Sustainable transport should be accessible, safe, convenient, affordable, easy to use and available for a diverse user base. However, the problem of over-reliance on the personal motor vehicle is an issue that means not only are other methods of transport marginalised, but the whole design of our public spaces is dominated by the needs of car users (an issue that will not be solved by the electric vehicle, and in fact will proliferate the problems present in our public realm). This reliance and subsequent provision of priority to the car becomes an unsustainable cycle where users can feel unsafe as a pedestrian, cyclist or other road user in this car-dominated environment.
A recent study in Greater Manchester suggests that 200 million car journeys within the region are of less than 1km. The study reported that one of the main reasons for these short journeys was anxiety regarding crossing roads. The solution proposed pedestrian-focused interventions, namely ‘stripped down’ zebra crossings specifically located on routes to schools. But why stop there, as well as schools, safe multi-user routes could provide improvements to biodiversity, drainage, access to green spaces and provide recreation opportunities, if, combined with improved Green Infrastructure (GI) assets. This, in turn, could assist in providing links to and reinvigorating our ailing town centres. During the pandemic, pop-up cycle lanes appeared and some roads were given over to pedestrians, which you can read more about in this TEP Article. If these design interventions are to be continued and combined with the unprecedented demand for hybrid working, people may, during their lunches walk to their local centre for that coffee. But only if those local centres are safe, attractive, and convenient to travel to without the use of a car.
This is one potential example of breaking the cycle of car dominance and building on lessons learnt during the pandemic. For some time, Active Travel has been on the current agenda, with the pandemic bringing this into greater focus.
But, how as designers can we understand issues in a particular street or local centre? The recently published (September 2021) Healthy Streets Design Check England is a tool that focuses on embedding public health into built environment design (through the application of LTN 1/20 Cycle infrastructure design) and is based on a human-centred framework.
The assessment tool has 10 indicators, including ‘Everyone feels welcome’, ‘People feel relaxed’ and ‘People feel safe’ and focuses on identifying and subsequently providing incremental changes and improvements to streets. Crucially, the tools and resources are configured for a variety of users to undertake assessments on the quality of streets and are not only used on existing conditions but ultimately on proposals as well.
The metric calculates scores based on both issues with the highway and public realm including Green Infrastructure. Public realm and GI design can provide numerous benefits to all users. For example, street trees not only improve the aesthetics of a street, but they can also reduce airborne pollution, can be incorporated into Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, provide shade, boost biodiversity, along with design functions such as separation of different user groups. This multifunctional simultaneous benefit of GI assets, in combination with good design of the public realm, can produce streets that are comfortable spaces that people want to use, rather than jumping for the car.
Healthy Streets Scorecard is another example (focused on Greater London) where individual streets have been scored by a coalition of safety campaigns and bodies such as Sustrans, to identify issues and convince London Boroughs to implement 5 key measures, from low traffic neighbourhoods to 20mph speed limits and protected cycle lanes.
As Landscape Architects, we are well placed to use these tools and to understand in greater detail issues faced by the local populous of a public realm. Working with fellow professionals in transport planning, we focus efforts on resolving these issues through targeted design interventions that provide enhanced active travel and multifunctional Green Infrastructure, as well as a safer more comfortable public realm. Crucially these proposals can then be tested to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved.
Why is this important? Sustainable transport, active travel and improved Green Infrastructure can –
Senior Landscape Architect