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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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?

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.

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.

Speed vs humans

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The evidence is over-whelming: speed kills. All residential areas, everywhere, should have max speed limit 30Kph/20Mph or less. No excuses. – Gil Penalosa

And lower speeds also allow people to cross the street and interact more easily, and provide environments that feel safer for cycling (and again, accessing the school, shop, or friends’ house).