The next suite of path upgrades has been announced as part of the Age Friendly Suburbs program, focusing on Chifley, Reid, Scullin and O’Connor.
But critics say while it’s great those pathways are getting some love, the ACT Government needs to change its approach to improving walkways across Canberra.
Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said construction was set to begin on 25 identified projects across the four suburbs, a combination of new and upgraded paths, pedestrian refuges, kerb ramps and public transport infrastructure.
“A better maintained and connected path network is at the heart of our active travel plan and makes sure it’s easy and safe to walk around our city,” he said.
“Many older suburbs weren’t originally built with footpaths on heavily used streets or walking infrastructure that meets modern accessibility standards. This age friendly suburbs program is about making our streets more accessible for everyone.”
An additional $5 million over two years has been allocated in the 2023-24 budget for path maintenance, which Mr Steel said represented a more than 40 per cent increase in investment to maintain Canberra’s 3000-kilometre path network.
Living Streets Canberra spokesperson Gillian King welcomed the program and the extra money, but expressed her frustration about the ACT Government’s approach.
She questioned why the program needed to focus on specific suburbs and not the city as a whole.
“What we need is a shift away from small, itty-bitty and often expensive piecemeal approaches,” Ms King said.
“What we need are urgent and universal upgrades of our [path] infrastructure.”
She argued there were plenty of Canberra suburbs which didn’t have fit-for-purpose pathways, or pathways at all, and questioned if the money set aside on top of this program was really enough to make a difference.
“The way the ACT has approached people walking and cycling in recent decades would not be tolerated by people who are driving,” Ms King said.
“People need to have a choice and need to be able to get around without a car, either because they want to or because they’re unable to.
“[The ACT said] it wants to be Australia’s most walkable city … but is that still the case?”
The ability to keep track of promised pathway projects has also been criticised.
Ms King said just because something had been promised in a budget didn’t mean it would be delivered – on time or at all.
“There’s a long history of action not matching budget allocations, we need clear plans for implementation,” she said.
A work tender has been put out to complete the Age Friendly Suburbs’ path upgrades, with construction expected to start later this year. A second package of works for the same suburbs is currently being finalised, pending additional environmental and heritage approvals.
The program launched in the 2015/16 financial year, and has focused on Weston and Ainslie, Monash and Kaleen, Page and Hughes, and Stirling, Narrabundah, Aranda, Campbell, Holt and Isabella Plains.
Key projects in this round include a 160-metre long concrete path, including a new kerb ramp, to connect Riley Place in Chifley with the main path network running from Gungahlin Drive to the Tuggeranong Parkway.
A 41-metre long path will also be built through open space next to the MacFarland Crescent/Eggleston Crescent intersection, linking up to an existing community route.
O’Connor will receive a 135-metre long pathway and new kerb ramps from the end of Bluebell Lane to the Moorhouse Street/Pedder Street intersection next to the O’Connor Oval, as well as a 405-metre long path to replace the existing and damaged path along the south side of the parklands from Miller Street to Busby Street.
Minor repairs will be made to the section of path through the amphitheatre section, with lighting improvements also possible.
Two new paths will be built in Scullin – a 100-metre long walkway connecting the existing footpath near the Southern Cross Drive underpass to the existing pedestrian crossing at the Ross Smith Crescent intersection, and an 80-metre long path connecting the Frewin Place carpark to the existing path along Belconnen Way.
In Reid, three new paths will be built around Currong Street.
There will be a 141-metre long path through Dirrawan Gardens, along with four new kerb ramps, and a 11-metre long path through Geerilong Gardens with two new kerb ramps and a new bench seat.
A 123-metre path through the southern side of Geerilong Gardens northwards to Currong Street will include relocating a bench closer to the new path and existing playground.