The road to good design

An aerial view of a winding road through a wooded area.How much design thought goes into roads and highway? Is it just left to engineers, or are other designers involved? Seems times are changing and a bit more thought is going into roads in the UK. The Design Council has an article that lists the ten principles of good road design that include words such as inclusive and sustainable. The principles were adopted at the recommendation of the Highways England Strategic Design Panel and follow the themes of people, places and processes:

  1. makes roads safe and useful
  2. is inclusive
  3. makes roads understandable
  4. fits in context
  5. is restrained
  6. is environmentally sustainable
  7. is thorough
  8. is innovative
  9. is collaborative
  10. is long-lasting

Highways England espouses lofty ideals: “We aim to put people at the heart of our work by designing an inclusive, resilient and sustainable road network; appreciated for its usefulness but also its elegance, reflecting in its design the beauty of the natural, built and historic environment through which it passes, and enhancing it where possible.”  


Urban design and social responsiveness

A distance pic of a three column building in Singapore with trees and people in the foregroundThe article outlines a method for assessing accessibility and useability of environments. Apart from the method, the results support many other papers on this topic. Top of the list is footpaths followed by seating for resting. Concerns over the mix of cyclists and pedestrians and good lighting also feature. Text is illustrated with several photos. The title of the paper is, The Methodology for Evaluating Accessibility as a Tool for Increasing  Social Responsiveness or Urban Landscapes in Singapore

Editor’s note: It still comes back to the basic five key features, footpaths, seating, lighting, wayfinding and toilets that I identified while working for COTA NSW. Not sure how much evidence needs to be collected before urban planners get the message. 


Street Design Guide

Front cover of the guide. It is blue with white text. It has outlines of pedestrians trees, buildings and transportThe Global Street Design Guide aims to set a global baseline for designing streets and public spaces as our world becomes increasingly urbanised. The Guide broadens the scope of how to measure the success of urban streets. It includes access, safety and mobility for all users, environmental quality, economic benefit, public health and overall quality of life. It is free to download from the Global Designing Cities Initiative. Each section can be downloaded separately and this is where technical details can be found. 


Lighting up for everyone

A large arched walkway at night with purple bougainvillea flowers overhead. The pathway is well lit but has the line shadows of the arches across it. The design of lighting does more than just overcome darkness. According to David McNair, after food, lighting is the most important factor for supporting physical wellbeing. This is particularly so for older people and people with dementia. McNair, a lighting engineer, has written a book on the topic, Enlighten: Lighting for older people and people with dementia. It is written with care professionals, engineers, architects and designers in mind. Dementia and acquired brain injury can affect visual perception and well designed lighting can help overcome some of these issues. Aged Care Insight has an article about the book and also has a podcast interview with one of the book’s authors.

Editor’s note: The picture shows how the line shadows of the arches fall across the pathway. These can look like steps, or the distant arches can look too small to walk through. Not knowing if there are steps or if the arches are big enough can affect confidence in getting out and about. However, from personal experience, this is a very pleasant area to walk in the evening (Brisbane South Bank).  



Get me out of here!

A man in a red pullover, and a woman with a white jacket stand in front of a door that has a way out sign on it.How useful is a “way out” sign? It depends on where you are and what your spatial abilities are at the time. For people with dementia it can be a real issue in places where toilets are placed down corridors away from the shopping mall or supermarket. This issue was highlighted earlier this year when a man with dementia died in a stairwell because he lost his way. Due to auto door locks in the stairwell he couldn’t get out. Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the UK have toilets within the store. They are now installing “way out” signs to guide people back to the store. They are also making them more friendly for people with a stoma. Having a toilet within the store is also good for all customers. If you need to go quickly you don’t have to abandon your trolley. We could do with more in-store toilets in Australia, especially when they are not within a larger shopping mall.


Kids Play: A new standard

The NSW Government has announced it will be developing a set of guidelines for all councils to follow when it comes to kids’ play spaces. The aim is to ensure everyone can enjoy playgrounds and play spaces within five years. Funding will be provided to NSW councils to assist with retrofitting existing parks. They are to be assessed against universal design principles. The Touched by Olivia Foundation (Livvi’s Place) has been leading the charge on this topic for some time. It is good to see their efforts being supported by the Government in this way. There will be consultations with stakeholders in the process of developing the guidelines which will be launched next year. There are two press releases on this topic: Liberal Party media release, and a NSW Government media release. It also go picked up by Global Accessibility News.  


Poorly designed building wins award

A larege campus building with lots of glass and angled pillars and lots of steps.How can a building that compromises safety win an architectural award? Answer: by avoiding any reference to accessibility. A public building in Canada won an award, but the building is not user friendly for all. The video below shows how designing for designers or awards instead of users can produce hazardous results. A blind user demonstrates the hazards whether using steps, the ramp, or even the elevator! It is easy to see how some users would think this thoughtless design. This is a great educational video on why handrails and ramps need to be done in a particular way. Universally accessible design is clever design, but this building is not clever. You can also read the article in the


Simple Steps for better neighbourhood design

A street scene in Leichhardt, Sydney. It shows a heratig building on the left, a wide paved footpath and a large tree on the right. In the distance you can see a person walking and in the mid ground in a footpath inset is a person sitting on a seat.What does “Liveable” mean when people talk of Liveable Cities? That depends on who is living there. Most upcoming older people are not looking for segregated places in which to grow old – they want to stay home and in their familiar neighbourhood. But can our neighbourhood designs suit the trend to ageing in place? Indeed, can people age all over the place? An article published in The Conversation highlights 8 things to help people grow older safely and to stay active. Not surprisingly, footpaths head the list followed by pedestrian networks, slowed traffic, street crossings, accessible public transport, seating, shade and lighting. The article has many links to more detail and the research behind each of the features. It is easy to see that these factors are good for all ages.

Editor’s note: This is a similar list to one I devised when working with COTA NSW, which I turned into a Basic Age Friendly ChecklistJane Bringolf


Transport design and mental health

Street scene showing level footpath, shade treas, shade umbrella and lots of seatingHow does transport design affect mental health?  With more emphasis on mental health issues, this is a timely question. Delegates at recent international conference in Barcelona participated in a workshop that provided some useful insights into transport related factors that could impact public mental health. While there are many factors that influence mental health, urban design can provide protective factors. Walking is classed as active transport so something as simple as shade trees and space to encourage social interaction can make a difference. However, many other transportation factors were identified by workshop participants and are included in the article in a themed and tabulated form. Some very useful ideas to add to the universal design melting pot. All workshop participants are attributed as authors. The title of the article is Scoping assessment of transport design target to improve public mental health.

More papers from this conference can be found on the journal website.


ABCB Practitioners’ Resource Kit

Front cover of the resource kit. Blue background with white text. Four pictures: tactile markers, toilet sign, colour contrast on step nosings, and a doorwayThe Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has released a resource kit for meeting disability access requirements. While this is not about universal design in concept, accessibility forms part of universal design solutions. The kit is extensive (12MB file) and the website has instructions on how to use it. The kit, Disability Access: What Practitioners Need to Know, should be read in conjunction with the National Construction Code. Free access is available to this document.

Editor’s Note: While disability access features are not yet mandated within a private home, the adoption of level entries, wider doorways and hobless showers are useable by all and good for ageing in place. If features such as these are beneficial for everyone in the public environment they should be good for homes as well.