Navigating cities can be a challenge for anybody with mobility issues due to a lack of infrastructure and poor communication. Decades of efforts to improve urban design have made a positive difference while more recently apps for mobiles have come into existence. Not all solutions are valued by everyone, but the upward trend of making our neighbourhoods more accessible is a thing we should all appreciate.
People have been crowdsourcing accessibility data far longer than apps have been around. Disability activists have been drawing maps by hand for decadesto prove the need for curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, signage, and other features that make public access possible, particularly for wheelchair users. In cities such as Berkeley, California, and Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, environmental audits, mapmaking, ad-hoc design practices, and “guerrilla urbanism” have enabled wheelchair and power-chair users to get around otherwise inaccessible cities by, for example, fashioning curb cuts from found materials.
Urban planners know adding streets won’t make traffic any better, indeed adding capacity for more cars does the opposite: it makes traffic worse. The problem is that the average person (and politicians) don’t know this little quirk of urban planning. As a result we still build sub-urban areas to cater to old notions of traffic design instead of letting urban planners implement smarter, better solutions.
So what’s a solution to bad traffic? Road diets.
Today, we now know that bigger roads and extra traffic lanes do nothing to solve congestion. In fact, it tends to induce even more traffic. So we didn’t fix the congestion issues, and on top of that, we built wide roads that are relatively unsafe.
Transportation planners in the 21st century recognized that many of the roads that were overbuilt could be redesigned to calm speeding and add space for newer multimodal transportation options. And thus, the road diet was born.
The video above demonstrates how communities can transition from an unhealthy, vehicle focused, urban design to a healthy pedestrian design. Regular readers of this site know that streets designed for people are better for communities by making cities healthier and economically more productive. Cars are an clunky way to move people in cities so much so Oslo is banning cars, and other cities are making similar efforts around improving transportation. We know what we need to do to reduce needless deaths at the hands of car drivers, all we need is the political will.
If you’re in Toronto today then you can meet at city hall at 5:45pm to call on local councillors to stop pedestrian deaths.
Got together with some neighbours and transformed a local intersection with chalk & leaves, revealing a surplus surface area of 2,000 square feet which could be re-designed as a parkette, new sidewalks, and much shorter/safer crossings. 🌳🚶🏽 More: https://t.co/SNYkMMo0Uipic.twitter.com/psv0MRTZXi
Dave Meslin got back to his roots by engaging in some very local activism. The Toronto-based activist, artists, and all around good person decided to change an intersection near his house. The intersection is not particular safe or well designed. By using just chalk and raked leaves he and his merry band of locals improved the intersection. It’s now safer and has revealed space that can be used to plant trees or a new park for people to relax in.
Using only sidewalk chalk and fallen leaves, Meslin and his neighbours temporarily “fixed” a dangerous intersection near Regal Road and Springmount, taking special care to maintain all existing road widths at a city-approved 28 feet.
“We revealed a surplus surface area of 2,000 square feet which could be transformed into a parkette, new sidewalks, and much shorter/safer crossings,” wrote Meslin in a Facebook post about the project.
Regularly walking and biking are good for one’s health, but did you know taking public transit is too? That’s right just by not taking a car to work like most North Americans you can be healthier. A simple life change can have a large impact on your life, plus by not using a car you can save the lungs of your neighbours and improve your city. Urban designers and doctors are starting to take this into consideration when talking about personal health and cities.
An efficient, affordable transit network is one key to better health. This can be as basic as a solid bus service, or can include a plethora of enhanced bus options and rail. Whatever the system, people who use transit “get more than three times the amount of physical activity per day than those who don’t,” just by walking to and from it, according to TransLoc – 19 minutes of exercise daily versus six minutes for those who don’t use transit.
Transit also reduces air pollution, making everyone healthier. Not to mention that city buses today often have cleaner engines than do cars.
Public transit also causes fewer accidents than individual cars, is far safer, is known to reduce stress, and improves the quality of life for vulnerable populations.