Space, the final frontier? Roger Boulter

Roger Boulter’s book draft Planning for Walking and Cycling in New Zealand,

on his website www.boulter.co.nz,  won a 2020 Living Streets Aotearoa ‘Golden Foot’ award and calls for a new approach to planning for these important forms of transport. This outlines a topical issue it raises.

 

Space, the final frontier?

 

As I write this (March 2021), Let’s Get Wellington Moving, the multi-modal transport exercise covering Central Wellington (but not its suburbs and regional settlements, from where a lot of CBD traffic comes) have engaged as advisors the architecture firm of Denmark’s Jan Gehl.

 

This seems great news. In my draft book Planning for Walking and Cycling in New Zealand I highlight Jan Gehl’s crucial message that walking is not so much about getting from one place to another (how transport planning engineers tend to see transport) as creating safe places, prosperous not just in money terms (‘footfall’ means spending) but in the original meaning of ‘prosperous’ as about well-being.

 

I also bemoaned that little was done to implement the central proposal of Jan Gehl’s 2004 City to Sea Wellington study, that is to narrow Jervois Quay, a major road artery blocking off the waterfront to foot traffic, from three lanes in each direction to two. Gehl’s 2004 study had seen armies of interviewers researching in-depth how people on foot (and others) used streets and other public spaces.

 

Now LGWM are to repeat Gehl’s research, to see what has changed.

 

And much will have changed. Since 2004 we have seen a mushrooming of small-wheeled transport, both human-driven and powered, much of which uses roadside footpaths and (of more concern in my book draft) coupled with subtle messaging that ‘this is the place for them’.

 

The growing demands on footpath space – and to this we could add calls since 2016 for footpath cycling to also be legalised – has tended to be neglected in a transport planning culture that speaks much about ‘networks’. Some initiatives, such as the official One Network Road Classification, seek to integrate different types of networks together, such as for general traffic (the ‘road hierarchy’), bus networks, cycling networks and even ‘walking networks’.

 

Often missed is Gehl’s message that ‘walking’ is less about ‘networks’ and more about creating the character of a place. ‘Transport funding’ has rarely gone to this on the grounds that ‘it isn’t really transport’.

 

Another problem is that advocacy and professional groups working with general traffic, other motorised transport and cycling tend to be vastly different from those working with people on foot and other lawful footpath users.

 

Engineers predominate among the former. Even cycling experts may also be engineers.

 

Those working on use of foot space, such as footpaths, public squares and other pedestrian spaces, are more likely to be architects or other urban design professionals more related to spaces than to movement.

 

Advocacy groups concerned about walking issues will also not only include general user groups such as Living Streets Aotearoa, but also Grey Power (advocates for older people), and those representing different types of disability.

 

This is because older people and people with disabilities rely far more than do other sectors on spaces where they can feel safe from intrusion by wheeled transport. If they don’t feel safe, social exclusion will result – something not picked up in crash or injury data.

 

These advocacy sectors have far less ready access to the transport officials who centrally influence what happens not only to roadway space, but to footpaths and other pedestrian spaces as well.

 

But maybe LGWM bringing in Gehl Architects is a sign of hope?

 

LGWM and other ‘integrated transport planning’ exercises have tended to focus on the big-budget roading and public transport projects, and neglect walking because it is seen as ‘not really about transport’. Maybe this time I’ll be pleasantly surprised.