We’d all like to live on a safe street. A place where you can walk, the kids can play, and where it’s safe to ride a bike.
What makes a street safe, that’s the question? The simple answer is to make them “people friendly” rather than giving preference to cars.
Our society has grown to accept that cars are dominant and that we must modify what we do, as people, to enable the car to have free rein. But this need not be the case. Streets can be designed so that cars still have good access, but only for those cars that need to be there. We’ve all experienced the frustrated ‘rat runner’ who wants to gain a few seconds personal advantage over the rest of the traffic, and speeds down side streets. Street design can be done in a way that makes it convenient for local cars and more pleasant for the rest of us. And if the street is principally for local use, a speed limit of 30kph won’t make our local journeys take longer in a practical sense, but it will make our streets much safer. In fact the research shows it would make them very much safer.
Our local streets are managed by local Councils. They have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for us, as people, to live in. Cars don’t pay rates, the people who live in the streets do. So people’s needs should be given priority. But we all drive cars, so it’s not just the Council planners who need to change how they think. We all need to rethink what is important. If we come to the conclusion that life is for living, not for driving, and most people would, why don’t we try to change things? Why don’t we ask our Councils to change things?
We can! Council elections are being held in October. Let’s elect Councillors who agree with this view. Ask those who are standing for election what they think and vote accordingly.
But what about getting action in the four years between elections?
Writing a letter is one really good way. But people can feel a bit powerless and discount the effect that a single letter can have. That’s where community action comes to the fore. A community group with a common outlook gives a sense of connectedness and a louder voice too.
One local group, Whitehorse Active Transport Action Group – WATAG for short – was formed three years ago to put the case for safer and more convenient ways of getting about using Active Transport modes.
Active Transport is a term that’s often used, but what is it? Active Transport refers to any form of human-powered transportation – walking, cycling, and using a wheelchair. (Or even in-line skating or skateboarding for the young and fit, though they do tend to worry some older folk on the footpaths).
There are many ways to engage in Active Transportation. We all do it. In fact many people do it regularly and just don’t think about it as Active Transport. It’s just a normal walk to the bus stop or train, or to the shops, a bike ride to school to work or simply for fun. And it’s also an outing by wheelchair or mobility cart to the library, the shops, or to visit a friend.
WATAG suggests that apart from having a nicer and safer street, there are many more reasons to encourage people to use Active Transport rather than a car.
- Health –An opportunity to be physically active on a regular basis is great for health.
- Social – Active Transport is accessible to virtually everyone and increases social interactions.
- Convenience – It helps to reduce road congestion and increases road safety. And it encourages people to use public transport
- Environmental – Active Transport and associated public transport use is environmentally-friendly. It helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Economic – Active Transport saves personal money on fuel and parking. It reduces the need for expensive additional public expenditure on road infrastructure for cars.
So…if you’d like a safer street, and all the benefits of an Active Transport oriented society, you too can do something. You can tell your local Council what you think, help vote in Councillors who have policies which encourage this, and get in touch with WATAG and add your voice to theirs. See www.watag.org for more information.
Chris Trueman lives in Blackburn.
He is a keen Active Transport advocate and is a Committee Member of WATAG
First published in the September 2020 edition of Eastsider News