Universal Design Conference: Systems change in transport

At the Universal Design Conference Systems change in transport talk In September 2018, Be. Accessible was a Gold sponsor of Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design, the 3rd annual Universal Design Conference. The conference encouraged participants to think about designing inclusively, particularly in the four key areas of housing, neighbourhood, transport and travel.

Talking all things transport-related, was transport engineer Bridget Burdett. Bridget is a Principal Researcher at global engineering company Stantec, based in their Hamilton office, focusing on road safety, human factors, inclusiveness and accessibility. Her interest is in "understanding how engineers think so that she can recommend systemic changes that result in better outcome for people". She is also in the final stages of a PhD in applied cognitive psychology at the University of Waikato.

Bridget has looked extensively into making transport genuinely inclusive and designing a world for how humans behave. Her thesis study was about mind wandering during everyday driving. "Transport is complex. Journeys happen for lots of reasons, by different people, by different modes. On familiar urban roads, I estimate that drivers’ minds are wandering at least half of the time. Working is like this too. Everyone has a brain that is trying its best to be efficient."

Bridget told a story about her own experience cycling around a double-lane roundabout in Hamilton. The car on the outer lane let her go through, but the car driving on the inner lane didn’t see her, and she was struck. The second lane was built during the construction of a new development, reacting to resource consent conditions where you’re not allowed to “delay traffic”. Her comment highlighted bad planning that makes us slaves to the motor car.

This is not the fault of the engineer. “They suffer constraints, and challenges, and are working within a long history of professional habits”. But she said that if the second lane wasn’t there, we could have raised pedestrian zebra crossings all the way around it.

Bridget’s suggestion is that all sectors should collaborate within the industry to implement good design rather than retrofitting past mistakes. “We need more leaders from the disability sector, more representation in the decision-making – from community and other disciplines such as geography – whose expertise are seen in the big picture”. For Bridget the focus should be about “working towards inclusiveness and wellbeing instead of mitigating traffic congestion”. You may be interested in the reflection about Housing, where Tricia Austin from the University of Auckland spoke about her study of the housing development at Hobsonville Point.