The second part of the Centre for Ageing Better (CAB) 2021 report covers the role of the environment in encouraging or discouraging active travel (walking and cycling) among older people.
Supportive infrastructure for walking and bicycling
There should be continuous and easy-to-follow routes for travel for the duration of a journey, whether on foot or by bicycle. Any danger, posed by motorised traffic and other risks and obstructions should be minimised. Supportive infrastructure also requires good streetlighting.
Connected street networks
Environments that are connected and create shorter and more direct routes to key local destinations encourage walking or cycling, compared to driving. These would feature a high density of intersections, crossings at junctions that are safe and easy to use, minimal dead-ends (cul-de-sacs) and traffic calming measures, such as low speed limits. In several; New Zealand cities 30 KPH speed limits have been introduced in central areas, but need to be enforced. In Wellington there are attempt to improve “lane-ways” – traffic-free alleys between the main streets, which can be attractive and safe for pedestrians.
High population density and mixed land uses
Areas with high population density and mixed land use – where shops, housing, workplaces and other amenities are close together – meaning journey distances are short and can encompass a range of activities in one trip. Places where people can meet their everyday needs within a short walk or cycle, have become known as 20-minute neighbourhoods or 15-minute cities – concepts which are being adopted in urban planning in this country. Aiming for this type of development will boost not only levels of physical activity but also local economies, while at the same time tackling climate change (by reducing vehicle emissions). Wellington City is promoting higher densities in the central area through increased zooming for apartments.
Implications for policy and practice
Many local authorities and local transport authorities have not given specific consideration to older people and those approaching later life when designing active travel schemes. To increase active travel options policymakers and planners should:
Invest in walking and cycling infrastructure
This includes improving and maintaining pedestrian pavements; keeping an eye on deteriorating surfaces and making them smooth; fixing potholes; providing good pedestrian and cyclist bridges and crossings; and implementing traffic-calming measures such as reduced speed limits. This ideally means walking and cycling paths that are physically separated from motorised traffic of which there are already some examples in New Zealand. Good street lighting is also important.
Invest in street networks to provide connectivity
Design and re-design street networks that start from the doorstep and are connected to key local destinations, maximising accessibility and allowing pedestrians and cyclists shorter, more direct trips.
Fear of traffic, whether real or perceived, is a key barrier among people as they grow older, so emphasis should be made to improve infrastructure and crossing facilities to increase accessibility, convenience and safety. They should also provide easy and safe connection to public transport for longer journeys. Neighbourhood street networks should dovetail with ‘whole town/city’ networks.
Invest in aesthetic improvements
Seating, planters, community parks and green spaces add to a greater visual sense of pleasure and comfort.
Aim for longer term plans to increase population and housing density
Increased density, alongside mixed land uses supporting diverse local amenities, services and facilities – will help to ensure that distances to be travelled are short and therefore more amenable to walking and cycling.
Recognise the role of public transport
The availability and accessibility of public transport can increase walking (and, to a lesser extent, cycling). Street networks should be designed with direct access to numerous bus stops (with shelter) and a convenient and extensive network of bus routes. The buses themselves must be accessible and safe for everyone.
Findings from the CAB reviews lead to the view that combining environmental interventions with behaviour change approaches is likely to have a greater impact on uptake of active travel than environmental interventions alone. Actions to encourage active travel must take account of, and be based on an understanding of, attitudes, beliefs, and motivations as well as improving the built environment.