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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Heritage vs car culture

Napier central, Tiffen Park entrance

Napier. A great architectural legacy and the idea that heritage presents a value to the city, to be safeguarded (see Napier City Vision 2015). And in the middle of that, the ongoing complicated love-story with cars.

It reminded me of Wellington’s beautiful Fire Central, also in the central area, at the crossroads of the active Courtenay Place and the seafront, but cut off by endless lanes of traffic. It makes me also think of virtually all town centres in New Zealand, where historic buildings are disfigured by shrill footpath roofing, floor-to-ceiling advertisements and signs on the footpath, yelling at you “2 dollars!” or selling you any kind of service.

Now imagine these amazing buildings in an environment that encourages walking and sojourning, and that puts them in evidence, making them participate in the public space. I think that their value, as assets. would skyrocket. I also bet that vast majorities would support that new status quo. From a transport planning perspective, this would support the cities’ efforts to increase liveability and reduce reliance on cars. I hope councils go in that direction.