21 March 2023

Curtin residents rally to save beloved bike path from bulldozers

| James Coleman
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writing in chalk on Curtin bike path

Protest to save Curtin bike path. Photo: Colette Robinson.

Residents have chalked up a bike path that runs along a stormwater channel in Curtin with messages such as “Save this path” and “Say no to Curtin edge street” in an effort to save it from government bulldozers.

The campaign, dubbed ‘Sledge the Edge’, is headed up by local resident Sarah Illy, who is blunt in her appraisal of the ACT Government’s proposal for the path.

“It’s shit.”

The path forms one of only two off-road, major active travel arteries between Woden and the city and was identified in the government’s recent Draft Woden District Strategy for possible redevelopment.

This strategy largely looks at areas to be impacted by the roll-out of light rail from Commonwealth Park to the Woden town centre in years to come.

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Page 170 of the draft strategy outlines plans to replace the shared path along Yarralumla Creek with a “high-amenity urban edge with safe connections to light rail and local area facilities”. In other words, a new street, with townhouses no more than three storeys high also permitted.

The plan was open to community consultation between 1 November 2022 and 3 March 2023, along with draft strategies for the ACT’s other districts.

Sarah says she stumbled upon it by “complete happenstance” after someone else posted about it on social media.

“So I looked further into it and it’s crazy. Just because the government hasn’t got any comments back doesn’t mean residents are for it. People just aren’t aware – that was my biggest concern.”

Sure enough, after she and her daughter chalked up the path, stuck up posters and posted to social media in an effort to open up the debate, she says “100 per cent of residents are against it”.

person in a wheelchair on the Curtin bike path

The Curtin bike path is a well-used thoroughfare. Photo: Sarah Illy.

She says community anger at the proposal is based on the fact it’s a major thoroughfare for many.

“Trying to conceal this highly unpopular edge street within a broader district reform consultation has angered Curtin locals, as well as those who rely on the Yarralumla Creek cycle path for safe, off-road active transport to work, school or other activities,” she says.

“If the government put a traffic counter on this stretch, they’d find people on it the whole time – school kids, cyclists, mothers with prams, walkers, disabled people in wheelchairs and electric scooters. It’s a much loved, much-used path.”

The new edge street will likely include space for a cycle lane, but Sarah says this isn’t like for like.

“My husband used to work in mining and they wouldn’t let cars drive alongside the dump trucks. It’s the same with bikes and cars. It’s not safe, especially if they’re kids on their way to school.”

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Then there is the fact the Yarralumla Creek stormwater channel is mere metres away, responsible for what’s considered the worst drowning incident in Canberra history.

Seven young people were killed, 15 injured and about 60 cars were washed away on Australia Day 1971 when stormwaters in the channel rose half a metre and crashed over the Woden intersection onto Melrose Drive. The floodwaters were up to 200 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep over the intersection, rushing at a speed of about 35 km/h.

With a flood risk of once-in-a-100-years, that was thought to be it for a long while. But in the past 10 years alone, the creek has flooded four times – in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2014 – all with no more than six hours’ warning between the onset of rainfall and the arrival of the peak.

Just last October, flooding rains tore out 60 metres of the channel’s concrete lining, leaving mud and rubble. Crews are still repairing the damage today.

“No one understands the edge-street plan,” Sarah says.

“There just isn’t the space, unless they’re going to build over the creek and its floodplain. It just feels like there’s no real thought in it.”

The community is also worried many of the large creek-side trees will have to go too.

“The impact from annihilating hundreds of mature trees and nature habitats of protected species flies in the face of their protecting ‘blue-green corridors’ mantra,” she says.

According to the draft distract strategy, the government says any losses will be assuaged by “pocket parks” located along the new street.

“Any projected loss of tree canopy cover due to redevelopment is to be offset within the local blue-green network and pocket parks.”

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But the community remains firmly unsold.

“We’re not antidevelopment or unsympathetic, but this is a terrible proposal,” Sarah says.

The ‘quick commenting’ section on the YourSay Conversations page has also attracted no shortage of feedback, including a comment with nearly 100 likes which reads, “Gondola access via the Curtin storm water drains to the new diplomatic residence would be a better plan than this”.

Another says the street will “damage the precious green space and mature trees, which take decades to grow”.

“The Curtin edge street will remove my only way to get to my full-time job,” reads another.

A spokesperson for the Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) directorate says the ACT Government is now considering all of the feedback on the draft district strategies before handing down listening reports in the coming months.

“The ACT Government will now review and respond to the feedback that’s been provided as part of this consultation.”

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“…those who rely on the Yarralumla Creek cycle path for safe, off-road active transport to work”
There’s nothing safe about that path for cyclists wanting to get anywhere meaningful like work – it’s plagued by unrestrained (and ineffectively restrained) dogs at any time of day (apparently owning a dog gives ownership rights to any area that most would consider to be ‘public’ areas).

More open space lost, major loss of amenity, all for the government to make money. Whatever happened to having a city council to serve the residents?

The tram is old technology, inflexible, unable to cope with hills. And hugely expensive.

And fie on those who claim that property values will increase. Losing open space, a shared path, and a view over parkland in favour of a row of grey concrete dogboxes peering into your back yard, no that’s not an improvement in any way.

Labor and the Greens again doing everything they can to make sure Woden and inner south swings Liberal next year.

“beloved bike path” It’s a Mills and Boon love affair.

Have a look at this video: https://youtu.be/_urzSCY0qmk. Water-front residences 😉

I am not sure what point you are trying to make Sarah Illy.
The Yarralumla waterway extends from Tuggeranong to Molonglo River. There is high density living and the commercial districts of Philip and Woden along the corridor.

The chance of flooding in Canberra is minimal. That is because we have storm water drains all over Canberra. These drains continue to be built in Canberra’s new developments to mitigate the risk of flooding.

My point is that perhaps it’s not the best idea to be building an edge street right next to a creek…

Jenny Graves4:07 pm 22 Mar 23

I was aware of this and I sent in quite a long submission on a number of problems with the new Territory Plan as it affects the Curtin area, where I live. It’s a shame that more people didn’t do the same, although I’m quite sure that the Territory government will do what it usually does with submissions that they disagree with and just file them away. They only want to say that they’ve consulted but they never take much notice of the consultation responses. However, I did feel that at least I’d done my bit to save my neck of the woods.

I agree with the general principle of increasing density along main transport corridors, BUT the horse paddocks and the new diplomatic precinct will already be significantly reducing open space in the area.

The eastern edge of Curtin is already well “defined”. Allowing some increased density within the existing urban fabric, eg, more terrace/townhouses, along with a footbridge or three across the creek to the tramline might be a more tenable approach?

Am I missing something here? The article says the path is being moved to another location. This is to make way for development and light rail, providing a safer connection! I just can’t see the problem! Or is this just another case of nimbyism and people with too little to do?

The tram will be on the other side of the creek. It’s a land grab by developers.

It’s called noabyism when a civic minded person devotes time and energy to protecting our garden city.

I think you’ve missed how ‘beloved’ the path is.

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