Making cities safer for all

Sarah Norgate and Steve Melia, editors of a new themed ICE journal issue on disabilities and vulnerable road users in the urban environment, say cities must be safe for everyone.

Disabled and vulnerable road users face increasing challenges moving around ever-growing cities.
Disabled and vulnerable road users face increasing challenges moving around ever-growing cities.

There is little room for ambiguity in the United Nation's Global Development Goal number 11 'Sustainable Cities and Communities', which sets three clear targets relating to the needs of disabled and vulnerable users in urban areas.

  • 'By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
  • By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
  • By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities'.

Taking up this challenge, we have published a themed issue of ICE's Urban Planning and Design journal on disabilities and vulnerable road users in the urban environment. It draws on insights from European research leaders and campaigners.

Bigger cities, bigger risk

By 2050 urbanisation will have intensified, with over 80% of the populations of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand living in urban areas. Due to rising life expectancy and a higher birth rate in some countries, the cities of 2050 will include more people at both ends of the age spectrum.

An ageing population will lead to more age-related conditions – notably, eye disease, dementia, physical disability and mental health conditions – with implications for urban access, health, safety and wellbeing. At the same time, more children in urban areas will create other challenges for the pedestrian environment: more buggies, child-related road safety issues and access to childcare facilities and schools.

The growth of urban areas around the world will create particular pressures for city planners and policymakers. Although the need to promote social inclusion through planning and design is becoming more widely recognised, some other trends are making that goal more difficult to attain.

One example, highlighted by the recent report from Lord Holmes of Richmond (Holmes, 2016) is shared space, the deliberate removal of demarcations between vehicles and pedestrians. Shared space was originally promoted as a means of improving the pedestrian environment but a growing body of evidence demonstrates that it can create an environment that is hostile to vulnerable pedestrians (Moody and Melia, 2014), particularly visually impaired pedestrians (Norgate, 2012).

Multi-professional collaboration

Improving the urban environment for these vulnerable and excluded groups will be a key challenge for the planners of the future. So how can you reflect this in your own work? We argue that the design of urban land use and public transport access for such heterogeneous populations demands collaborative multi-professional working between urban designers, urban planners, users, researchers, campaign groups, policy-makers and managers.

Reflecting the research angle, the perspectives taken by authors in the new themed issue of Urban Planning and Design will enable readers to consider particular groups – in particular, blind and partially sighted (Sochor and Nikitas, 2016; Bates, 2016), disabled cyclists (Hickman, 2016) and older people (aged 65+ years) (Curl et al., 2016).

Wherever you practice, we sincerely hope that you will envision ways to further expand or deepen your multi-professional partnerships to create new models of urban design.

For more information please contact the ICE Proceedings editor Simon Fullalove on or +44 (0)20 8744 2028.