Designing and reorganising transport hubs: A framework

Inside Kings Cross Railway Station in UK showing two floors with shops inside a giant atrium.Seamless transitions between walking, cycling and public transport are important for the environment, inclusion and for reducing traffic congestion. That’s not a new idea. How to do it is another matter. The MATCH-UP project in Europe developed a method to assess how policies are measuring up and creating design solutions. The method and background to the project are presented in a new article published in Sustainability.

The aim of the method is to support designers and decision-makers who need to re-organise existing transport hubs and plan new ones. This detailed document is good for anyone in transport planning and transport policy, sustainability, accessibility and universal design in the built environment. Accessibility and universal design are embedded in all aspects and not listed at the bottom as an afterthought. 

The title of the article is, Assessing the Performance of Modal Interchange for Ensuring Seamless and Sustainable Mobility in European Cities.  

Embedding of universal design principles is discussed as a first step. It will “ensure high-quality spaces in every condition and for every ability, being permanent or temporary.” Key factors are listed as, universal design, accessible pedestrian routes, parking facilities, shared mobility and wayfinding.

Dedicated staff and services to assist people moving inside the main transport hubs. That’s because distances and wayfinding are often complex.

 

Universally designed transit systems

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. In those days, people with disability were not considered as part of the working or school populations. Times are changing and “average” must evolve to “inclusive” because there is no such thing as the average user.

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 you way to your destination? How was buying a ticket? If you got confused it is likely new users will be confused at home too. These are good benchmarks for home country design.

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. The article refers readers to the American Public Transportation Association Guideline on using a universal design approach

Australia is due for a third review of the accessible public transport standards. Progress still seems slow and we still have a way to go yet. The standard was published in 2002 and the timeline for compliance allows between 5 and 30 years. 

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

The Whole Journey: A guide

Passengers are getting on a train in Perth. There is a yellow plate that covers the gap between the platform and carriage.In response to a second review of the accessible public transport standard, the Australian Government produced a whole journey guide. The 2017 guide was developed through in-depth consultations and workshops with all stakeholders. A third review was carried out in 2018. Here are some key points:

    • Prior to the introduction of the Transport Standards there was no focused effort to remove discrimination from Australia’s public transport systems.
    • The Transport Standards aimed to provide certainty of Disability Discrimination Act responsibilities, as well as a focus on a customers, liveable communities and the uptake of new technologies.
    • Transport for NSW access upgrades requires local council co-ordination, apps and real time information to give people with disability information about accessible routes and transport, starting from the home.
    • One the problems with access standards for transport is they were too prescriptive, cobbled together from other standards, with no understanding about transport related issues, and significantly strove for minimums, not excellence.
    • Accessible transport is an enabler, promoting age-friendly cities, with walking as an ingredient. Hence the need to look at the whole journey, requiring quality footpaths, kerb crossings, and pedestrianisation.

picture of two Sydney buses side by side waiting at traffic lights.

The Whole Journey: A guide for thinking beyond compliance to create accessible public transport journeys, can be downloaded in sections from the Department of Infrastructure website. There’s a good section on universal design that shows how it captures other terms. It also references the National Disability Strategy in this section. 

 

Inclusive Light Rail Project

Two older men with winter jackets look happy as they stand by the train.The Bergen Light Rail system is a good example of what can be achieved using a universal design approach. As with most projects this size there are detractors and resisters. But it was accessibility that brought people together to design one of the most successful town planning projects in Norway.  The rail system has brought many aspects of the city together. Not only is the light rail accessible, the whole city is more accessible now and further improvements are planned. People who said they never use public transport, now use it happily. The key is that the inclusiveness of the design is barely noticeable. Step free access, step free carriages, automatic doors, simple displays, and effective sound and light signals are good for everyone. The architect says it is the first public transport system in Norway that utilises inclusive design at all levels. 

“When the planning of the new light rail began in 2006, inclusive design was not stated as a requirement. Many regulations must be considered in a project of this scale. This led to noise and resistance from politicians in the city, which had to be overcome before the project could start. This was followed by discussions about accessibility, the locations of stops near transfer points, transfers to bus and train and step-free transitions. 

A collaboration with FFO (the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People) was established at an early stage and the design team showed them drawings and discussed the ideas with them. This collaboration inspired many new solutions.”

The story is by Design and Architecture Norway and has a short video.  Norway has an overarching plan and policy – Norway Universally Designed 2025 and the update

 

When universal design isn’t enough

An orange tram is arriving at the light rail station.Norway, with its policy and strategies for universal design, has one of the best accessible transport systems. But physical access is not enough to encourage many non-users to catch the bus or train. So, is there a limit to the level of accessibility that should be rolled out? There will always be people with and without disability who will never use public transport. The measure of success isn’t getting more patronage from people with disability; it’s about maintaining current patronage and new travellers in the future – with and without disability.

Designing a more convenient, easy to use system is good for everyone, now and in the future. A good all round experience can encourage people to leave the car at home. That is, if the transportation takes them to where they want to go efficiently and effectively. While universal design works for most, there will always be a need for individualised solutions.

The title of the paper is, Public transport and people with disabilities – the experiences of non-users.

From the conclusion:

Lastly, our study raises the question of whether universal design or accessibility for all is a good policy objective in public transport. Many of our informants are unable to travel by public transport, even though the system is among the most universally designed available. They would be unable to travel by public transport even if implementation of the measures which constitute universal design today was close to perfect. We write this, not to deny that a good universally designed public transport system is an attractive solution, it will help many, but that there will still be some who will not be reached through the universal design agenda. Therefore, there will still be a need for individual solutions, which could increase the individual’s sense of freedom, participation in working life and value added in society among those who do not have physical and/or mental premises for travelling by public transport.

A related project is the Bergen Light Rail system.

Public transport and wheeled mobility

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.Research on the real spatial requirements of wheeled mobility devices has been done several times in the past. But when it comes to developing standards to suit a wider user group, somehow those measurements get lost in translation. However, the world is moving on. The population is ageing (more mobility scooters) and people using wheelchairs of all sizes are able to get out and about more. Public transport has to keep up. To this end an interactive web tool has been developed to determine the dimensions of clear floor area to incorporate more users of wheeled mobility devices. The title of this important article explains the tool, Revisiting Clear Floor Area Requirements for Wheeled Mobility Device Users in Public Transportation. The article is not open source so needs institutional access (or purchase), but here is a section from the abstract:

“The web-based design tool is now available to practitioners who seek to accommodate a wider range of WhMD [wheeled mobility device] users than the minimum standards required by regulations. The design tool is also intended as a visual evidence base for regulatory activity and universal design practice with higher ambitions. The advent of driverless automated vehicles will increase the importance of accessibility and usability to accommodate the diversity of riders with disabilities. Clear floor space to enable independent ingress, interior circulation and egress among WhMD users will be a foremost concern. The transportation industry, standards developers, disability advocates, mobility device manufacturers and prescribers need to understand the limitations of current accessibility standards and work to address these limitations through updated vehicle design standards and policies.