Designing Streets for All – Policy and Practice

    One year ago, a team working in obesity prevention and based within Council began a conversation with the planners and engineers about achieving slower vehicle speeds in new residential streets. Why? Slowing the traffic improves safety, and perceptions of safety, for people of all ages and abilities. People are more likely to get out and about, to meet each other in the street, to walk and cycle to local destinations.
    During initial discussions across Council, it became apparent that design was the critical tool to deliver success for the project. Design, done well, could achieve agreement and compromise among the many regulatory, technical and political factors that contest for space in our streets. Our objective was to create streets that positively influence human behaviour and are easily understood by everyone.
    Slower vehicle speeds in residential streets meet the major policy priorities of transport, urban planning and health professionals – but in practice, the initiative has rarely been attempted in the outer suburban areas of Melbourne. Rather, we have continued to develop new residential estates that prioritise vehicle movement and, as a direct result, disadvantage or discourage people movement.
    Now, City of Whittlesea is developing a socially progressive policy that will guide our practice in designing new streets, as well as the elements of the adjacent land use and development that influence behaviour. The project has required a collaborative approach to plan for the various technical and regulatory issues that are encountered throughout the “life” of a street. Over the next few months, we must seek to also overcome the political barriers. Whether we succeed or fail, the journey we undertake will be richly informative for anyone else seeking to implement a universally designed built environment, with significantly positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of residents.

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