Mental Health Through Urban Design

If your city speaks of “balancing transportation choices” rather than prioritizing walking, biking, and transit, it’s still car-centered.

This excerpt from an article by Chris Hamilton really struck me. Today I was driving out on Princess Street, and while there were bike lanes beside me, I was sure glad I wasn’t on a bike. I would not have felt safe in today’s rain. Those bike lanes are better than nothing, but they do not represent a prioritization of active healthy transportation, and most people will never consider using them. And of course the claim that we need to build a car-centred WSE in order to justify the expense of bike paths along the river is an even more egregious example of presuming that cars have to be at the core of all transit planning.

Hamilton, who used to be the Chief of Commuter Services for Arlington County Virginia, talks about the mental and physical health costs of car-oriented roads. In contrast, he says,

Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who walk over cars. It looks like skinny streets that are nine or 10 feet wide instead of the standard 12 feet per lane. Two-way, not one-way streets. Narrow crosswalks. Mid-block crosswalks. Shortcuts. Paths. Places to rest and for refuge.

Given that streets and sidewalks make up from 25 to 50% of a city’s footprint, he says we should be using that resource in a more productive and less destructive way, making it not just a place to grit your teeth and get through, but a place to be. And, he says, “we can’t settle for isolated projects. We need whole networks like in European cities.”

Some people think it’s just a fact that our transportation planning has to be car-centred. “Most people will drive,” they say. But if we had really convenient and pleasant buses, and convenient and safe and attractive roads and sidewalks, in fact people would be more likely to consider getting around other ways. Today, for example, rainy as it was, was a very nice day for walking — except for the waves of puddle water from cars too close and too fast. Come on, people. We can and should figure out how to design roads and sidewalks such that people can walk in the city in the rain without having to wear dungarees.

— Laura Murray


2 thoughts on “Mental Health Through Urban Design

  1. Hi Laura,Matt Rogalsky had an interesting idea suggesting that we should be calling the road the Wellington Thruway.  But then I wonder if that might actually seem attractive to the car culture people and therefore counterproductive.cheers,Mary


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