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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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!

 

Need permission

In Auckland, in the busy/trendy Newmarket neighborhood, with bunches of shops and restaurants, you have free parking*, and as a pedestrian, you need to ask the permission to cross the parking entrance/exit! This is also meters from the light rail station but obviously traffic still has right of way.

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* Of course, there’s no such thing as free parking, it has land, building, maintenance and operation costs, that need to be covered by someone. And this someone is often everyone, through taxes. So if you don’t drive, you are basically subsidizing those who do!

Donald Shoup became a rockstar studying parking and its perverse effects (yes that’s possible!), highly recommended reading. Here you’ll find his brilliant free dessert analogy and info about his publications.

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).

Think pink

Two lanes, and two parking lanes. “Free” parking is a whole subject on its own, but for now, let’s just look at these lanes. A-ma-zing-ly wide… 14.5m, says Google.

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So let me see… 2x 2m park lanes, + 2x 3.5m circulation = 11m, and a full 3.5m open to your imagination! Along the street it could be cycle lanes, some urban greening, pocket parks… And at the intersections, more space for pedestrians, allowing them to see better the oncoming traffig and reducing the distance to cross…