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Making space for innovation

Understanding community needs, motivations and challenges is at the heart of fully realising the benefits of innovative and transformational infrastructure

20 November 2019

The design – and the reality – of our streets, transport infrastructure and public spaces should encourage people to regularly engage in healthy, active lifestyles, especially everyday walking and cycling as a means of simply getting around. Yet there are often gaps between the opportunities offered by new policies, designs, products and services and their actual take-up. The discussions at Cycling + Walking Innovations 2019 will take a close look at how we make cycling and walking innovations work better and harder for more people – now and in the future.

While a focus on new infrastructure, design and engineering is welcome, reactions to where it's been installed, and what happens next, need more attention. The ability to engage meaningfully is a key part of the ability to innovate, and infrastructure-focused programmes like LCWIPs possibly haven't recognised the vital roles of engagement and behaviour change in fully realising the benefits of innovative and transformational Infrastructure.

As one local authority officer puts it: 'Given that local government is strapped for revenue funding, innovations need to be worked through so that we can fully support any capital investment in infrastructure and get more people cycling and walking.'

All the speakers at Cycling + Walking Innovations 2019 are making space for innovation, be it through pioneering new designs, ideas, products and services or – importantly – by creating innovation partnerships that transform the current 'policy to procurement' practices that tend to keep innovation off our streets.

As one local authority officer puts it: 'Given that local government is strapped for revenue funding, innovations need to be worked through so that we can fully support any capital investment in infrastructure and get more people cycling and walking.'

Session one will explore vision and leadership. In the current political climate, making space for active travel and the realities of traffic constraint should be high on any agenda, so how are pioneering local authorities taking a lead that resonates with the wider population? Why is some, seemingly well-planned and designed, infrastructure ignored by potential users, and how can we fix that?

Session two will showcase the emerging data-streams that are underpinning more inclusive and open walking and cycling policies. Emerging datasets from innovative sources, including citizen-sensed air pollution data, open source software and open data are enabling more citizens to participate in the decision-making process, and to help designers to deliver cleaner, greener and happier – and not simply faster – routes. This session will also look at the risks associated with new data sources, including price, representative samples, 'cloud lock-in' and focus on existing behaviour rather than future potential.

Sessions three and four will focus on innovative active mode infrastructure, design, products and services, and on understanding the movement patterns, actions and motivations behind their take-up for different groups of street users and travellers. As more people walk and cycle – and possibly scoot – there is a need to better understand and manage potential conflicts and trade-offs. This is certainly something that the DfT has high on its agenda as it develops CWIS2 and the next phase of LCWIPs. While motor vehicles are undoubtedly more dangerous than cycles, many pedestrians (myself included) and vulnerable and disabled users can't be left out of the mobility mix. Some small cities, for example Pontevedra in Spain, have successfully prioritised walking over cycling and all other modes.

As Ross Atkin, a speaker at Walking and Cycling Innovations 2019 says: 'Our best shot at transforming our streets in ways that work for everyone is to understand how what has been built so far has affected different people. The only way to do this is to listen to and engage with those people. Unfortunately, like many political issues at the moment, this seems increasingly difficult to do.' Ross is a designer who has, for the last ten years, been trying to understand how disabled people use streets by following disabled people around (with their consent) as they negotiate streets in different UK cities, and collecting their views and experiences. 'I’ve seen, first-hand, the issues different groups of people face getting around on streets and I’ve tried, often unsuccessfully, to explain these to design practitioners and improve what ends up getting built.'

'For me, we are only going to get healthy, inclusive streets through good, thorough design. That means understanding the needs of different users, being clear about what our objectives are and creating designs that meet those objectives with the best trade-offs between different people’s needs. In some situations the best trade-off will be segregated cycle infrastructure (with much more effective ways of managing pedestrian and cycle conflict) but no sensible designer would assume the same design would be the best solution in every context. We have many other ways of making our streets better places to walk and cycle, most obviously with drastic reductions in motor vehicle volumes through road closures or pricing. Getting that would be a political fight worth having.'

Read the full article 'Why do our cycling and walking innovations end up being bad for disabled people and what can we do about it?' by Ross Atkin on TransportXtra

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