Feature — Street Reclaiming
What would it take for our suburban streets to be friendly environments, where children can play and people can walk and cycle safely, and talk without having to shout? How could we get to this picture? Is this even possible? We tackle these questions on this issue.
On any given school day, you will see thousands of angry, frustrated parents driving their children to school. They don't like it, but they feel forced to drive because the streets are not safe, because it's full of other angry, frustrated parents driving their children to school. Catch the irony?
The problem feeds on itself, as an article called Pedestrian Power puts it:
"A vicious cycle has formed in that the street is considered to be a dirty, noisy, dangerous place; this has meant the reduction of pedestrians which has created further alienation on the street; in turn, more people use their car instead of walking which has lead to increased traffic; yet it is traffic that has caused the street to be dirty, noisy, and dangerous in the first place."
"Street reclaiming should not be seen as a subversive activity; you donþt have to go out and lie in front of traffic. Practical street reclaiming is something that anyone can do; it is not about being anti-car it is about being pro-community. Street reclaiming means reclaiming the street for itþs original purpose, as a safe place for social interaction and not merely as a corridor for cars to get from A to B."
These thoughts are often dismissed as 'anti-car'. CAMWEST doesn't see itself as anti-car, but pro-people. Most CAMWEST members have a car and find them convenient, although we often wish we could ride safely instead. We need to to put the car in its place — second to humans.
How many times have you heard someone whinge about speed limits and brag about how they take a liberal approach to them, and yet when cycling is mentioned the response is “I would never do that — it's just not safe in the street!”?
Here are some statistics from the RTA:
- In 1999, 577 people died on NSW roads.
- Of these 577 people, 245 (42%) died as a result of a speeding driver.
- An additional 4,347 people were injured in speeding-related crashes in 1999.
- The estimated cost to the community of speed-related crashes in 1999 was more than $441 million.
Small increases in speed have big increases in the risk of killing someone, it's that simple: “In a 60 km/h speed limit area, the risk of involvement in a casualty crash doubles with each 5 km/h increase in travelling speed above 60 km/h.” (RTA Speeding Research).
Apart from the hard nosed statistics, speeding can also destroy the environment of the street. As people are too scared to hang around, they retreat. This destroys the social fabric of the area. Ironically, the 'deadness' of an area is often used as an argument for increasing speed limits!
Noise is the often neglected problem in our neighbourhoods. One of the bicycle's advantages is its quietness, something we may forget as we start assuming that progress equals noise. Anyone who works in the Sydney CBD knows how anti-social its streets are. You cannot hold a conversation because of all the cars, trucks and buses.
Solutions — Reclaiming Our Streets
The solution is simple: people deciding that their street is part of their home environment, and taking ownership of what happens there.
The Parramatta Church St area is a great example of putting people first. Car parking space was returned for use by people: wider footpaths and al fresco dining. The result: a tremendous revival to the area, great for business and the area in general.
Keep an eye out for a Street Reclaiming page on our site, as we update it with more specific actions in the Western Sydney area.
What Councils Can Do
- Prepare and implement a traffic reduction/management plan for their areas. Use the ideas at David Engwicht's site and his book 'Street Reclaiming'.
- Realise that the area near the train station is the heart of a community, and as such people should come first, cars second.
- Provide better street furniture, and places for people to meet.
- Police car parking, and use money raised for streetscape improvement.
- Implement more 'shared zones', low speed areas that are designed for people.
- Encourage the multi-use of space. For example, car parks can be used as weekend markets.
- Reclaim space for people, particularly from car parking areas. For example, 'No Stopping' and 'No Parking' areas should be used to widen footpaths, install bike parking, etc.
What State Government Can Do
- Fund better cycleways. The BikePlan 2010 strategy needs to be implemented by 2005.
- Empower and fund councils with resources to better police car parking.
- Enforce speed limits, and introduce 40Km/h zones where there is lots of pedestrian/cyclist traffic.
- Police needs to target negligent, dangerous driving - something that's easily ignored.
- Reward councils that have good medium density policies with funds for better public transport, parking policing, street furniture, etc.
- Encourage and properly fund police bicycle units, a great, effective method of policing that is also people-friendly.
- Install more bike lockers at stations, and install cycleways leading to them.
What You Can Do
- Enjoy your street! Walk, cycle, and just hang around. This is what David Engwicht calls 'psychological reclaiming' — the first step in transforming your area.
- Slow down when driving. This is something easy to do that can make a huge difference. You can think of it as being a 'moving speed hump', encouraging everyone else to keep within speed limits.
- Read David Engwicht's Street Reclaiming summary. This will give you a vision of what your street and neighbourhood could be like. Even better, buy his book and share his ideas with neighbours and council.
- Talk to your neighbours about your area. People often feel that they are the only ones noticing problems. When people start to talk, change starts to happen.
- Request your council to have a traffic reduction plan. Ask them to go through 'Street Reclaiming', by David Engwicht.
Street Reclaiming — Summary: A great overview of David Engwicht's philosophy on making our streets people-friendly. His books have revolutionised the way many think about our streets. This summary comes from his popular book, 'Street Reclaiming', which will change the way you think about your neighbourhood.
2nd Generation Traffic Calming Project — Engtwich (Word, 193K)
Car Chaos — New Internationalist
Green Cities — survival guide for an urban future, New Internationalist, June 99
Livable Cities — Sustainable Urban and Transport Planning - Australian Conservation Foundation
Torque — ABC Lateline, 8/04/1999
It's a symbol of independence and prosperity É the wind in your hair and the open road. But in reality is the traffic is getting slower, the air is getting dirtier and the cities noisier all thanks to the automobile. So why are we still wedded to the wheel?
the Residential Street as Play Space
A paper that explains how the residential street has progressively lost its function as a play space for children.
Pedestrian Power — susdesign.com
RTA 50 Km/h Urban Speed Limit Evaluation (PDF, 416k)
Street Reclaiming Project — BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation)
Street Reclaiming, by David Engwicht. Press blurb: "Local communities across Australia are taking steps to make neighbourhoods more livable. This book shows ordinary residents how to reclaim their streets from traffic without waiting for councils. This is a practical and down-to-earth manual with over 200 illustrations which will change the way you look at streets." Many of the thoughts from this article come from this book.
Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence, by Newman and Kenworthy (1999). A good book re transport. Add a 'resources' or 'good books' page/section.