Universal design approach to transportation

Train station entry hall in China.Much of our transportation infrastructure was designed last century when the focus was on getting people to work and school. People with disability were not considered as part of the working or school populations at that time. But times have changed and “average” must evolve to “inclusive” because there is no such thing as the average user. The time has come for a universal design approach to transportation. That includes footpaths.

A magazine article on inclusive transit systems suggests one way to think about the transit system is to recall an experience in another country. Was it easy to use? Did you feel you could confidently and independently navigate your way to your destination? How was buying a ticket? If you got confused, potentially, new users will be confused at home too. These are good benchmarks for home country design. 

The article discusses the Transit Universal Design Guidelines (TUDG).  It promotes the value of implementing a universal design approach that supports all user groups. And it doesn’t start and end at the station door. The environment leading up to the transit system must be part of the plan. The article picks out three key elements.

Key elements

User Groups: consider who you are ultimately designing for. This section includes accommodations required to satisfy the needs of specific user groups — including individuals with visual, hearing, speech, or mobility disabilities and needs, among others.

Aspects of Accommodation: identify features and techniques that can enhance the end user experience — from handrails, to hearing assistant systems, to tactile pathways, to mobile ticketing apps.

Implementation: understand the process and approach for implementing universal design through advocacy, engagement, and evaluating and finalizing design options. With this approach, transit agencies can attract new and retain existing ridership and provide solutions that are inclusive and universal from the start.

Passengers wheel their baggage on the train station platform. A very fast train is in the backgound.The title of the article is, Designing More Inclusive, Accessible Transit Systems for All

For more information on accessible and inclusive transit systems and transportation, check out the the Transportation section of this website. 

Automated driverless vehicles: Where are we?

Graphic of a little red car depicting an automated driverless vehicle.A good question to ask about automated driverless vehicles – where are we? Five years ago there was much talk about how driverless vehicles would change the way we get around. While the promise is still there in terms of technology, we are still a long way from regulation and planning. That means accessible self-driving vehicles are a long way off.

An article in The Conversation explains the six levels of automation from driver assistance to full automation. Many new cars have a level of driver assistance such as keeping the car in lane, and speed control. But they require the driver to take over if necessary.

Regulators are struggling to keep pace. They need to come up with standard tests for safety and benchmarking their algorithms. The public is unsure about automation, but can see advantages especially for those who cannot currently drive. 

What do drivers think?

A yellow automated driverless vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? A survey found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. The key point is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research, it is open access.

It will be about passengers

A small black and white pod shaped automated driverless vehicle.Driverless cars will be about passengers not drivers. Although a subtle difference, it focuses thought on users as passengers rather than drivers. And this is important because there will be more diversity of users than there are currently drivers. But this raises accessibility and other issues which are discussed in two papers.

When it comes to assistance it is usually the driver that helps riders with disabilities with getting in and out, and pointing them in the right direction. A report from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues. The title of the report is, Driverless Cars and Accessibility

David Williams in his article alerts us to the size and influence of tech giants and how they can utilise the data they can collect. His concern is for high-tech companies manipulating and controlling our lives further. He provides a table of vehicle enhancements and the time it took or is taking for the market to fully embrace them. The title of the article is, Driverless cars: benefit to humanity or road to an Orwellian dystopia?


Transport and Health Guidebook

People waiting at a Melbourne tram stop. The tram is approaching. Transport and Health Guidebook.Transportation professionals are aware of the connection with health, but are public health professionals making the links? In general terms we know that the design of the built environment impacts on health. Transportation systems are part of the built environment and therefore impact health as well. From the USA comes a well-researched transport and health guidebook that joins the dots. 

The guidebook is primarily for transportation practitioners. It has a set of tools and resources for planning at all levels and for collaborating with health stakeholders. The guidebook also serves as reference for public health practitioners to learn more about how to contribute to transport planning.

The guidebook is titled, “Connecting Transportation and Health: A Guide to Communication and Collaboration”. It contains, tips, tools, case examples, process steps and integration opportunities. The intersections between transport and health are presented in table format. While the guide is based on USA organisations, it is applicable in other countries.

The research project underpinning the guide found communication challenges between health and transportation professionals. The challenges included the different jargon and terminology, and the different planning processes. Acquiring relevant data for analysis was another issue. Consequently, the researchers needed to find out how the two disciplines could work together more effectively.

Aim of the guidebook

“The guidebook should highlight the mission and processes of each community to enable a fundamental understanding between the professional communities. The guidebook should decipher industry “jargon”, improve transparency about underlying assumptions, and identify successful practices for establishing and fostering partnerships between transportation agencies and public health organizations.”


There are two documents:

      1. The full guide, Connecting Transportation & Health: A Guide to Communication and Collaboration. This is an 84 page document that includes information on the underpinning research.
      2. The Quick Reference Key Tables and Tools has the key elements for practitioners.


When universal design is not enough

A person with a wheelie walker trying to negotiate the gap between the bus and the kerb.
The gap between the kerb and the bus

Having different contractors for different parts of an infrastructure project is a risk for accessibility. It can literally fall between the cracks. Having overarching principles of universal design is not enough to ensure accessibility of interconnecting infrastructure. When different companies build stations and buses we need to make sure they join up well. This was not the case in Norway.

A conference paper explains the situation for the new Metrobuss System in Trondheim. When the construction of stations and buses was well underway, they discovered they were built to different access standards. This made is impossible for wheelchair users and others to use the new system. Norway has a reputation for promoting universal design. So what did they learn from this situation?

First, there are always challenges in implementing universal design. It’s one thing to have it on a page, and another to have it in real life. Both bus and station manufacturers followed valid guidelines. Harmonising guidelines was the first lesson. 

The people involved were lacking knowledge about the ideas an principles of universal design. Second lesson is to have user and expert involvement throughout the process. When issues arise, it is easier to find solutions before it’s too late.

A woman is getting on a bus. The footpath has a built up pad to raise the height so she can get on the bus. When universal design isn't enough.
A bus pad raises the height of the footpath

The paper describes some ‘work-arounds’ – some worked better than others. As with other projects, a ramp is not always a workable solution to patch up a design. The paper has 13 solutions specifically designed to overcome the access issues.

The title of the paper is, Universal Design in the Metrobuss System of Trondheim, Norway – Challenges and Solutions presented at the International Universal Design Conference in 2021 in Finland. It is open access or you can download the PDF version directly. 


The presentation describes challenges and possible solutions for achieving truly accessible high-class urban public transportation based on a case from Trondheim. The implemented solution did not reflect the wheelchair user’s needs– despite clearly stated ambitions for accessibility.

Ramboll conducted a study comprising a screening of the international market for relevant solutions, combined with interviews with representatives of Public transport authorities. The results were presented to the local user’s representatives, and some solutions tested on location. Based on this process, recommendations were made for short, medium, and long-term solutions.

The project highlights the need for involvement of sufficient professional knowledge of universal design in the planning phase as well as in the implementation phase.

Road safety for wheelchair users

A person in a powered wheelchair riding along the footpath. We need more road safety for wheelchair users.
Powered wheelchair user

A study in Sweden tackles the issue of ‘vulnerable’ road users, particularly powered wheelchair users and older people. European Union data shows that fatal accidents involving vulnerable road users is equal to vehicle accidents. So what are the issues for the road safety for wheelchair users?

Researchers watched wheelchair users moving around the streets to see how they interacted with the built environment. Dealing with traffic was one aspect, but uneven surfaces, steep slopes and other pedestrians also play a part in safety. Traffic conditions have not adapted to vulnerable road users and this is an area for improvement. Safety relies on individual coping strategies to deal with risks. Researchers found that one third of accidents were due to differences in ground level, typically the kerb. 

The title of the article is, Obstacles and risks in the traffic environment for users of powered wheelchairs in Sweden. It is open access. The study was included different disciplines: design, physiotherapy, disability studies and biomechanics. The long term goal is to reduce accidents and reinforce active participation for people with disability.

From the Abstract

The aim of this interdisciplinary qualitative study was to identify obstacles and risks for Powered Wheelchair (PWC) users by exploring their behaviour and experiences in traffic environments.

Videos and in-depth interviews with 13 PWC users aged 20–66 were analysed for this study. The videos include real-life outdoor observations exploring experiences of PWC use on a daily basis in Sweden. 

Participants faced and dealt with various obstacles and risks in order to reach their destination. For example, uneven surfaces, differences in ground levels, steep slopes, as well as interactions with other road users and the influence of weather conditions. This resulted in PWC users constantly accommodating and coping with the shortcomings of the vehicle and the environment.

There are still major challenges for preventing obstacles and risks in the traffic environment for PWC users. To discern PWC users in traffic accident and injury data bases, a start would be to register type of aid used for persons involved in an accident.

Furthermore, to emphasise PWC users’ role as vulnerable road users, it may also be advantageous to describe them as drivers rather than users when navigating the traffic environment.

By incorporating emerging knowledge of PWC users’ prerequisites and needs, and including them in research and traffic planning, the society will grow safer and more inclusive, and become better prepared for meeting future demands on accessibility from an ageing population.

The digital first and last mile

A young woman is sitting in a bus shelter and looking down the road. The shelter is lit and has an information board.Many car trips in Australia are less than 2km. So there is room for a re-think in personal e-mobility and digital solutions.  The Future of Place organisation recently ran an online workshop on the digital last mile. It drew together technology and data solutions to support first and last mile experience. The key question was what does the last mile of the future look like? It therefore follows: will everyone be included in the digital first and last mile solutions?

Four guests gave their expertise to the workshop. Katherine Mitchell reminded us that regular commuters have high levels of digital literacy. But not everyone has a smart device. She focused on accessibility, safety, confidence and wayfinding.

Damien Hewitt posed the idea of bus stops offering more local information, not just about transport or timetables. 

Stephen Coulter discussed the opportunities for micro-mobility and e-mobility. With 12 billion car trips of less than 2km made each year it’s time for transformation.

Oliver Lewis advocated for a greater level of digitisation to manage assets for real time experiences for users. He also introduced the idea of “Digital Twins”. An example of a digital twin is a digital 3D model of a real physical object or process. It helps predict how a product will perform.

Workshop participants gave their ideas via a process of “card-storming”. The results were captured in a document on the Future of Place website.  This website has more information about a handbook they are developing. 

A related article is Pedestrians on Wheels: A new paradigm.

Inclusive mobility systems: A framework

Disney monorail travelling on a raised rail over water.Transportation systems are more than buses and bus stops, or trains and stations. They consist of infrastructure, customer service, regulations, and system organisation. Taking a universal design approach is a good way to frame and achieve inclusive mobility systems.

The chart below shows the conceptual framework for inclusive mobility. It was used as the basis for a research project. 

Graphic showing conceptual framework with three key elements: Universal design, mobility and accessibility requirements and competences and responsibilities of involved actors.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design are translated into mobility and transportation language. Different sectors have responsibility for these components: government, private, academia, and advocacy groups. The title of the article is, Composing a Conceptual Framework for an Inclusive Mobility System. The article goes into more detail of the various components of the system. The final table identifies eight inclusive components:

      1. Vehicle equipment
      2. Environment
      3. Trip management
      4. Assistance
      5. Operational organisation
      6. Regulations and standards
      7. Awareness raising
      8. Funding

It is good to see the practical application of the Principles of Universal Design in relation to inclusive mobility. This framework brings components together nicely. 


This paper addresses the question how a future mobility system can be available and accessible to all people in our society regardless whether they are disabled or not. The purpose of composing a conceptional framework is to point out how such an inclusive mobility system must therefore be designed and organised. The discussed research question is based on the “Seven Principles of Universal Design”, the “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” as well as on the UN goals on sustainable development (more specifically, Goal #9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities, Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities). These theoretical principles on inclusion and inclusive design are transferred to the interdisciplinary concerns of spatial planning: From a transportation system planning point of view, a detailed set of mobility and accessibility requirements for people with disabilities is elaborated and described. Consequently, the identified accessibility and mobility requirements of individuals with disabilities are assigned to the roles and responsibilities of the following sectors: (1) government, (2) the private sector (economy and industry), (3) academia and (4) civil society and advocacy groups. This broad analytical approach allows to include and identify innovative solutions that constitute an inclusive mobility system by considering technology driven aspects as well as non-technological aspects. In this manner, eight inclusive components (so called i components) for the future design and organisation of an inclusive mobility system are formulated: i-Car, i-Environment, i-Ride, i-Assist, i-Organize, i-Code, i-Image
and i-Funding.


Airport design can improve travelling experience

Long view of the inside of an airport building.Whether people fly once or twenty times a year, their stress levels are similar. And familiarity with airports does not reduce stress. Many other factors add to increase tension and negative responses. Travel excitement can easily become travel stress. Long waits in security lines, and getting lost in the terminal are just two stress factors. But airport design can improve the travelling experience. 

Some airports are improving their services for people with a range of disabilities, but some stressors are common to everyone. Airport design has a major role to play in reducing stress levels for travellers. A research study looked at how stress levels are affected by different scenarios within the airport, and what conditions help alleviate this stress. More importantly, what design features create or alleviated stress.

The study found that security screening was the most stressful. Stress reducers were found to be additional seating, art, signage and access to live greenery. Ready availability of charging points for laptops and phones and more personal space also help to reduce stress.

Improving the Air Travelers Experience Through Airport Design is a thesis that has a lot more detail on airport design including security screening, wayfinding, use of colour and visual information. Most people are able to deal with the stressors of air travel, but for those who can’t, improved design elements might make air travel possible. 


The purpose of this research is to understand what aesthetic and spatial conditions contribute to a passenger’s stress within an airport terminal. The atmosphere of the airport terminal typically promotes stress, increased tension, and negative emotional responses for the many millions of airport travelers. As Symonds (2012) states, “airports can be highly emotive places.” Air travel excitement can easily be replaced with high-stress levels the moment it looks as though one’s flight may be canceled, one may be running late for a flight due to a long security line, or one gets lost in the terminal due to poor directional signage. Although the recent coronavirus pandemic has temporarily caused a drastic reduction in air travel, it is expected that air travel will again reach its prior level of use when the pandemic subsides. Therefore, it is important to examine the relationship between airport design and its impact on the emotional experiences of air travelers. This research aims to understand (1) how stress levels are affected by various scenarios within the airport and (2) what conditions and features help to alleviate stress within the airport. To what extent can airport terminal design reduce stress among all travelers? More specifically, what design features within airport terminals have either a positive or negative impact on traveler stress? Multiple methods of gathering information included a literature review on airport terminal design, and related research on design elements that increase or reduce an individual’s stress level. Complementing the literature review was a survey completed by 88 air travelers, a focus group of six design experts, as well as previous information gathered through an interview pilot study of 42 air travelers. The survey of air travelers found that various areas within airport terminals had differential effects on stress levels. The most stressful area was the security checkpoint. Other design aspects such as additional seating, access to visual information, and access to live greenery resulted in stress reduction. Additionally, in contrast to an initial hypothesis, there were no differences in experienced stress between travelers who traveled less than 10 times/year and those who traveled more frequently (10+times/year). This suggests that universal design solutions addressing stress should be helpful to all travelers. The findings from this research resulted in design recommendations for improved security checkpoints as well as recommendations for the isUD certification program (innovative solutions for Universal Design) to improve the airport experience for all air travelers.

Transport and disability sector engagement

A white SUV is parked across the footpath nosing into a drivewayHow do you find the people who are most disadvantaged by transport system design when they don’t or can’t travel? If you can’t find them then how will you know what an inclusive transport system looks like? A guide to disability sector engagement for transport professionals is a great idea.

One of Bridget Burdett’s research interests within the transport sector is transport inequity.  Her paper, which includes a good practice guide, explains the issues and how to address them. One of the key issues is for professionals and users to understand each other. The language of transport takes time for professionals to learn, let alone community members. So that’s one place to start.

Burdett’s paper sets out recommended practice for transport and lists specific terms of engagement. The research for the Guide was commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The title of the paper is, Disability sector engagement: Good practice guide.  The Guide will be useful for engaging with the disability sector for any infrastructure project. 

Bridget has also written a case study about a wheelchair user and her experiences. It’s titled, Transport and Disability: Brook’s Story.  Here’s one of the quotes from Brook: 

“I was told by a security guard, “you can’t be here, it’s a fire risk”. And I said, Why? Am I more flammable than other people?”

The kerbside and mobility

A streetscape of the future with street plantings, outdoor eating and a driverless car in a 30 kph zone.
Image from the whitepaper depicting a future street

The idea of smart cities, driverless cars, and artificial intelligence is propelling us into the unknown. But there are some things we can predict. Everyday things will be seen in a new light. The kerbside for example. Other than kerb ramps most of us don’t think about the kerbside and mobility. But somebody else has.

The Future of Place webpage has a link to a report that looks at the Future Ready Kerbside. The publication by Uber and WSP explores what the future might hold in the context of shared mobility and liveable cities.

The kerb is the intersection between the pedestrian area and the road. How space is allocated each side of the kerb dictates who can access these spaces. The kerbside is not passive infrastructure so we need to prepare for its future use. It needs careful management by city leaders.

There are ten recommendations in the Executive Summary of the report and they include:

    • Co-design the vision for places in partnership with the community, businesses and governments. 
    • Move from general parking to pick-up/drop-off for people and goods to improve kerbside productivity and access to local places.
    • Take a people-and-place first approach so that new mobility is an enabler and not a detractor to realising the co-designed vision.
    • Street design guidelines must get ahead of new mobility and proactively focus on the best possible outcomes for people and places.
    • Prioritise walking to access local places, along with transit and
      micro-mobility, supported by funding for local infrastructure. 

The full report is titled, Place and Mobility: Future Ready Kerbside and has more technical detail.  Both the full report and the executive summary have interesting infographics and images depicting how the future might look.