Canberra: A Walk to the Office

In Canberra, I recently stayed at the brand-new Aria Hotel, and had occasion to walk next door to the offices of the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] to do an interview.  Like most people in a hurry, I took the most direct way.  The resulting 200m walk was so funny I thought I’d let the photos speak for themselves.








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Canberra is known as the “bush capital” because of its abundant nature reserves, and bushwalking (hiking, North Americans would call it) is a popular sport.  So maybe it’s apt that pedestrians are encouraged to trample fresh landscaping as they go hurriedly about the nation’s business.

13 Responses to Canberra: A Walk to the Office

  1. Dave September 23, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    Haha pedestrianism is generally not encouraged in Canberra! At least it leaves plenty of work for you …and that’s before we start on the buses.
    To be fair you could have followed the footpath around to the ABC and it wouldn’t have taken that much longer, but quicker is quicker! I often wonder why footpaths tend to follow road edges or ‘square’ forms when the obvious path is a diagonal… and there’s a beaten dirt track to prove it (presumably ruining the aesthetic the path planner was aiming for).
    In Canberra there are paths between some cul-de-sacs and the like, but not consistently, and most signalised intersections strongly favour motor vehicles over pedestrians. The urban form, while slowly moving toward densification and TOD-style development, clearly follows car-based planning. This is especially evident in areas like the ‘protected’ Parliamentary Triangle, which while pleasant to view from various vantage points, and looks great from the air, isn’t actually that easy to get around when on foot with buildings generally well-spaced (although at least no bush-bashing required!). The National Capital Authority (responsible for the area) really, really, really also need to read the Reinventing Parking blog, and some Shoup – parking problems in the area are rife, and they can’t even seem to figure out parking controls, let alone pricing based solutions.

  2. Beige September 23, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Ah, as an American, I feel right at home! Years ago I put together a photo set of the walk to a nearby restaurant because it’s just the same sort of special:

  3. GD September 23, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    reminds me of when my family visited Oklahoma City and my parents wanted to leave the hotel for a little evening stroll up to the capitol. They did not get far.

  4. Wai Yip Tung September 23, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    Far away, so close!

  5. jack horner September 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    One of the things that ‘lines on maps’ style planners often don’t get is how specific pedestrian desire lines are.
    They plan some dinky public square that looks good on the computer graphic, full of nice features that muss up pedestrian desire lines. When it’s built, see how quickly people beat a path straight over the top of the garden bed that blocks the best route from A to B.
    People will not walk out of their way if they can possibility avoid it.
    Planning for pedestrians requires a whole different mindset of attention to detail absent from planning for buildings or cars.

  6. Peter Parker September 24, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    Jack – agreed.
    Road engineers are used to 50km/h car speeds rather than 5km/h pedestrian speeds.
    A pedestrian deviation of 500m is equivalent to a 5km kink in the road on the basis of travel time. No competent road engineer would do the latter yet the former happens all the time.
    Mode-neutral planning would be based on travel times rather than distances, and finer grained thinking with larger scale maps would be encouraged.
    Also I suspect that deviations are even more objectionable for pedestrians than drivers as pedestrians can more easily see how a more direct path ‘should’ go (as the distances concerned are smaller.

  7. Hyjal Azeroth September 24, 2010 at 5:29 am #

    It’s an especially egregious example isn’t it? Particularly the path in photos 2,3 and 4. What WERE they thinking?

  8. Ted King September 25, 2010 at 5:26 am #

    This reminds me of a design book I read a while back. An eastern U.S. college built a building without most of the paths or landscaping and finished it before winter. They then watched for the paths through the snow that the pedestrians created and used that to guide the placement of the walkways when winter was over.

  9. David M September 25, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Some places get it right. At the University of Alberta, when they re-landscaped the “quad” – a large rectangle between residences and blocks of classrooms – they intentionally left it grassed for a year.
    Then, after the paths had worn in from short-cutting, they built concrete paths along the worn trails.

  10. john September 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    nice site

  11. Earth Mother September 28, 2010 at 5:37 am #

    Odd that you had so much trouble. One of the things I love about Canberra (since I moved here a few months ago) is that we can walk all over the place. We live in Civic and can walk to all manner of things from Parliament House to the National Museum. There are footpaths everywhere and whenever we drive out of the city we notice all the nice bike paths everywhere that we could only lust after in other cities. However your odd little route is an amusing anecdote. A definite example of what not to do, I would expect.

  12. Jarrett at September 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Earth Mother.  I agree.  I pointed out this path because it's the result of a particular kind of parcel-level development that assumes everyone's coming by car, and that pedestrians are poor inferior creatures who deserve pity but not respect.  Canberra is actually a wonderful city for walking and cycling, both in its magnificent park corridors and many of its activity centres.

  13. Rachael Batkovic September 29, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Looks like landscape gardens to me ! Seeing Canberra has such a developed street scape, where are the pedestrian footpaths ?