Episode 10 - Priorities right-side-up: walking and cycling first

Roger Boulter’s recent book draft (on www.boulter.co.nz) won a 2020 WSP Golden Foot Award. This post outlines some issues covered in the last of twelve chapters (two appendices follow).

Priorities right-side-up: walking and cycling first

By the early 1990s it was clearly established professionally that new roads generated their own travel demand. This undermined, and ultimate defeated, attempts to combat congestion based on road-building (although this seems to have been slow to be recognised).

At about the same time the theory of a ‘Road User Hierarchy’ was devised, and quickly adopted by many national and local governments, including by many New Zealand local Councils and nationally in the NZ Pedestrian Planning and Design Guide. The principle behind this is that where provision for different forms of transport cannot all be met, helping walking should take first priority, followed by helping cycling, followed by helping public transport, with provision for private car movement near the bottom of the list.

Pre-dating this, the Netherlands had effectively applied the same principle from the 1970s, resulting in the well-known very high Dutch walking and cycling levels (which, in fact, have only a little to do with the Netherlands being flat). As a result, the Dutch have enjoyed a thriving economy, very high quality public transport and a host of other environmental and lifestyle benefits.

Planning for attractive foot-based activity needs to be at the heart of urban-wide ‘integrated’ transport planning exercises (rather than these being based on combining roading and public transport programmes). Cities and towns originally arose so that people could interact face-to-face, for trade as well as for other reasons, which takes place most efficiently and effectively on foot. Good CBD walking environments deliver economic prosperity, deter crime and build communities, as well as having other benefits such as preventive health.

Cycling should generally be allowed through pedestrian areas, and research has shown this is best in the centre of a pedestrianised roadway (in which motor traffic volumes and speeds will have been dramatically reduced, for example using raised tables, or maybe only retained for specific purposes such as deliveries); anywhere else this will conflict with pedestrian movement. Accompanied by ‘bike stations’ (for secure long-term bike parking and other services) this may give potential for a significant increase in cycling for practical needs (notably work commuting and other reasons for visiting town and city centres).

With public transport able to carry bikes and other non-motorised forms of mobility (e.g. scooters or skateboards), and urban centres planned around rail stations (‘transit-oriented development’, so far under-developed in New Zealand) there is potential for a great many trips to be made without recourse to cars. This would mean more intensive and prosperous cities from ‘agglomeration’ economic benefits, and less land value lost to roadway and car parking space.

Applied more generally (i.e. including outside CBDs) ‘filtered permeability’ road and path networks, where walking and cycling connections are more frequent and direct than are motorised transport route opportunities, have potential to significantly raise walking and cycling levels, while cutting congestion through making walking and cycling more attractive compared to driving.

All this goes a long way beyond planning networks of separated cycleways or ‘shared’ paths.