Response to the “Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan”

In October 2013 the Government of South Australia released its Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan, and called for comment on the plan. Walking SA provided the following comment submission. When submissions closed on January 17, 2014, the government said they had received an overwhelming response, with 1,500 submissions, and 2,500 attendees to public information sessions.

Cate Mettam, Walking SA Chair, said:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important and long-awaited plan.

It is pleasing to note the many bold measures that are part of this plan, adding to the ones that are underway or have been already achieved. It is also clear that for these important investments to prove worthwhile, they need to be backed by a commitment to make South Australia a desirable place to walk. Put simply, a walkable environment is one that is attractive to live, work and play, desirable economically, efficient in its use of resources, and sustainable into the future.

1. General comments

Walking SA welcomes this plan as a significant and long–awaited step. It is important that investments in South Australia’s Transport Systems, are not pieces of isolated infrastructure, but integrate with each other and the people and places they serve.

The encouraging thing about the plan is that it makes many references to walking, and many of the other things in the plan imply a much higher level of support for walking than has been evident in previous plans (or plans for plans).

2. Walking, the primary and most significant mode of transport

Walking is the glue that holds the transport system together. Every journey starts and finishes with a walking segment, irrespective of the mode(s) of transport used for the “line-haul” parts. The quality and convenience of the walking environment is crucial to people’s choice of mode, where they live and where they work or choose to set up businesses. Walkability is the term used to describe all the factors that go together to make walking practical, safe and enjoyable.

Without proper attention to walkability, investments in public transport are at best, less effective than they should be, and at worst become stranded assets or expensive white elephants.

3. Walking and cycling perform different roles

We note that cycling and walking almost always occur together in the report, as if “and walking” was added as an afterthought. While this inclusion of walking along with cycling is commendable at one level, it is also clear that the report’s authors know little about walking, the roles it performs and the constraints that apply. It is clear the agenda is being driven by cyclists, with walkers being included where it suits. Walking SA was not one of the organisations consulted in the preparation, so this situation is hardly surprising.

Cyclists have a higher speed and further range than walkers. Bicycles can substitute for car travel, whereas walking generally serves people’s more immediate environment. Walkers require a closer-knit walkable environment rather than a series of discrete and more widely separated routes such as articulated in the plan. The types of network proposed for cycling are too sparse to satisfy all but a tiny minority of walker’s needs. On the other hand, improvements to the walking environment invariably benefit cyclists.

Walkers also interact with public transport in fundamentally different ways. Cycling can act as an efficient feeder to major public transport facilities (rail and bus rapid transit stations) that need to be widely spaced. Walkers typically need to be served by feeder bus services, unless they happen to live or work very close to a transit station.

This lack of fundamental understanding about walking may be due to the fact that (1) up to now there has not been an effective organisation to represent all walkers in SA, and (2) there is little expertise in walking issues at the right levels in government. If properly resourced, Walking SA can assist on both counts.

While there is some overlap between walking and cycling, there are critical differences between them that need to be articulated in the plan. Walking SA is prepared to contribute to this process.

4. Pedestrians as obstacles

Many of the other references to walkers (particularly in the technical part of the report) simply regard them as obstacles to the transport system, rather than as the people who are the customers and therefore the primary reason for the transport system’s existence. The term “pedestrian” is used in its derogatory 1950’s context, where it talks about pedestrians as if they were animals; hazards to the free movement of vehicles, buses and trains, and needing to be herded for their own safety into pedestrian zones where they can be kept out of the way. No mention is made of the need to prioritise pedestrians in a practical way (like making the signals more responsive). There is no mention of “walkability” in this context either – creating an environment where people actually choose to walk (ie making it practical, safe and fun).

5. Preoccupation with infrastructure rather than service

Much of the plan is concerned with infrastructure, particularly large items such as rail upgrades. This preoccupation with a few big items of infrastructure gives some areas a high quality service, but leaves others out altogether. The plan needs to focus more on the overall level of “service” considering all parts of the journey, rather than just its individual components.

It is nevertheless pleasing to see mention of a “coordinated, customer-focussed” system, with better and more seamless transfers, and a hint that many longer-distance bus routes will be reconfigured as feeder services to transport hubs. This radical change when implemented needs to result in a more efficient and more frequent service, serving more destinations with fewer congestion-caused delays. This will necessarily involve more transfers, which may meet resistance from traditional customers who have come to expect a one seat ride to the CBD.

6. Walking as the key to the first mile problem

Walking is mainly considered in the plan for places like the CBD and high activity centres that are slated to be “pedestrian-friendly”. Other places, typically those closer to home are ignored. Little attention is given to the essential role of walking in accessing the public transport network in the first place. People who habitually reach for the car-keys and head for the garage are likely to continue the whole way by car. Creating a walkable environment near home is essential if people are to be encouraged to use any form of sustainable transport.

7. Walkability in the suburbs

The report effectively dismisses walking and walkability in the suburbs. Given that the majority of South Australian live in such locations, and will continue to do so for a long time, this is a fatal omission from an otherwise excellent plan. The fact is that there are a great many small-scale and often inexpensive improvements that can be made to these areas to make walking more desirable. These include:

  • More responsive traffic signals (many take minutes to respond – several times the acceptable standard of 30 seconds).
  • Making it safe to cross the road wherever there is a need, such as near bus stops.
  • Ensuring that all roads have footpaths (in towns) or verges (on country roads) that are safe to walk on.
  • Have councils enact bylaws to prevent people taking over adjacent footpath areas and treating them as an extension of their garden, to the exclusion of walkers. (Mitcham Council has a good model for this.)

Not only are these improvements cheap and easy to do, they can often be achieved with little opposition, and convey the message that the local authorities actually care about walkability.

8. Walking to school

This issue deserves special mention, because driving kids to school is a major and easily demonstrated cause of congestion, and a perfect example why an integrated transport and land-use plan is needed. Initiatives like the Walking School Bus are a good way to promote walking to school for parents who are uncomfortable about allowing their children the freedom to walk by themselves. Ultimately however, the need is for parents to overcome those fears through improved walkability.

9. Harmful effects of infrastructure

Transport infrastructure can also have harmful effects on the walking environment. These include:

  • Community severance – road or rail lines that are impossible or unsafe to cross
  • Air and water pollution – due to high concentrations of vehicles and run-off from large areas of pavement
  • Removal of trees (to create a safety “clear zone”) – destroying the visual landscape and encouraging excessive speed.

Measures to overcome these impacts include:

  • Adding footpaths to bridges over creeks and railway lines.
  • Constructing pedestrian bridges or underpasses where safe at-grade crossings cannot be provided on major highways.

While these things should not need to be spelled out in a transport plan, they need to be addressed in the design and decision making process. All infrastructure projects should undergo a “Pedestrian Impact Assessment” to ensure that the project does not impact current or potential pedestrian use. For example, it is much cheaper and easier to provide a walkway under a grade separated road or railway at the time of construction than it is to retrofit one later on. It is pleasing to see some moves toward this in the technical document.

10. The role of parking

Parking has a major impact on many aspects of the plan, but is not addressed systematically in the report. A car park is in effect a modal interchange facility that links driving and walking. However, the emphasis is almost always on the safety and convenience of drivers, even though pedestrian traffic within car parks necessarily exceeds car traffic in number and importance.

By providing plentiful cheap or free parking as close as possible to every destination, we reduce the amount of walking we do, and undermine public transport as a practical alternative to the car.

For people who walk to a destination or take transit, the area of car-parking that surrounds most destinations generally detracts from the walking experience.

Outside of the CBD, Adelaideans are not used to paying for parking, which means that businesses typically absorb the cost, ultimately passing that on to all customers through the price of goods.

Paid parking has for many years been accepted with Adelaide’s CBD, though the cost has been subsidised in an attempt to compete with suburban locations. Now that many suburban centres are themselves being forced to build expensive underground car-parks, it is likely that paid (or at least time-limited) parking will also spread to major suburban centres as well as the CBD.

Paying separately for parking need no longer be an irritating impost for motorists, nor costly to administer. Modern technology is now available that enables this type of payment to be made simply and seamlessly, just as we are accustomed to pay for using water, electricity, gas and the telephone.

11. The role of recreational walking

There is no mention in the report of recreational walking (such as bushwalking). This is perhaps excusable given that many people (including bushwalkers) also fail to make a connection between every-day or utilitarian walking, and the walking they would do for pleasure on a trail. It’s not a distinction we make for cyclists, where both commuter and recreational cyclists appear indistinguishable on the street in lycra.

There is also little to visibly distinguish between the two forms of walking; they are both parts of the spectrum that includes dog walking, walking to the local park and walking to the local coffee shop.

The real distinction between the recreational “walker” and the common “pedestrian” is simply in people’s attitude and why and where they walk. As has happened with cycling, we need to leverage people’s willingness for recreational walking into walking that is both pleasurable and useful. This means creating an environment where walking is the preferred mode of transport for all journeys of appropriate length.

It is ironic that most bushwalkers live or work in towns that have over the years become unsafe, unattractive and impractical to walk in. They typically have to drive long distance to reach places where they will willingly walk.

Walkers in Australia have been banished to the bush. It is time to invite them back.

The problems that restrict recreational walkers also harm pedestrians and others such as cyclists and disabled users. These include:

  • Bridges without footpaths
  • Continuous traffic “safety” barriers that prevent walker access
  • Poor integration between trails and public transport connections
  • Poor integration between trail and footpath networks
  • Gaps in the footpath/trail networks

Identifying and dealing with these issues remains the most significant impediment to walking in South Australia. It applies across the spectrum of urban and rural areas, and across jurisdictional boundaries (DPTI and local government, and between local governments themselves).

12. Prioritisation

It is clear from the wording of the report that its authors are seeking changes that reduce the level of car-dependency and the harms (physical, economic, social, health and environmental) that will only get worse if unfettered car use is allowed to continue. At the same time, some of the people who will ultimately benefit from these changes may initially object as resources devoted to their car use (such as energy and road-space) are devoted to more efficient, sustainable and ultimately more beneficial uses. Some push-back is to be expected, and this is bound to be exploited politically by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

The appropriate policy response is to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport, without making radical changes that are likely to induce a backlash. Fortunately there are often small changes that can and should be made like giving immediate priority to mid-block pedestrian signals rather than forcing pedestrians to wait upwards of two minutes. In many places such as bridges, road-space can be reallocated to fewer lanes, or lanes narrowed to allow for footpaths. Where it is not otherwise possible to create a safe and convenient walkable environment, speed-limits may need to be lowered, or engineering changes made to force traffic to travel slower.

It is pleasing to see many of these principles within the report, though often implied rather than stated, and in many instances embedded within the technical document rather than in the main report.

13. Measurement

While most of the discussion within the report is well argued and logically sound, it fails to substantiate many of the assertions and proposals with numbers. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the fact that data collection has been restricted to vehicle counts for the purposes of highway planning. There has been no systematic attempt to count pedestrians, and no attempt to identify where low numbers of pedestrians, cyclists or public transport users are caused by poor service, or lack of basic options. Without good baseline data, we will never know if the current and proposed investments are indeed worthwhile.

14. Implementation

The plan will ultimately succeed or fail through its implementation. As with all such plans in a democracy, implementation cannot proceed faster than community acceptance. Getting the community to accept and embrace it, is perhaps more critical than any other aspect of the implementation process.

Part of the implementation strategy could be to set up demonstrations showing people the clear benefits. Indeed, many of the current projects (such as the tram and rail upgrades) should be seen as simply the first step in a process for improved public and active transport options systematically extended to all of Adelaide.

Another part of the implementation strategy should be to put in place planning principles, incentives and cost recovery mechanisms that are seen to be fair and will allow the planned improvements to pay for themselves over the long term. Many of those principles are within the jurisdictional capacity of state government, and include pay-as-you-drive registration and car insurance. Australian states are in the fortunate position that local government is ultimately subject to state jurisdiction, and the state can implement reforms over the whole spectrum of land transport and land use.

Having a much more transparent and accountable costing and revenue system for vehicle use would help to overcome many public misconceptions about “road-tax” and “revenue-raising”. For too long, infrastructure projects have been regarded as coming from a money-bucket, reluctantly replenished by the long-suffering motorist.

A third part of the implementation strategy should involve working with and supporting broadly based local communities and public-interest organisations such as Walking SA to leverage those people in the community who already get it and understand the bigger picture. In the past, government has allowed itself to be overly influenced by industry and individuals whose vested interest has not always aligned with the public good. Organisations like Walking SA, if properly recognised and resourced can help design and implement practical programs that will make a real difference.

15. Conclusion

The report is a welcome and long-overdue plan, which recognises the big issues in transport and land-use for metropolitan Adelaide. The government is also to be commended for taking some bold but necessary initiatives, especially in the area of public transport infrastructure. However, it is clear that many of the things proposed in the plan won’t be achievable unless the government recognises and supports the important role walking and walkability has in knitting the system together. After all, every journey starts and ends with a walk. While the report mentions walking in many places, there is no specific commitment to projects and policies that actually enhance walkability. It is also clear that the government lacks expertise in walking, and has failed to consult or adequately support organisations like Walking SA that are best placed to assist.