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.”