Using technology to plan travel

Transport services are only useful for people who can access and use them effectively. Groups that could benefit most from improved access to transport are more likely to lack access to technology to plan travel. This was a finding by the Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge.

Two hands of an older person are poised above the keyboard of a laptop computer.

The survey found that older people, people with disability, and people with low education had low levels of technology access and understanding.

A survey carried out in Germany asked questions about access to technology, ability to use the technology, and using it for transport planning. Vulnerable and excluded groups included women, older people, people with low education, and people with low incomes. Older people and people with disability were the least likely to use a device to access information about transport.

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.

Owning a smartphone does not guarantee the ability to operate complex digital services.

The research paper is detailed with many variables. Three groups – people with low education, older people and people with disability had the lowest level of interaction with technology. If these groups also have low incomes, acquiring devices and being able to afford internet connections would also be a factor.

A man stands on a train platform looking at his smartphone. He is wearing a hat and has a bright yellow backpack.

Older people and people with disability were limited in regular travel because they couldn’t plan travel or use transport.

The title of the article is Toward Inclusive Digital Mobility Services: a Population Perspective. This research project is one of four similar projects conducted in Europe and UK. The reference list is useful for further reading.

Abstract

Digital mobility services have great potential to increase passengers’ transportation options, improve their experiences and reduce exclusion. However, these advantages are only available to those who can access and use these services effectively.

To facilitate the development of inclusive services, information is needed on the range of potential users’ technology access, use, attitudes and capabilities. A population-representative survey examining these characteristics was carried out with 1010 participants in Germany in 2020.

The results are examined for groups and intersections of groups identified in previous work as particularly vulnerable to either digital or mobility exclusion. Older people, people with disabilities and people with low education levels had particularly low levels of all technology variables.

Caution is thus required when rolling out digital mobility services. Non-digital alternatives are needed to ensure an inclusive service and any digital interfaces need to be designed carefully to be usable by and reassuring to digital novices.

Accessible cities and public transport

Public transport is the focus of the latest quarterly magazine from the Association of Consultants in Access. The articles cover streetscapes, buses and trains, and the personal experiences of a wheelchair user.

The upgrade to the Como Rail Station showing the long flight of steps and the level pathway to the elevator.

Como Railway Station has received a significant upgrade for accessibility

The opening article is by Kiersten Fishburn who is Deputy Secretary, Cities and Active Transport at Transport for NSW. She covers a lot of ground: improvements to infrastructure, micro-mobility, on-demand service and the taxi subsidy scheme.

Julie Sawchuk is Chair of the Ontario Standards Development Committee in Canada. She discusses her experiences as a traveller using a wheelchair. She makes an important point:

You’ll have noticed that my tales have addressed only my own experiences as a wheelchair user: that is, after all, my area of expertise. We need to listen to all users.

Julie Sawchuk

Jane Bryce’s topic is accessible streetscapes and public transport for people who are blind or vision impaired. Silent e-vehicles are an obvious issue for this group, as are shared pathways.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone, Foot bone connected to the heel bone, Heel bone connected to the ankle bone…

Dem Bones

The song “Dem Bones” is a good analogy of the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired who wants to leave their house, to be independent. Everything needs to fit together; each part is essential. Each element that makes up a part of a journey, whether on public transport or not, in a city or elsewhere, needs to be accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired.

Francis Lenny talks about his view of accessible bus travel. He reiterates the need for passengers to be at the centre of design decision-making processes. Confusion with the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT) is a key issue.

Inter-city train design and the outcomes achieved is the topic of Jen Barling’s article. Designers and operators are encouraged to go beyond the DSAPT. Indeed, DSAPT encourages alternative means of access to public transport, not just the specified standards:

…using methods, equipment and facilities that provide alternative means of access to the public transport service concerned (but not using separate or parallel services) with equivalence of amenity, availability, comfort, convenience, dignity, price and safety.

DSAPT 33.3 Equivalent Access

Howard Moutrie discusses handrail height and Cathryn Grant covers off the Smart Cities for All Toolkit.

You can access the online version of the magazine or download the 8MB PDF version.

How can Melbourne be more accessible?

A Melbourne street scene showing pedestrians and a tram.

Melbourne is one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world and the Victorian Government wants to keep it that way. But Melbourne can’t be truly liveable if it isn’t inclusive and accessible for all. Infrastructure projects, buildings, open space, and transportation need to link together seamlessly. 

Melbourne has done some good work. Retrofitting tactile footpath indicators and Auslan-interpreted performances are a start. But steep ramps at railway stations are still a problem and Federation Square has a multitude of stairs and rough tiles. An article in the Smart Cities Library says that developers are not on the same page as the Victorian Government. 

Front cover of the report.

A report from the University of Melbourne looks at some of the issues for people with disability. Academics worked with City of Melbourne staff and disability advocates to brainstorm ideas that would work. They assessed these ideas to see which were the most important and feasible.

Transportation was the key issue across all disability types, and issues with footpaths were high on the list. This links with another report about Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner.

Transportation is key

 Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner enables travellers to plan ahead for their journey. But does it work for wheelchair users? 

Distance view of a major train station showing platforms and trains.

Three case studies of train stations in suburban Melbourne show that in spite of a policy aim of going beyond the Transport Standards to take a whole of journey approach, there is some way to go when it comes to full accessibility. 

A nicely written report with a detailed methodology that can be used as the basis of further studies across Australia. The title is: “Does information from Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner align with real life accessibility for people in wheelchairs?”  Perhaps another case of bureaucrats not actually knowing what constitutes accessibility? Sometimes it is more than “access”.

Front cover Melbourne Transport Strategy 2030

Melbourne published their Transport Strategy 2030 which has updated information. There’s a lot about bikes but not much about inclusion and accessibility.

Public transport and dementia

Long view of a Singapore bus interchange showing the different coloured directional arrows on the floor. Public transport and dementia.

Noise, lights, crowds: public transport for people with dementia becomes increasingly challenging.

It’s common for people with dementia to become less confident when using public transport. The noise, the lights, and the crowds are distractions causing a lack of orientation. Dementia Singapore decided to find a way to help orientate and guide people through busy stations and interchanges and devised the “Find Your Way” initiative.

A large purple icon is attached to a column making it highly visible. The same icon is used from the beginning to the end of the route through the interchange.

Brightly coloured icons guide travellers in the right direction.

Dementia Singapore set up a working group of local dementia advocates and the major public bus operator, SBS Transit.

Working group

The aim of the Find Your Way initiative is to help people with dementia use public transport independently. The working group consisted of local dementia advocates, two members of Dementia Alliance International, and a major bus operator.

The technical advice focused on designs that are intuitive and easy to understand. Emily Ong’s short article has more on the technical group, the Environmental Design Special Interest Group (ED-SiC) that worked on the project.

Singapore already has Dementia-Go-To-Points where members of the public can take people who are lost at train stations and bus interchanges. However, this does not aid independence.

Floor plan showing the colour zoning and interchange layout


The Find Your Way project uses colour coding for district zones. The colour makes it easier to perceive the space and find information in a busy complex environment.

The incorporation of a childhood game is part of providing information in multiple formats. Large directional arrow markings on the floor also aid people in orientating themselves and finding their way. The photographs show how colour and icons are used.

Staff of SBS Transit give the thumbs up to the directional arrows on the flooring.

SBS Transit staff give thumbs up to the wayfinding design at the Toa Payoh Bus Interchange.

The title of the short article is, Designing public transit systems for accessibility and inclusion of people with cognitive impairments. It’s a quick overview of the project by Emily Ong, Project Lead and Co-Chair of DAI ED-SiG.

You can find out more from Dementia Singapore website where there are more photos of the project. You can also connect with Emily Ong and join the international group working on this initiative.

A train station showing a poster for the Go To Point for people with dementia.

People living with dementia want to remain independent for as long as possible and that means being able to use public transport. Dementia Go-To- Points help.

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.”

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. 

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