Can our current situation and experiences lead to positive changes?
Senior Precinct Access Planner at Suburban Rail Loop Authority
In the current Coronavirus situation, there have been numerous articles about changing streets to make them safer, such reducing speed limits and reallocating road space and how to create healthier neighbourhoods. Are you also reflecting on what trips mean as a ‘purpose’ or experience at the moment and wondering if more people are taking walks and rides, realising that streets are places for community to interact and find happiness?Will more people realise that walking/running and cycling for transport are easy, enjoyable ways to fit physical activity in their day? Could this be a change moment and how do we realise some good out of this all?
Paul Tranter, at the Australian Walking and Cycling Conference in Adelaide last year, gave a very thought-provoking presentation about how we might be more effective by going slowly [Rodney Tolley’s and his book, Slow Cities- Conquering our Speed Addiction for Health and Sustainability is expected out in June and their ‘manifesto’ is here]. One of his lines, ‘playful mobility is not taken seriously enough’ resonates even more now. In recent weeks, it has been wonderful to see children decorating footpaths with chalk for play and people hiding teddies in their windows and gardens to provide delight on the journey. On recent warm days and with UV, how important is shade and cooling from trees? Trying to press the case for level of service criteria and evaluations for streets, to include comfort and attractiveness, particularly walking and cycling outcomes, some said, ‘There are enough urban design/landscape architect people worrying about those things’. I just hope these times change such thinking. While other criteria, including safety, may come first, travel experience is vital and should be integrated into our thinking, especially if we really do want mode shift to walking and cycling, and more liveable, healthy and resilient cities.
Speed/directness is a core requirement for LOS but it is best addressed from an accessibility perspective. It is about providing the right conditions so people use the most suitable modes: it is safe transport infrastructure but with mix of uses and, as Billie Gilles-Corti puts it, ‘delightful, liveable density’, so there are shorter distances, able to be reached on foot/by bike, plus good PT with concentration of destinations around it. We do need suitable networks for each mode and having local streets that –for all users – make it fastest, most convenient and more enjoyable to travel by foot or bike. Safe system speed limits are always important. Having the default urban speed limit changed to 30km/h would mean more people could safely cycle on roads. With physical distancing, the issues of comfort and safety are becoming acute; on shared paths it is going beyond what I would say is largely a perceived safety issue and should highlight that more generous, separated paths are the future. In the past, in response to not providing dedicated infrastructure for cycling, or streets made suitable for cycling for all (reduced volumes and 30km/h), some have said ‘kids can just cycle on the footpath anyway’. This suggests they have not cycled with kids on the footpath and understand the stress at intersections and driveways, and with passing pedestrians. Will they realise from their experiences using footpaths with Coronavirus that this is not a desired outcome, if we actually want more people walking and cycling?
How do you think experiences may help change thinking? How important are such changes and what else could and should change now? How could we help achieve and press for such changes? How do we ‘make the journey fun’ as said in Motherload (now available for inspiration, as is Why we cycle)?