Walking: Making it Safer and More Enjoyable

October 5, 2021 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Part of the Brunswick survey response by Brunswick Residents Network

Walking is a key form of sustainable transport. Indeed, it has so many benefits, including improving the environment, people’s health, and their sense of community. Encouraging more people to walk more often is one of the best ways a society can achieve a range of objectives.

Unlike for other transport modes, governments don’t collect good data on pedestrians that could be used to inform pedestrians strategies. Urban densification increasingly leads to competition over space allocated for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. So it becomes even more important to ensure that we understand how, why, where and when people walk, and how to address barriers to walking.

Brunswick Residents Network (BRN) sought to do this. In early 2021 they surveyed 992 residents from Brunswick (including East and West) on their walking habits and have reported on their findings here. They hope to use the findings to lobby Moreland Council to improve walking infrastructure. Of course, these findings will be applicable in other areas too.

People walk a lot, but safety concerns restrict times

A key finding was that people walk a lot. Two thirds walked every day, and over 80% walked for at least two hours a week. Respondents also noted that compared with five years ago there were more people walking, especially during the day. Covid lockdowns may have contributed to this.

People walk at all times during daylight hours. But after dark, far fewer women walk than do men, most likely due to concerns about violent attacks. Nearly half of female respondents said they would walk more if they weren’t worried about their safety. Better lighting, and indeed more people walking, would improve this.  

Older residents were less likely to walk at night, probably due to social patterns and concerns about personal safety. Concerns about traffic safety may also play a role here: half of Moreland’s pedestrian road deaths over the past 10 years were 70+ years old (TAC data.)

Walking destinations: Parks

The most popular destination (selected by 86%) was the park, highlighting the importance of our open space. The lack of parks particularly in the centre of Brunswick is a concern. Note that Moreland has a Park Close to Home framework, but clearly more needs to be done to make parks accessible.

This highlights the importance of improving the safety of roads and footpaths that lead to parks, and walking paths within parks. We have observed that the condition of walking paths in Moreland’s parks leaves a lot to be desired, that action to fix these paths is extremely slow, and little maintenance is done when hazards are notified. For example, in 2014 Moreland undertook to fix the Fleming Path oval path, but work has not yet commenced.  

Fleming Park oval path has long been hazardous after rain

Walking destinations: Shopping and dining precincts

Shops (84%) and cafes/restaurants (79%) were other popular destinations. We can reflect on this finding in light of traders’ campaign for car parking in our shopping and dining precincts, particularly Sydney Road. Provision of parking assumes that many people are driving. Yet if so many people are walking in order to shop or dine, then making these precincts attractive for walking (and walking to) should be a key consideration.

Motives for walking

Why do people walk? Most respondents walked for their physical and mental health (90% and 78% respectively). 61% nominated “better for the environment”, and 64% nominated convenience.

The relative cost of transport was also an issue, with 51% of respondents selecting “it’s free”. This was particular evident for younger residents (75% selecting this). Indeed, a substantial number of respondents reported not using a car. We know from census data that one in five Brunswick households don’t even have a car. The proportion of Victorians in their 20s holding a drivers’ licence is dropping quite steeply (about 7% decline in the past 5 years). This is an important issue for Moreland Council, which assumes that many services are accessed by car.

Traffic and aggressive driving are major concerns

Urban densification has increased traffic. Inner suburbs such as Brunswick are used by a lot of commuter traffic, and congestion is rife. This can lead to more aggressive driving. And navigation apps are leading more drivers to rat run in residential streets.

It is not surprising that about 60% of respondents noted that there was more traffic in their streets and more aggressive drivers compared with 5 years ago.

About half of respondents thought that speed limits being reduced to 30 kph in residential streets would make walking safer, with a higher proportion of older people and parents walking with children agreeing.

Encouraging more walking: Shady trees

What would encourage people to walk more? The top answer, selected by 55% respondents, was more shady trees. We note that Moreland Council, through its Urban Forest Strategy (2017-21), recognises the importance of shady trees in encouraging physical activity. However, there was no indication that respondents thought Moreland was doing better: when asked to compare with 5 years ago, roughly equal numbers thought there were more (18%) or fewer (15%) shady trees. The overwhelming support for more shady trees suggests that Moreland Council could do a lot better.

Encouraging more walking: Fix the footpaths

Poor footpath quality is also a concern, particular for older residents, who are more likely to have a fall on uneven surfaces. 61% of those aged 71-80 said they would walk more if footpaths were more even. Over a third of respondents reported that footpath quality had worsened compared with 5 years ago. While Moreland acknowledges the importance of safe footpaths for older residents, the budget allocated for this is far too small. Moreland allocates many times more funds for road maintenance than for footpath maintenance. Given than Moreland wants a mode shift towards sustainable transport, addressing this funding disparity should be a priority.

Respondents also wanted wider footpaths, with some concerned about having to share narrow paths with cyclists. Given the lack of space in parts of Moreland, and the need to encourage both walking and cycling, it is clear that less space should be allocated for motor vehicles, including parking.

Encouraging more walking: Safe crossings

Many respondents were concerned about being able to cross the road safely. This points to the need for more pedestrian crossings, and pedestrian refuges. Moreland budgets for a signalised pedestrian crossing every two years, which is not enough to meet the demand for safe crossing points. Note that many roads where more crossings are sorely needed (such as Sydney Road, Nicholson Street, Moreland Road) are arterial roads, controlled by the state government.

Respondents were also concerned about existing signalised crossings and intersections, where sometimes drivers do not stop for pedestrians. They nominated many crossing where the lights taking far too long to respond to pedestrians, indicating the low priority given to pedestrians versus cars.

Places avoided

There are some places that people tend avoid. 65% of respondents said they avoided walking along busy roads, with Sydney Road, Glenlyon Road and Albion Street most mentioned. Sydney Road traders should take particular note.

Others noted that they avoided particular places at night, due to safety concerns. Lighting seems to be the issue here. Some people avoided walking in parks and along trails due to sharing narrow paths with cyclists or due to dogs. Poor infrastructure, such as lack of safe crossings, poorly maintained footpaths and lack of shade were other reasons for avoiding certain places. And some places were considered downright ugly.

Hotspots

Respondents also nominated dangerous hot spots in Brunswick, along with possible solutions. Interestingly the most nominated hot spot was the intersection of Lygon Street and Glenlyon Road. This intersection has been at the centre of a battle to stop a Bunnings Warehouse being built in a residential area, with many objectors concerned about traffic safety. Victoria Street and Albert Street at Fleming Park came a close second. Moreland is already trialling a shared zone here, and has installed a pedestrian crossing.

The full report

You can check out the full report, including a series of recommendations to Moreland Council.

Entry filed under: news, transport, walking. Tags: , .

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