This is my first blog post in many months, and sorry, but it's another roundup of conference happenings. But it's worth a read as there were many useful lessons and perspectives at the BC Active Transportation Summit arranged by the BC Cycling Coalition. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for an event arranged by a cycling organisation, this was much more about inclusivity for all modes and abilities, not just cycling. The sessions provided some great lessons that can be applied whether you're a designer, advocate, or simply interested in accessibility. I have too many notes to share in full here, so i've tired to summarise some key takeaways from each session I attended. Hopefully I don't misquote anyone too much when interpreting my scribbles. I've also broken up the text with some photos from New Westminsters recent waterfront upgrades which I visited for the first time while attending.
Something I liked that Barb said that made you look at things from a fresh perspective, was try and imagine what you would do if you were trying to achieve the exact opposite. So let's says safe bike facilities and connected routes was the goal. What would we do to achieve the opposite of that, lets say, make cyclists share the road with cars, end safe facilities with no notice or safe alternative, make them go out of their way, etc, etc. Now ask yourselves which of those things your city actually does. Probably all of them and more. An interesting way of highlighting the issues.
Some other perspectives that Barb asked us to view decisions through, and which speaks to inclusivity were... who are we doing things to? Who are we doing things for? Who are we doing things with? Thinking about the end user and who benefits, rather than just a piece of infrastructure may result in different decisions.
Rooted in Rights
Rooted in Rights is Seattle-based team of disabled video producers, editors, and digital organizers that partner with both local coalitions and national advocacy campaigns to fight for concrete changes for our community. Again, their perspective is a valuable reminder for those of us who are not disabled.
As an example, they shared the image above depicting someone clearing snow on steps first because most people use the steps. But if the disabled ramp was cleared, it works for everyone. Scale this up to the City, which in many cases create barriers for disabled. Making it work for disabled people means it still works for everyone, and we don't exclude part of the community. It all comes down to design decisions and priorities.
Old problems include construction detours with no consideration for disabled people and lack of proper sidewalk letdowns. New problems included dockless bike and scooter share which can often leave bikes and scooters in unexpected places. Think when you put that bike back, or even move one if you see it blocking the path.
We must improve. The status quo isn't good enough and excludes those less able on many occasions.
BC Active Transportation Strategy and Guideline
The summit was the location for the official launch of the new BC Active Transportation Strategy and Active Transportation Design Guidelines. Minister Trevena was on hand to introduce the strategy and Ministry to introduce the guidelines, or the phone book as it will be known. 500+ pages of design guidance.
First thoughts, oh great... another design guide we need to read... but on the bright side, I understand this pulls together best practice from current Canadian guidance from the Transport Association of Canada, from the various NACTO guidelines, and international documents such as the CROW Manual. One guide to rule them all!
On a positive note, the guideline is free to everyone, unlike the TAC guide which comes at a cost, and unlikely to be purchased by the general public, or even advocacy organisations with limited resources, everyone has access to this, and given the guideline documents an aspirational standard, designers will have to work hard to justify a lesser standard.
The big question remaining is funding, strategy and design guidance is great, but if this is to truly contribute to a cleaner BC, some serious financial support is going to have to be provided to municipalities to reduce BC's transportation emissions. a few million per annum is not enough from a provincial level when we're still spending many times that on interchanges and highway widening to make it easier to drive.
Elder Ruth Adams
Elder Ruth Adamas from the Tsawwassen Nation talked about the severance of their lands by port and ferry infrastructure and the lack of mitigation to maintain access across these facilities. When impacting other users with your projects make sure you consider everyones needs that use that land.
Who has felt uncomfortable crossing the street? Everyone puts their hand up! Why is that, past planning decisions and priorities. We feel like drivers shouldn't be inconvenienced.
Our infrastructure isn't broken, its working exactly as designed, inequitable, unsafe, inaccessible. Out traffic signals are time for the able bodied, pedestrians feel like they're getting in the way, drivers inch forward threateningly. Our priorities need to change to one of inclusivity and equity.
Sarah talked about people with mental issues or minority races having less rights to use public space, whether through racial profiling and harassment. System is geared to favour the privileged, they know how to complain, and complaints given greater priority. Public space should be for everyone.
Gavin talked about bicycle highways, stating its a route type rather than facility type. Continuous connectivity, reduced number of stops, safety, branding and wayfinding is key. E-bikes will make longer distances more acceptable to the general public, and network design linking key destinations is also important.
Tom was representing the David Suzuki Foundation and talked about Canadas clean power pathways. The latest IPPC reports are a big wake-up (seems like most are still sleeping), reviewed many studies related to decarbonization, covered some key things such as electrifying everything, whilst generating clean electricity, improving efficiency of the things using electricity, the cost of energy reflecting the environmental impact of it, the removal of subsidies for energy that causes greater harm to the environment. Connectivity between land use and transportation, and I think the most important, redefine what a successful world is, never ending economic growth is counter productive to environmental needs, focus on well being not GDP.
Maddy talked about basic mistakes that we shouldn't be making, or at the least should be fixing such as sidewalk letdowns and construction detours, a six inch curb might not seem like much to the abled bodied, but its akin to a cliff or a wall for someone in a wheelchair. Include disabled people in the decision making process whether through committees, or project teams, they will add value. Words are good, but our values can be found in our budgets, if our budgets are not addressing decades of inequity, then we're not truly committed to addressing it.
Robin talked about how the built environment affects health, we tend to view people as disabled, but often it's the environment thats disabling, it's easier to change the environment than the person. There is a connection between our lifestyle/transportation choices and our health, including mental health. Movement releases endorphins which act as an anti-depressant and helps brain function and growth, active transportation infrastructure if accessible to everyone is effectively a huge anti-depressant solution for many. Loneliness and social isolation are significant issues in society today. accessible active transportation creates social interactions and connections, it's an antidote to poor accessibility, sedentary life and isolation. Lastly, human dignity is based on freedom, by confining people to suburban houses with no access, or confining them to a sidewalk with no letdown, we're reducing their dignity and ability to thrive. Our cities and public spaces should be inviting not hostile, we should be welcoming life on the street, not preventing it.