So close, so unreachable

A banal message received from a friend, about meeting for dinner:

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The tricky trip is Cambridge-Hamilton East, NZ, 20 km.

Cambridge is a small town (20,000 residents), located near Hamilton, 150,000, the regional hub where you can find a diversity of jobs as well as the main hospital, universities, a museum, theaters or shopping centers. The connection between the two towns is obvious, for work, education, shopping, dining out, you name it. Yet, the bus service runs only 7 times per day, on week days, and the time table is obviously built for school kids. On week-ends, there is only 3 trips Cambridge-Hamilton, 4 trips back.

So if you’ve missed your 7.35 bus, you will be there around 10. And if you want to leave Hamilton after 5.15 pm, well you can’t (this is for the week days, on week-ends it’s 4.15).

Without a car, you will have to beg for a ride, or miss opportunities. I doubt you can even study in Hamilton whilst living in Cambridge, given the early last departures (not to mention the loss of social life). You need a car, and if you can’t drive or can’t afford it you miss out. That is called severance, or barrier effect, or exclusion.

Imagine an efficient public transport link, the kind that would be a real alternative. Running from early in the morning to late in the night, allowing you to get where you need to and come back, and doing it with a satisfying travel time. Imagine a service that is actually more efficient than driving, and that is therefore chosen. Less single-occupancy vehicles on the road, less congestion, less wasted time, less spending on new roads, less spending for the users, less crashes, less deaths and injuries, less severance, more opportunities to access whatever you need or want to access, more participation in the society, better inclusion, better outcomes for all.

This is not an utopian vision. This is what towns around the world do, because it works for the people and for the local and national economies.

Stories of disabled people in modern Britain

Due to a severe lack of accessible housing, Alex has to live in a flat that is not accessible for her. “Alex’s life has been drastically affected by a series of Tory cuts, reforms and changes to disability benefits and a growing crisis in social care and housing. This is the story of people living and working with disabilities in modern Britain.”

Stephen and Elaine are disabled and rely solely on Stephen’s income. But with the impending removal of his subsidised Motability car, he will have no way of getting to work.” No accessible bus. “If I can’t work, where is my dignity?”

And in your area? Do you know how the disabled people are treated? Do you know if they have the same opportunities, no matter their handicap? If not, why not write your MP about it?

The ocean? You sure?

So in theory, you go down St Mary Street, in Auckland, facing the ocean. And at the bottom, you are really near the ocean, and also near the super active Winyard quarter. But, between you and the ocean, flows a mighty highway. And so you arrive at the bottom, and you are welcomed by a sound barrier and an information panel saying Discover Auckland’s Original Foreshore!

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The discovery is quite virtual, to be true. It shows lovely pictures of a past when the said foreshore was used by the locals for walking, sunbathing, navigating or swimming.

I couldn’t help imagine what the coast could look like, today, in the absence of the highway. A coastal promenade immediately came to mind, with active cafes and shops, and in the background some right density living and offices, with public spaces and walkable environments that encourage the access to the promenade. People would probably speak of how great it is to be living in such a pleasant neighborhood and yet be able to be in the CBD in 10 minutes by bicycle. New Plymouth did a great job re-owning its coast, and the success is seen in all the mentions the path gets as the local tourist attraction, but also by the numbers of people enjoying it and the diversity of users.

Now imagine Auckland had that, and then someone suggested building a highway there, right at the foreshore. I don’t know about you, but I would see protests, if that someone was invested with power, or wondering about how on earth you could imagine killing the goose that lays golden eggs. The idea would seem quite extreme, right?

The thing is, the infrastructure has been inherited, and probably accepted as part of the status quo. Maybe even seen as necessary, for the city’s functioning?

Experiences around the world show however that it’s never too late to re-imagine our environments! And that “extreme” or even “crazy” solutions can actually work, and rather well (look at Paris closing its arterials along the Seine, or the general movement of cities planning to ban the car from their centers, totally unimaginable 20 years ago).

To be continued… Fill the blank with your thoughts!

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Imagine what we could do

Imagine if a little side street, in a bustling neighborhood, was indeed treated as… a little side street. It would allow cars to access and park, and provide them with the necessary space, but not more. And with the leftover space? Well we could for instance provide for those who live there, and who could do with a little public space? or with a little green? some urban furniture for kids maybe? or a cafe’s terrace? The environment could also be friendly and accessible for all those who walk through the neighborhood (and maybe even encourage them to come more often, spend more time there, or visit the shops…). These nasty road signs could be gone too, and a continuous sidewalk would replace the existing 18 m (!) crossing.

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Pink strikes back, and leaves all that room to your imagination!

 

Disabled people’s fight for basic rights

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In Bolivia, a group of disabled people crossed the Andes in 35 days (!) to reclaim basic rights. They have undertaken this epic wheelchair journey with almost no resources, camping along the way, as a last resort action for their basic rights. They were welcomed with barricades, pepper spray and water cannons. The Guardian presented their fight in a short documentary, The Fight.

Reclaiming basic rights obviously made me think of all the discriminations they suffer even in the developed countries like New Zealand, when the built environment doesn’t allow them to cross the road or take the bus, puts them at danger, and (subsequently) limits their possibilities regarding education, work, social life, or leisure.

New Zealand’s Government Policy Strategy (GPS) notes, at the end of the evidence base (points 277-9), that the footpath maintenance is not funded from the national transport fund, and that such a funding would need to know what the footpaths condition looks like, which is not the case. It is also noted that without this information, we can’t know whether footpath condition limits access by the elderly or those with disability (point 278). No measure for that was included in the submitted draft.

Efficiency, you said?

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In Auckland, the $30 million Te Atatu Rd corridor project was designed with the objective to “improve efficiency and safety” for an estimated 38,000 vehicles per day.

Improving for the cars, you say, in a city already choked by traffic? As if it was not bad enough, the design shows:

  1. a total lack of awareness of the pedestrians’ needs – all the pedestrians, including walking aid or wheelchair users, children buggy pushers, or just a fit 20-y-old temporarily on crutches
  2. 0 consideration for the pedestrian design guidelines
  3. a clear vision of who has the priority, on these “intersections”
  4. a carriageway design coming straight from the 60s, with a wide shoulder and a stripped median (approx. 5 m of gauge lost)

Thirty millions. Built to last… And designed so that a future retrofit of the footpaths will require demolishing the existing ones, and putting the carriageway on a well-deserved diet.

It’s pretty tragic.