Time to consider the needs of people above the needs of cars

By Jim Sallis

I recently led a “walkshop” – a walking workshop – that taught cardiac rehabilitation experts how to assess the pedestrian-friendliness of streetscapes, including design of footpaths (if any), street crossings and roadways.

There is evidence that designing streetscapes for the safety and comfort of pedestrians is strongly related to walking for transportation among all age groups. The health experts who participated learned about some common challenges faced by every resident, including their patients, who are strongly encouraged to exercise to restore their health.

Some of the local attendees at the Australian Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Association conference that the experts attended told me about current debates in Brisbane stimulated by recent pedestrian deaths, which I am sorry to hear about.

Much of the discussion has been about pedestrians glued to their phones, using headphones, and jaywalking. Although pedestrians need to be alert and responsible, too much emphasis on pedestrian behaviour sounds like blaming the victim. This is not the only issue.

In many European countries, pedestrians are considered the highest-priority traveller because they are most vulnerable. Streets are designed to protect pedestrians, and laws assume the driver is at fault in a crash with a pedestrian. So drivers are very vigilant about pedestrians.

This is in stark contrast to the approach in the US and Australia where the main goal of transportation is to move cars.

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