Shared spaces as successful places

Artist impression of evening in George Street Sydney showing a shared street.
An artist’s impression showing the QVB stop in the George Street pedestrianised zone

What role do shared spaces play in “successful places”? And what are shared spaces anyway? A report compiled by the Transport Research Centre at UTS for the NSW Government attempts to answer these questions. The focus of the report was to understand how shared spaces can enhance the development of “successful places”, a key strategic priority of Transport. 

Varied terminology on the topic of shared spaces is not helpful and needs a standard definition. Another issue is whose opinion counts most. Is it user perceptions or transport performance measurements? And implementation is difficult even though there are many guidelines and there are few case studies.

What is a shared space?

The report offers the following definition.

“A public street or intersection that is intended and designed to be used by all modes of transport equally in a consistently low-speed environment. Shared space designs aim to reduce vehicle dominance and prioritise active mobility modes. Designs can utilise treatments that remove separation between users in order to create a sense of place and facilitate multi-functions.”

 Findings

Broadly, high level critical findings include:

      • The shared space design concept is one tool for forming successful places across the community.
      • A spectrum of intervention and design options are available to transport professionals to achieve a shared space within the road network.
      • Defining relationships between design parameters and performance metrics are key to determining the factors leading to implementing successful shared space.
      • Current guidelines, standards and practical processes limit the application of novel shared space solutions.

The title of the Shared Spaces Review is, Evaluation and Implementation of Shared Spaces in NSW: Framework for road infrastructure design and operations to establish placemaking. Examination of existing Shared Space knowledge. The Transport Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney conducted the research for Transport for NSW. 

The report is comprehensive and detailed with some international case studies to illustrate issues and findings. The report provides recommendations and current best practice for Transport for NSW. 

Intergenerational shared spaces 

Front cover of the book Intergenerational Space. Having interaction between generations, particularly older and younger people is beneficial for everyone. Julie Melville and Alan Hatton-Yeo discuss the issues in a book chapter, Intergenerational Shared Sapces in the UK context

The authors discuss how the generations are separated by life activities and dwelling places. The design of the built environment is a major concern because is not conducive to sharing spaces across the generations.

 While this book is not specifically about universal design, it is about inclusive practice and social inclusion.

Google Books has the full book, Intergenerational Space, edited by Robert M Vanderbeck and Nancy Worth.

Ageing and Mobility: Getting out and about

An older woman using a walking cane walks over a paved section towards the roadway. Ageing and mobility, getting out and about. Jane Bringolf participated in a webinar or the Australian Institute of Traffic Planning and Management, which includes anyone involved in transport. She covered 5 basic features older people need to encourage them to continue getting out and about. The content of the presentation, Ageing and Mobility, is on the YouTube video below.

After running 23 workshops with older people and local government across NSW, five key elements emerged. They are footpaths, seating, lighting, wayfinding and toilets. In rural areas, parking was also an issue. These were covered in a previous post along with a straightforward checklist on do’s and don’ts

The car becomes a mobility device as people get older, which puts them at odds with the policy push to get out of the car. Older people feel safer either as a driver or a passenger. The fear of tripping and falling reduces their confidence for walking on uneven footpaths.

Parking adjacent to shops and services in rural towns was also an issue. This was sometimes due to the main street also being the main highway where street parking is restricted. 

Ageing and mobility is more than cycles, buses and trains. Many older people just want to access their local neighbourhood to shop and socialise. 

 

Roadblocks to inclusive streets

Three people rescue a mail delivery man and his electric vehicle after it rolled over after hitting an electrical distribution box which was placed too close to the pedestrian right of way. Note there is no footpath, only grass.
Mail delivery vehicle crashes into an electrical services box. Note no footpath only grass.

Streets are essential to mobility and that means pedestrians, not just motor vehicles. Dangerous intersections, pedestrian crossings, steep kerb ramps and those utility vaults make wheeling a nightmare. Steve Wright says that universal design is what we should be aiming for. That’s because there are a hundred ways a street can deny mobility to a wheelchair user. And if they deny a wheelchair user, they can deny people unsteady on their feet and make pushing a stroller difficult. Wright lists his top 8 roadblocks to inclusive streets.

8 Roadblocks to inclusive streets

Narrow footpaths: If two wheelchairs or two strollers cannot pass each other than it is too narrow. Many footpaths don’t even accommodate two people walking side by side. Even where a footpath has sufficient width, there can be other obstructions. 

Too many stakeholders: Several agencies have a stake in the footpath – hence the many access covers scattered throughout the paving. And then there is street furniture and rubbish bins. 

Crappy kerb ramp: Problems often arise where a steep ramp into the gutter meets a steep rise onto the roadway. The deep V means wheeled mobility devices get stuck half way. Then there is the kerb ramp set on a corner that means people have to roll into oncoming traffic. And of course, there are mis-matched ramps which don’t line up to create a straight line across the roadway.

Traffic calming islands and safe havens: These must be at least wide enough to take a mobility scooter and an adult pushing a stroller. And not everyone can cross a wide street quickly. Mid-way points are a must if traffic takes priority.

Cross slopes and cambers: Narrow streets also mean that driveways and kerb ramps cut into the footpath creating cross-falls that are difficult for wheeled mobility users. 

Footpath closures: Construction projects seem to be blissfully unaware of the havoc they create with their “no pedestrians” or “pedestrians this way” signs. And some of these are not just for a day – they can be for years. 

Pedestrian crossing buttons out of reach: While the button might technically be at the right height, sometimes the pole it’s on isn’t within reach. 

Transportation decision makers don’t have a disability: Transportation projects go to contractors and subcontractors with many other stakeholders involved. They would do well to embrace some co-design methods. 

Wright discusses the issues in more detail from a US perspective.  He says:

“Universal design is what we should be aiming for, but there are 100 ways that even the most well-intended complete street can deny mobility to wheelchair users due to poor design, implementation, maintenance, and even policy.”

Public transport design and mental health

A busy station showing the escalator with lots of travellers.The design of the public environment and transport systems often focus on physical access. Features such as seating areas and information systems also impact people with mental health conditions. This was one of the findings from a research paper from Norway. The paper also called out for universal design thinkers to go beyond physical impairments.

The purpose of the research was to identify barriers in public transport for people with mental health conditions. That’s because other research shows that they travel less often than the rest of the population. Lack of access to transport can lead to social isolation which, of course, has a negative impact on all aspects of health. 

The main barriers for people with mental health conditions included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting times, and lack of staff understanding. The train was preferable to other means of public transport, but the car was essential for the wellbeing of many participants in the study.

The title of the paper is, Universal Design of Public Transport Systems for People with Mental Health Impairments.  Note, that the use of the word “impairment” is likely to be a quirk of translation to English. The paper was published in the Proceedings from the 4th Conference on Architecture Research Care & Health. It has papers on the public domain, housing, and strategies for the architectural design process. 

From the abstract

Objective – We examined the barriers people with mental impairments have in relation to travel, what can be done to make it easier for them to travel, and if today’s understanding of universal design includes people with mental impairments.

Background – People with mental health impairments travel less often than the rest of the population. The field of universal design has done a considerable amount with regards to public transit for people with physical impairments, but more knowledge is needed about how people with mental impairments experience public transport.

Research question – What barriers do people with mental health impairments meet along the transport chain? What practical solutions can be used to get more people with mental health impairments to use public transport? 

Methods – Nine semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with people with different types of mental impairments. Informants included both genders and a range of age groups and came from both urban and rural areas of Norway.

Results – Today’s understanding of universal design largely includes people with physical rather than mental health impairments. The main barriers
identified for people with mental impairments included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting time, economic barriers and lack of understanding from staff. 

Conclusion – We found several physical design measures including sitting area design, transport mode design and design of information systems. Other measures included economic support, training of staff and higher frequency of departure. We should therefore broaden our understanding of universal design, and not look exclusively at physical design.

Co-creation for train station design

Artist view of a station pod showing the clock tower and a sheltered entry.
Impression of station pod from 7N Architects

Design Council in the UK is extending its experience in co-design and co-creation for train station design. Co-design is the new buzz-word in access and inclusion, but it doesn’t stop there. A large cross section of people had a say in the process of designing a station.

Network Rail want to build on the legacy of Great British railway stations to create the transport hubs of the future. Railway stations are an integral part of a community and can offer more than a platform and a train. That’s why they are including a community or retail space. 

Design Council and Network Rail ran a national engagement exercise called ‘ThinkStation’. They spoke to more than 320 people representing a cross section of people and ran eleven workshops. Nine priorities were identified for the next generation of railway stations:

      • Support existing and new communities in their local area
      • Reflect and embody local character and heritage
      • Provide consistent quality of space and service
      • Establish connections with and between town centres and/or high streets
      • Celebrate and improve the quality of green spaces and open spaces and/or provide access to them
      • Be welcoming and facilitate inclusive travel
      • Support and better integrate cross-modal transport 
      • Help to address climate change 
      • Ensure longevity by accommodating changes of use, capacity and trends

The engagement process covered three key areas:

      • Environment and sustainability
      • Inclusion and accessibility
      • Community and enterprise

Just over half of survey respondents said they feel welcome and safe when using their local station. More importantly, 86% said difficult interchanges sometimes prevented them from taking the train. 

Proposed designs

A standard pod design has evolved from the engagement process and is shown in a video on the webpage.

Aerial view of the proposed station pod design.
Photo by 7N Architects

The pod design has sheltered waiting areas and facilities such as baby change and accessible toilets. The signage is easy to use and lighting is designed to make people feel safe. A tall clock tower is the station landmark and the first step in wayfinding.  

The webpage is a survey, but using the NEXT button at the bottom of the webpage will take you to the various sections of the project. The illustrations are very helpful in visualising the project. 

An older woman is writing something on a wall chart alongside others.

Good design for transport in Victoria

Station concourse at West Footscray shows striped shadows on the floor from the large windows. A cyclist is the only person in the picture.
From the guide: photographer Peter Bennetts

Getting out and about easily contributes to our wellbeing, health and productivity. And well designed transport facilities, interchanges and connections add value to public places. The Office of the Victorian Government Architect is promoting good design for transport as a public benefit.  When it comes to pubic transport, it needs to be safe, accessible and easy to use. Good design can also transform and influence how people feel and behave in public settings. 

The Office of the Victorian Government Architect has a Good Design + Transport guide that covers heritage, legislation, good design principles, and key steps. 

While the key steps don’t mention disability access specifically, the Government procurement processes require a universal design approach. The key steps for design include collaboration and community engagement as well as land use and urban connections. Community input at the early stages is listed as a good design strategy. 

The other important advice is to review designs in the early stages and throughout the design process. This aligns with universal design principles and results in fewer costly mistakes. 

Good Design Principles

Good Design + Transport lists good design principles as functional, enduring, sustainable and enjoyable. These principles provide guidance and a framework. 

Functional

      • Safe, legible – understandable, feels safe and secure, with good visual links and strong passive surveillance. The built form is clear and way-finding is carefully considered as part of the project.
      • Seamless – a cohesive and linked network which is easy to understand and navigate. It integrates different transport modes, providing direct connections and easy transitions.
      • Universally inclusive – main access routes are obvious and accessible to all members of the community.
      • Walkable – support pathways and useable public space which prioritises pedestrian connections and links into local streets.

Enduring

Relevant across life-spans of many generations and representative of its time and of high quality.

      • Durable – easy to maintain and will age gracefully.

Sustainable

Promote positive environmental, social, cultural and economic values. 

      • Engaging – reflect and respond to diverse community values and encourage positive interaction.
      • Socially responsive – support community land aspirations of a place connecting nearby facilities, incorporating shops, art, recreation spaces.
      • Site responsive – respond to specific local conditions inclusive of built form, landscape, topography and orientation.
      • Valuing heritage – respond to history, memory, understanding of and continuity with the past.

Enjoyable

Create a desire to experience the journey rather than just pass through.

      • Delightful – authentic, sensitive and intelligent in design of form, space, proportion, craft and detail.

Victoria also has an Accessible Public Transport Action Plan which designers should also reference in their designs. It supports their Absolutely Everyone state disability plan. 

Editor’s comment: Note in the picture above the stripes caused by the sun coming in the behind the many upright struts. These stripes cause confusion for people who have difficulties with visual perception. That includes people with dementia who don’t know where to step, and people who see this as “visual noise”. 

 

Car-free zones: good for everyone?

five lane city highway full of cars.. We need car free zones.Discussion about the benefit of electric versus fossil fuel vehicles will go on for some time. Regardless of the propulsion method, roads take up a lot of our land and environment. Case studies of road closures in favour of pedestrians, are appearing regularly in the literature. The aim of these car-free zones is to give more space to people to move around by walking and cycling. But not everyone can ride a bike or use public transport and this group is probably bigger than we think. 

Climate activists are keen to reduce the number of cars on our roads whether electric or not. An article on the World Economic Forum website discusses the issues with just one sentence about people with disability. This is going to be a major issue if climate activists forget diversity and disability. 

There are more people with mobility issues than most people think. Some are not in the disability statistics because they fall under long term health conditions. Then there are non-physical reasons for using cars. 

Personal vehicles are treated as personal safety devices by people who are physically frail of have a psycho-social condition. That also means they don’t like taxis or car share. People who become blind and have not learned the ways of public transport will use taxis and ride share to drop them exactly where they need to go. Public transport still has gender issues too. 

Cars are still mobility devices

With uneven or absent footpaths, older people begin to feel unsafe and then the car becomes a mobility device. When they cannot drive, they prefer a family member to drive them to the shops and medical appointments. That’s partly because they haven’t used public transport in the past and/or don’t feel safe. 

And cycling with the week’s shopping after picking up a child from school or child care is not an option for many parents.

The title of the article is, Are cars an urban design flaw? Cities advance car-free zones. The article presents case studies across Europe in the quest to reduce road space and increase living space. And car-free doesn’t mean pedestrian only – it means cyclists can mingle with pedestrians. For people with hearing or sight impairments, or people unsteady on their feet, this is not helpful. 

The city of Oslo is increasing their car free zones, but are making sure people who need to use a car are catered for. 

Transportation in the future

A large crowded entrance hall of a railway station showing shops as well as lots of people. Transportation in the future.The language of transport is shifting from discussions about infrastructure to the mobility of people. It’s therefore essential we consider the the diversity of our population in future thinking and designing. But what would people with disability want from transportation in the future to make mobility easy and useful? A group in Europe decided to find out. 

An interactive, real time, accessible journey planner was the most popular idea. This is because it would make travel more convenient and safer and enable independence. 

On the other hand, bike sharing, e-scooters and motorbike taxis were not popular with respondents. 

People with vision impairment and hearing impairment weren’t that interested in an accessible journey planner. Two-wheeled solutions weren’t popular either with these two groups. Women had the most reservations around transport and different modes of mobility. 

Cycle lanes received a luke-warm response across all disabilities. However, accessible cycle lanes were relatively more popular. 

People with disability are open to using robots, artificial intelligence alerts and wearables. Therefore, designers of environments and systems need to work together for seamless integration.

As we know, what is good and useful for people with disability usually ends up being good for everyone. Consequently, the white paper is a useful resource with good recommendations for transport planners.

Front cover of TRIPS white paper. The white paper title is, Views of people with disabilities on future mobility. The research was funded by the European Union., 

The white paper explains their survey methods and findings, the issue of gender balance and future recommendations. It also offers design directions and policy and industry recommendations. 

A key recommendation is to ensure all AI solutions are co-designed to avoid bias and ensure equal access.

In summary

Future transportation systems should pay attention to the most mentioned complaints about:

      • Getting on and off the means of transport
      • Reaching the transport mode
      • Using station facilities
      • Travel delays
      • Comfort on board
      • Limited access to information
      • Autonomy
      • Social barriers
      • Accessing help
      • Friendliness of the surrounding environment
      • Getting users oriented

The European funded group is TRIPS – Transport Innovation for disabled People needs Satisfaction. Their aim is to make public transport more accessible for people with disability, older people, and really everyone. 

There are links to the supporting organisations and methods of contact at the end of the report.

Gender diversity: not code for ‘women’

A colourful graphic of five women with male and female symbols over them.
Picture Courtesy Teenvogue

The term ‘diversity’ is often used in workplaces as code for people from different cultural backgrounds. But it is more than this. Likewise, gender diversity is not code for women.

Kiri Crossland’s short piece on Linked In is about gender equity in transport. She writes that focusing on the inequities between women and men serves to reinforce the gender binary. As more people become comfortable about declaring their non-binary identity, they will become more visible. Consequently, this is not an issue to ignore and we need to stop using the binary style thinking.

Crossland gives an example of how some women can feel safer on public transport with uniformed officers present. However, trans people are often the subject of negative experiences with police.  Consequently, making women feel safe is not the answer for everyone. Transport equity needs four things.

Transport equity

      1. Collect data: what kind of trips do gender non-conforming people make? How do they differ? Why?
      2. Challenge your assumptions and that of colleagues: engage with people with have a different lived experiences.
      3. Hire a gender diverse workforce: having people with lived experience to hand keeps keeps the thinking on track
      4. Support interest groups for gender equity: Crossland says she is keen to work with other queer people in the transport sector.

Crossland says, “I’m sick of reading statistics about gender and cycling uptake which only measure women cyclists. I’m sick of attending webinars about gender diversity in transport which reduce trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people to a single line at the beginning of the webinar when they mention “other identities”.

The title of the article is, “Gender diversity”​ shouldn’t be code for “women”.  ​

Everyone who thinks they belong to the “us” (not left out ) group has a responsibility to understand they have privilege and do something with it.

The Teenvogue.com website has some simple tips on How to use gender neutral words.

Editor’s comment: When we talk of diversity we shouldn’t think of ‘left out groups’. That’s an ‘us including them’ approach. (Who is us anyway?) We should think ‘humanity’ in all its forms, colours, beliefs, sizes, ages, genders, wealth, geography, politics, and capabilities. Almost all people belong to multiple ‘left out groups’ at any one time.

A universal design perspective on automated vehicles

A woman with blonde hair sits reading a magazine resting on the steering wheel of the car she is (not) driving. The road and other cars are visible through the windscreen as the photo was taken from the back seat.Whatever your thoughts about automated driving systems and vehicles, we need to make sure no-one is excluded in their design. The Sustainable Development Goals catch phrase, “Leave no-one behind”, is quite literal when it comes to transportation. However, the promise of increased mobility for everyone is yet to be realised. This is largely due to the complexities of transitioning from the current mode to the automated mode. So, a group in Sweden is taking a universal design perspective on automated vehicles to find solutions.  

Victor Malmsten Lundgren writes in a brief paper that there is limited insight into the promise of an inclusive mobility system. He reports on the Swedish group’s research where they used universal design as a guiding principle. 

A key insight is the importance of user experience. Overall accessibility is only as good as its weakest link in the journey. The researchers used the example of a wheelchair user and common tasks along the way. This revealed the many touchpoints involving different actors who need to be part of the solution. For example, the public transport provider’s role might begin and end at the bus stop without regard for the journey to it. 

The article has some technical detail but the aim of the article is to comment on the ongoing discussions. The paper concludes that there “must be continuous exploration of how automated vehicles and systems can be accessed and understood and used to the greatest extent possible”. 

The title of the paper is, Insights from a series of projects related to accessibility in an AV mobility landscape.

Abstract

Automated driving systems have the potential to provide increased mobility for groups of people previously underserved. This brief paper presents insights from a series of projects specifically targeting accessibility in a public transport landscape containing automated vehicles (AVs). The work has been carried out in close collaboration between both private, public, and academic actors as well as with interest groups promoting specific critical users. Automated driving systems must be identified as a piece of a broader travel experience where universal design and inclusion should be guiding principles.