Australian health and transport experts have today called on decision makers to enact urgent measures to support safe walking and cycling and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Letter here.
The Australian Government has recognised the importance of remaining physically active during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has listed exercise as one of four essential activities. As a result, many Australians have been getting active across the country by walking and cycling, but many areas lack sufficient space required to maintain critical physical separation.
Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head of School, Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales has a special interest in health and transport and says,
“Not only do we need Australians to stay active and healthy, we need to consider how they can continue to do this safely during an extended period of physical isolation,
“Keeping active now and as we begin to get back on our feet is hugely important for our mental and physical well-being,
“The continued crowding in popular walking spots could be addressed with simple, temporary changes where we all live,” Prof Ivers said.
Dr Ben Beck, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, has led the call from health and transport experts and is concerned for safety as our paths and cycleways are inadequate to handle the physical activity requirement during this crisis.
“In order to provide safe physical activity and social distancing for adults and children to exercise and move about their neighbourhoods, we need decision makers to enable rapid roll-out of social distancing infrastructure to support walking and cycling.
“We have seen numerous examples across the world of governments introducing reduced speed limits, widened footpaths, emergency cycle lanes and the closure of roads. As yet, we have not seen a similar response in Australia, and we need to act now,” Dr Beck said.
Experts also noted that safe cycling and walking will be imperative in reactivating our economy when social distancing measures are relaxed, enabling people to travel to work and school using transport modes that are both safe and healthy.
Join the conversation on social media under the hashtag #SpaceForHealth.
You are walking east on a footpath and come to an unmarked intersection without traffic signals. A vehicle is driving north, across your path. Who has right of way in Australia?
Should you step into the road expecting the vehicle to slow down or stop if necessary? Is the driver legally obliged to do so?
And does the driver see you? How fast is the vehicle going? Can it stop?
Now imagine you are the driver. What will the person on foot do next?
So the answer to the question of “giving way” is complicated. It depends on the speed of the car, how fast the person is walking, how quickly the driver reacts to apply the brakes, the vehicle itself, road conditions and how far the car and walker are from each other. Ideally, both the driver and walker can assess these things in a fraction of a second, but human perception and real-time calculation skills are imperfect. At higher speeds, both pedestrians and drivers underestimate vehicle speed.
Soon we will have to seriously consider autonomous vehicles, which can assess distance and speed almost perfectly, but there is still that ambiguity.
In Australia, the National Transport Commission recommends model rules, which each state adopts and lightly modifies. For instance, New South Wales Road Rules 72, 73 and 353 cover pedestrians crossing a road.
If a driver who is turning from a road at an intersection is required to give way to a pedestrian who is crossing the road that the driver is entering, the driver is only required to give way to the pedestrian if the pedestrian’s line of travel in crossing the road is essentially perpendicular to the edges of the road the driver is entering – the driver is not required to give way to a pedestrian who is crossing the road the driver is leaving.
Because of the legal principle of duty of care, drivers must still try to avoid colliding with pedestrians. They have a legal obligation to not be negligent. Thus, they must stop if they can for pedestrians who are already there, but not those on the side of the road wanting to cross.
However, this element of the NSW Road Transport Act is not made explicit in the NSW Road Rules. There is no statutory requirement in the road rules or elsewhere to give way to pedestrians other than as set out specifically in the road rules.
In contrast, NSW Road Rules 230 and 236 explicitly require pedestrians to avoid behaving dangerously around cars.
Drivers must always give way to pedestrians if there is danger of colliding with them, however pedestrians should not rely on this and should take great care when crossing any road.
This statement is not supported by any road rule or other law.
Does the law as written mean a slow-moving person can never cross the street because of the risk of being hit? Only because duty-of-care logic indicates both the driver and pedestrian should yield to the other to avoid a collision is it possible for this person to cross without depending on the kindness of strangers. But the law gives the benefit of doubt to the driver of the multi-ton machine. Existing road rules permit drivers to voluntarily give way, or not.
The UK Manual for Streets presents a street user hierarchy that puts pedestrians at the top. That is, their needs and safety should be considered first.
Walking has multiple benefits. More people on foot lowers infrastructure costs, improves health and reduces the number in cars, in turn reducing crashes, pollution and congestion. However, the road rules are not designed with this logic.
The putative aim of road rules is safety, but in practice the rules trade off between safety and convenience. The more rules are biased toward the convenience of drivers, the more drivers there will be.
Yet public policy aims to promote walking. To do so, pedestrians should be given freer rein to walk: alert, but not afraid.
Like many things in this world, intersection interactions are negotiated, tacitly, by road users and their subtle and not-so-subtle cues. Pedestrians should have legal priority behind them in this negotiation.
The road rules need to be amended to require drivers to give way to pedestrians at all intersections. We favour a rule requiring drivers to look out for pedestrians and give way to them on any road or road-related area. In the case of collisions, the onus would be on drivers to show they could not in the circumstances give way to the pedestrian.
We believe all intersections without signals – whether marked, courtesy, or unmarked – be legally treated as marked pedestrian crossings. (It might help to mark them to remind drivers of this.) We should think of these intersections as spaces where vehicles cross an implicit continuous footpath, rather than as places where people cross a vehicular lane.
This change in perspective will require significant road user re-education. Users will have to be reminded every intersection is a crosswalk and that pedestrians both in the road and showing intent to cross should be yielded to, whether the vehicle is entering or exiting the road. We believe this change will increase safety and willingness to walk, because of the safety-in-numbers phenomenon, and improve quality of life.
Drivers should assume more responsibility for safety
People should continue to behave in a way that does not harm themselves or others. People on foot should not jump out in front of cars, expecting drivers to slam on their brakes, because drivers cannot always stop in time.
Similarly, drivers should be ready to slow or stop when a person crosses the street, at a crosswalk or not. But the law should be refactored to give priority to pedestrians at unmarked crossings. This will reduce ambiguity and make drivers more alert and ready to slow down.
In tomorrow’s world of driverless and passengerless vehicles, the convenience of drivers becomes even less essential. If someone is crossing the road, most of us probably believe a driverless vehicle should give way to ensure it doesn’t hit that person for two reasons: legally, to avoid being negligent; and morally, because hitting people is bad, as identified in many examples of the Trolley Problem.
Further, we should think more like the Netherlands, where vehicle-pedestrian collisions are presumed to be the driver’s fault, unless it can be clearly proven otherwise.
This article examined a few of 353 distinct road rules. Many others affect pedestrians and should also be re-examined.
This article was extensively edited by Janet Wahlquist of WalkSydneyand extends some ideas developed as part of Betty Yang’s undergraduate thesis, but the text is the sole responsibility of the author.
We have a high-frequency service train station. Across the street we have a Library. But we are not supposed to cross the street, as there is no intersection, no HAWK signal, no Zebra crossing, none of the animal menagerie designed to protect pedestrians from the onslaught of the more important motorised vehicles whose speed shall not be diminished. Casual empiricism suggests before the most recent installation of barricades walling off the library from its patrons, many people did, in fact, cross the street midblock in an organic but unorganised fashion, exhibiting the desire lines that ought to govern how the street system is arranged.
Imagine an Apple Watch app (Green Pace) that used haptic feedback to pace your walk so you made the “Walk” signal at every traffic light. It would tap faster if walking faster let you make the signal, it would tap slower if you would hit a “Don’t walk” signal anyway. This could save pedestrians perhaps 20% the time wasted standing on corners and breathing in fumes on each walk trip. What’s required for this?
Well, obviously a watch with haptic feedback. Such already exists.
More importantly, we would need a real-time advance feed of when traffic signal phases changed, and their control plan. This is more difficult, since so many signals are “adaptive” to real time traffic. Many however are fixed time and amenable to this. There are a few examples, but they are newsworthy, not widespread. This should be standardized.
We would also need some API that would read the standardized signal feeds and match them against a Directions/Map app, and GPS, on the watch.
So the most interesting thing here is that the simplest of these technologies (the traffic signal) is the last one to be implemented. We have satellites, we have computers on our wrists, we have wireless telecommunications, but we don’t know the timing of timed lightbulbs in most of the world.
NB: This traffic signal timing feed technology also has obvious applications for cars and trucks, which could speed up (potentially, subject to speed limits and prevailing traffic) or slow down (which is more interesting, as they can make a green wave by driving slower, and thus save energy and aggravation), or re-route, if they knew the green lights in advance.
There are some traffic signal feeds out there, but I don’t see standardization, I see proprietary standards. Some articles from a quick search. Mostly related to the company Connected Signals.
By testing the walking speed of groups of pedestrians and of phone users, followers of groups and of phone users, and of people uninfluenced by phone users and groups, from different sites it could been seen that groups of people and phone users, and often followers of phone users, walk significantly slower than people uninfluenced by phone. In a narrow path people in groups and phone users not only slow themselves down but also slow the people behind. The rise of the smartphone correlates with a reduction in walking speed.
(The answer is it doesn’t work in the CBD during the day).
Professor David Levinson from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney said traffic signals in the city should be shifted to be more pedestrian friendly to encourage more walking.
“Traffic signals give priority to motor vehicles over pedestrians. This inequality undermines many of the stated goals of transport, health and environment policy,” Professor Levinson said.
“Sydney uses adaptive signals so that they’re designed to maximise the throughput for cars and so they’ll extend the green light for cars but that results in there being more ‘don’t walk’ time for pedestrians.”
In the beginning was the path. It was undifferentiated, shared by people and animals alike, and eventually wheeled vehicles pulled by humans and animals. While dating the First Path is impossible — the very first First Path must have been a path that was reused once, and slightly better than the unimproved space around it — it operated both in early settlements and on routes connecting nearby settlements.
Today’s version of that is the sidewalk or footpath. It is now used for people walking, sometimes for people moving goods, and occasionally for people on scooters and bicycles. It should not be used for storing cars, though it is. New uses will include low speed delivery robots, as shown in the photo from Starship.
When we see a raised crosswalk, we know the First Path is given the pre-eminance its venerable status warrants. When we see shared spaces, we know those harken back to the early undifferentiated path-spaces of earlier centuries. When we see pedestrian-only zones, we see a First Path that has grown up.
The Second Path diverges from the first path with the emergence of the first street or roads with sidewalks (footpaths). Spiro Kostof (1992) dates it to about 2000 BCE in Anatolia. And it is clear many Roman and Greek cities separated sidewalks from streets, which the Romans called Semita.
Post-Rome, sidewalks were rare, making appearances in London after the Great Fire, and in Paris after Haussman.
But to be clear, today’s sidewalk is not the second path, it is the first. The second path is the road which is largely free of pedestrians, intended for the movement of vehicles. Originally these were animal powered vehicles, as well as human. Later fuel-powered machines took over the street and roads.
The Third Path actually emerged well before the Second Path was colonized by motorized vehicles. It is for bicycles, and initially was paved in contrast with the unpaved streets and roads of its time. Given the first Velocipede was only 1817, and the first bike chain (which we associate with modern bicycles) was 1885, these came relatively quickly compared with the First and Second Paths. While ascertaining the first bike lane or separated bike path is tricky (there are many claims, differing in nuance), I have compiled some claimed firsts and earlies here (thanks to people who replied on Twitter):
While bike lanes have now been around as a technology for well more than a century, throughout most of North America and Australia, bike lanes are not provisioned, so bicyclists have the Hobson’s Choice of driving in traffic with much heavier and much faster automobiles and trucks on the Second Path, the roadbed or illegally in many cases on the First Path, the sidewalk.
With the advent of the smart phone, new modes are becoming feasible, most notably dockless shared bikes and scooters.
Regulations in many places limit the use of bikes on footpaths. The reasons for this are clear from the pedestrian’s point of view, bikes are traveling up to 4 times faster than walkers, and collision can create injury. Dockless shared bikes emerged in Australia in 2017, after a few years on the road in China. Their main contribution has however not been transport (they are used about once every 3 days) but instead as a the recipient of complaint about sidewalk clutter (unlike say cars, which are always parked perfectly). As a consequences they have been targets of vandalism. The obvious solution will eventually get adopted, geofenced corrals for parking bikes (shared and private), taking away one parking space per block perhaps.
Given the disparities of speeds on the first (5 km/h) and second paths (30-120 km/h), there is a clear market niche for an infrastructure network for vehicles faster than foot and slower than cars. Physically, one imagines it generally lying between the existing kerb and removing a lane now devoted to the storage or movement of cars. And for many if not most urban places globally, this has been recognized and networks of third paths have been, or will be, built out.
This Third Path is important not just for bikes, but for electric bikes (which are becoming increasingly feasible with progress in battery technology) and electric scooters.
A Fourth Path for buses (and other high occupancy vehicles) is also now considered. The first bus lane emerged in Chicago in 1940. The reason for bus lanes again is in part operational differences compared with existing road users. Buses start and stop in traffic much more frequently than cars. But a second reason is in fact the opposite, not because buses would block cars, but because cars would block buses. Buses carry more passengers than cars, and so should move faster, and can do so if they are not stuck in queues behind cars.
The Kerb – Once a nondescript piece of concrete now forms the edge (both physically and metaphorically) of the sharing economy: taxis, Ubers, autonomous mobility services. The Kerbspace differentiates and separates paths, but we now have new questions:
Who manages kerbspace?
How is it regulated?
Is it even mapped?
The complete streets movement advocates for streets with sidewalks, bike paths, and are otherwise designed to promote safety and efficiency. The figure below is not exactly what they have in mind.
Pedestrian and bicyclist collision risk assessment offers a powerful and informative tool in urban planning applications, and can greatly serve to inform proper placement of improvements and treatment projects. However, sufficiently detailed data regarding pedestrian and bicycle activity are not readily available for many urban areas, and thus the activity levels and collision risk levels must be estimated. This study builds upon other current work by Murphy et al. (1) regarding pedestrian and bicycle activity estimation based on centrality and accessibility metrics, and extends the analysis techniques to estimation of pedestrian collision risk. The Safety In Numbers phenomenon, which refers to the observable effect that pedestrians become safer when there are more pedestrians present in a given area, i.e. that the individual per-pedestrian risk of a collision decreases with additional pedestrians, is a readily observed phenomenon that has been studied previously. The effect is investigated and observed in acquired traffic data, as well as estimated data, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There are a number of transportation and land use and other aspects to this case which are worthy of discussion:
1. Do you have to identify yourself to the police? It depends. When driving yes – driving is a privilege. When walking (in Minnesota) no – “police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in illegal activity.” Minnesota is not a stop and identify state, unless the police have “reasonable suspicion”.   
2. Is the skyway a public space? It is being patrolled by public workers (police), so apparently it is – though I am sure the law is vaguer than it should be – so the rights should be the same as on the street.
3. What are the details? The comment thread at TCDP suggests it starts near Caribou or Arby’s on the St. Paul Skyway System. He is going to New Horizons Day Care to pick up his child.
4. What happened after the incident – Charges were dropped according to City Pages. Did the police apologize to the man in front of his child? Was this incident expunged from his record? Did the officers have reasonable suspicion justifying their actions?
5. In case it isn’t obvious, posting photos of police officers is legal. ,
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