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On the road to inclusion: Making transportation accessible for all

Transportation By Abi Lindsay, Senior Transportation Consultant – 14 May 2024

Worme eye view of London Underground train carriage


Abi posing for a photo with a beautiful mosaic art as her background

Abi Lindsay

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There is a great push for the transportation sector to rapidly decarbonise, and while this is incredibly important, the limelight should be shared with accessible transportation as well. An environment which is not inclusive and accessible to all, cannot be fully sustainable.

Accessible transportation starts at the very beginning of the design process. Getting it right from the very start will prevent costly changes later in the planning process or even following construction when issues begin to arise.

Within all aspects of transport planning, the latest policy both at local, regional and national scales should be consulted to ensure all proposals are in line with the specific locality’s requirements. This should also include accessibility for all. Examples of accessibility design criteria can be found within Manual for Streets, a national guidance published by the Department for Transport, Inclusive Mobility guidance also prepared by the UK government and regional documents such as the London Council From Step Free to Stress Free guidance regarding accessibility. These considerations are embedded within our work with clients.

They offer design guidance on how effective solutions should be provided and gives insight into best practice designs. As with all publications and guidance, they need to be regularly reviewed to ensure the information remains up to date as ultimately we must deliver places that work for communities now, but also in the future.

Accessibility guidance highlights that the principles, such as the following, are to be considered to create an inclusive design:

  • Place people at the heart of the design process
  • Acknowledge diversity and differences
  • Offer choice where a single solution cannot accommodate all users
  • Flexibility within use.

All modes of transport should be a choice for everyone to get where they need. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and as a result of poor infrastructure this can limit people’s interaction with the built environment. When not all train stations cater to everyone’s needs (eg those with walking aids or wheelchairs), individuals may be forced to seek alternative routes which may increase their commuting times or result in more changes between services. Whereas, if all networks were accessible to all, it would remove this barrier and increase confidence that everyone can easily and comfortably get from A to B.

Take for example colourful pedestrian crossings, such as those in London's Tottenham Court Road and City of London as part of the Asphalt Art Initiative. The colourful crossing sometimes replaces the traditional black and white crossings or are added to existing pelican crossings. They are used to celebrate events, encourage tourism and some research has shown that city streets with asphalt art have become significantly safer for pedestrians. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for everyone which was highlighted in an open letter to the government from organisations and charities calling for a consultation. The colourful crossings is particularly inaccessible for visually impaired individuals. The use of colours and patterns can make it harder to differentiate where crossings are located, confusing guide dogs. Additionally for some visually impaired users the bright artwork can be painful to view. Maintaining standards within crossings is important to provide consistency and predictability to allow everyone to navigate the network independently and safely. In response to the call for action, the installation of art was temporarily paused whilst additional consultations were carried out.

This highlights why engagement in all aspects of design is so important when ensuring an inclusive environment. As individuals' needs can differ considerably, it is important to ensure consultation includes a diverse group of people. As already mentioned, it is important for this to occur during the early design stages so it can be seamlessly designed into the project. It is equally important that accessibility is considered throughout the life cycle of a building, including the maintenance, repairs and modernisation of a site.

Ultimately, to achieve inclusivity within transportation and mobility, it requires barriers to be broken down and in doing so, creating a sense of belonging within communities by ensuring the transportation network and access into sites is easy for all. Inclusivity within design is not limited to accessibility. For example, equitable distribution of transport links ensuring that all areas are served equally, affordability which looks to address financial barriers, and safety and security of our streets are all important considerations. Certain groups, such as women and children, may have concern or fear over using certain modes of transport at night (eg walking or cycling) which in turn reduces their choice of transportation.

Overall, whilst accessibility and inclusivity are embedded within our designs, it is important to ensure that it is on the agenda of every design. We must take a step back to consider how everyone will interact with the design and where additional provisions can be made if not already.