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Walking and weather, are we doing enough?

To what degree do our streets design guidelines respond to local weather conditions?

Same streets for all weathers?

Walking and weather, are we doing enough? During my recent trip to Canada/USA/Mexico, it turned out that I was exposed to a wide range of weather conditions. Extreme cold, wind, humidity and heat. The interesting observation I made was how each City was responding to these different, and sometimes slightly uncomfortable weather conditions. Since I have returned I have started to think about the topic more broadly. To what degree do our streets design guidelines respond to local weather conditions?

Its not that we don’t know how to make streets more weather friendly, we just don’t bother.

My fear is that despite weather conditions in a Calgary winter being much different to a Cairns summer, our street design guidelines are almost identical. We respond by encouraging people inside to the air conditioning or the heating if it is too hot or too cold. Almost nobody is overtly improving conditions on the street. The private sector is of course responding with a range of sealed containers that maintain the ideal temperature and bring us inside off the street. We have mostly resisted any works or mechanisms where people can enjoy the street in a broader range of weather conditions.

This of course probably sounds a bit rich coming from an Australian. We are pretty spoilt. With a few exceptions our climate is extremely people friendly, particularly in our major cities. Our warmest and coldest cities, Canberra and Hobart are still two of our most popular walking and biking cities. Of course, it doesn’t take much convincing that some regional towns do experience weather extremes, but overall, we are pretty lucky, which in turn can make us complacent.

The point is that particularly with streets built in the last 50 years, no matter whether in a harsh desert climate or a brutally cold mountain city, the streets are built pretty much the same. Which is fine if you are in a nice heated or air-conditioned car. It only if you are a human that they don’t work.

Its not that we don’t know how to make streets more weather friendly, we just don’t bother. There is an underlying assumption that the people in the cars are more important than the people out of the cars.. This is despite the fact that on any downtown street the pedestrians may outnumber drivers by at least 500%.. I will discuss another talking point in a future article about appropriate space allocation but this lack of attention to making pedestrians comfortable is something that we continue at our own peril. We need more people walking around our downtowns not less. We already discourage them through inadequate space and poor intersection design and now we can add poor protection from the weather. When are we going to give them a break?

Shade, shelter and wind protection are not elements that are beyond our design skill, we just mostly base our street design on traffic capacity and not on its useability as a human. You don’t have to change it, but you should if you want people to continue to enjoy your centres and keep their essential role in the economy thriving, and providing employment and prosperity opportunities for your town.

It would be great to hear your views on this, have you seen some great street design that gets people outside whatever the weather conditions?

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