that is only getting worse.
We need our city planners and government to recognise that as Canberra's population grows, so should our path corridors.
In the short term, the ACT government should expand monitoring on Canberra's principle community routes and popular lakeside routes so we have solid data about path usage and congestion. It is important that the monitoring counts all forms of path use, including wheeled, foot, and ideally also domestic animal usage to develop a complete picture of use over time.
Many paths are now just too narrow. Widening our asphalt paths will provide a permanent solution for some of our busiest routes. Wider paths allow faster and slower traffic to comfortably coexist in the same lane. The four-meter path along Sullivan's Creek in the city is a good example of the mobility improvement that a wider path provides.
In the longer term, the separation of pedestrians and slower moving path users from bikes is the safest and most effective way to address path congestion. Pedal Power is pleased to see that the ACT government is now developing separated paths around Belconnen and Woden town centres. This will help, but we also need separation between our town centres, where a path is intended to act as a higher-speed commuter corridor, and where there are higher volumes of pedestrians and slower path users. Our lakeside paths would be key examples.
Improving shared path etiquette is one part of the solution that Pedal Power fully supports. We have been running an education campaign via social media to remind all path users that there are steps we can all take to share paths safely. But that is only half the picture. The other half is to develop our paths to accommodate our ever-growing population. Ultimately congestion is a failure of design.
- Ian Ross is the chief executive of Pedal Power ACT.