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Highways engineers told to prioritise pedestrians

Sydney walking roads

Highways engineers have been told to put people on a par with traffic when planning projects.

Leading transport planners have said that highways engineering in cities will need to put pedestrians and street life at as high a priority as motor traffic as populations grow and urban densities increase.

Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation president Andreas Markides is actively encouraging fellow highway engineers to ’move away from the narrow perspective of highway standards’. 

“It is my purpose this year to try to help and encourage fellow highway engineers to look at their work in a different way and move away from the narrow perspective of highway standards and to think more about creating places,” Markides said. 

“Two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 and with growth in population a further 2.5bn people will be living in urban areas by the same time. How they get around on foot will become an increasingly high priority for engineers.”

Transport planner Markides - a former chair of Colin Buchanan & Partners and now principal of Markides Associates - said the criteria for designing roads in growing towns and cities should not only focus on how to meet demands of traffic capacity and maximise safety.

”The focus should also be on how to promote a sense of community and to encourage health and well being. With these issues in mind highways engineers can be responsible for creating more than flowing traffic but better places to live which in turn will create more prosperous communities,” he added.

Later this evening, Markides will be speaking at the Institution’s Amey sponsored learned society lecture on Transport, Cities and Places alongside Henriette Vamberg, partner of leading city planner Gehl and managing director of its Copenhagen practice.

Equally concerned about the issue of mobility, Vamberg is keen to encourage highways engineers to factor in the growing number of pedestrians.

“It is really interesting to talk about space for walking,” Vamberg said. “In the future there will be much less space available and so many more people wanting to use it. The issue of mobility is very important and we have to get better at looking at open spaces and how we make sure they offer something to all of us.

“Cycle paths should never be created at the expense of pedestrians,” she said. “Shared paths and cycle routes through parks where space is taken from people when it is already in low supply is the wrong answer.”

Equally, she said that prioritising car traffic over walkers in the phasing of traffic lights is a poor approach to engineering city streets.

Vamberg and Gehl have been working in Sydney, Australia to transfom the city centre around its original main street of George Street from Central Station to Circular Quay.

They found that pedestrians would spend more than half their time waiting at traffic lights to cross the congested streets of the area, held up 90 seconds for a 10 second opportunity dash across a road only to hit another red pedestrian light.

Now a new project which includes construction of a $2bn Australian dollar (£1bn) light rail scheme, traffic diversions and pedestrianisation is transforming the area.

“Often all the money and ‘fun’ in infrastructure is in the roads and the big projects but mobility is all about a concerted approach, recognising that we are all motorists but also cyclists, walkers and public transport users so all those modes need to be considered every time,” Vamberg concluded.


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