Put pedestrians first

Transport planners and engineers will be familiar with both the Safe System approach and the Movement and Place framework. The implicit assumption is that these approaches will put pedestrians first. But will they? The quest for reducing car use is focused on people walking and cycling more. Bike riders have successfully advocated for better cycling conditions in major cities. But has the infrastructure been beneficial for walkability and wheelability?

A universal design approach takes and inclusive whole of population view. It acknowledges that pedestrians are diverse and have varying abilities in negotiating street infrastructure.

A busy intersection in Sydney showing pedestrians, a cyclist and a bus. Put pedestrians first.

Transport planners and engineers are guided by regulations related to the concept of mobility. However, this means things like transport demands, traffic impact and land use. A pedestrian’s view of mobility is more about moving around easily, safely and without impediments.

When the issue of equity arises, it is often framed from a transport disadvantage view. That means identifying specific pedestrian groups who need special treatment or accommodations. A commonly used collective term for all these groups is “vulnerable pedestrians”. But all pedestrians are vulnerable in the presence of motor vehicles. This terminology implicitly perpetuates negative stereotypes which lead to planning assumptions that are not necessarily accurate.

Older pedestrians are not all “slow walkers” and not all slow walkers are older. Given that most older people live in the community, it is a nonsense to just do special pedestrian treatment around aged care facilities. Same thing for children – they do more than just go to school.

See more on this discussion in Jane Bringolf’s article in Sourceable titled, Planning for walkability: Put pedestrians first. If we are serious about encouraging people to get out of their cars, it’s time to put pedestrians at the top of the road user hierarchy.

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