Unseen barriers

I went to Hastings because I had heard about its awesome farmers’ market. I hadn’t realized that the said market was about 30 minutes on foot from the city centre, where the bus dropped me. Didn’t matter, I just set off to walk – sounds like a good idea, on a lovely Saturday morning.

All along the way, walking on Caroline Road, the difference of treatment between pedestrians and traffic was striking. The traffic was using wide, maintained and continuous infrastructures. On the side, the footpath was maybe just over 1m wide, occasionally invaded by the nearby vegetation, and/or covered with leaves or fruit fallen from the street trees. And I should also mention that this infrastructure is to be shared “with care” between pedestrians and bicycle users.

So it is all fine, but if you are blind, you might get whacked in the face by a branch, will need to figure out what the difference of the surface is, and will be surprised by a bike rider you were not expecting. If you are using a mobility aid, you will struggle to progress and the space won’t allow you to go past two people walking side by side in the opposite direction.

The paramount was however the intersection Caroline Rd / Frederick St, which I would qualify of uncrossable. In appearance, there is nothing too special to that intersection, standard design ticking the traffic layout boxes. But when you’re on foot, it’s a different story, as you can see here.

There will be a considerable effort into assessing and retrofitting the inherited infrastructures. But I believe this effort is necessary if we are to support walking and participation of people of all ages and abilities.

 

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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

Screenshot from 2017-05-21 20-11-19

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.