Road to Damascus

In this week’s SPEAKER’S CORNER, local pedestrianist Andrew Main discusses road safety issues that discourage people from walking in Perth’s inner suburbs.

WALKING is an extremely popular activity in the inner suburbs of Perth.

The latest census shows that 20 per cent of residents in the City of Perth walked to work and nearly 10 per cent in the City of Vincent.

These rates are way above the Perth metropolitan region average of two per cent.

Apart from getting to work, walking is part of our everyday life. Places we use on a daily basis such as shops, parks, cafes and sporting, retail and community facilities are within easy walking distance.

We also walk to catch up with friends, for exercise, with our dog or just for pleasure.

Setting us apart from many other areas in Perth is that most walking starts and ends at our front door, doesn’t require a car and takes place on footpaths along or on our streets.

Reflecting our community, it should be remembered that pedestrians include the young and the old, the able-bodied and those with disabilities.

We push prams, ride scooters and bikes, use wheelchairs, mobility scooters and walking frames.

Walking is a defining feature of the lifestyle of residents in the inner suburbs. Residents, business owners, local governments and state government agencies all have a role in ensuring it is nurtured and remains a popular activity into the future.

So what needs to happen so that walking is easy, safe and enjoyable? A basic requirement to make walking an enjoyable activity is protection from the sun. Far too many streets in the inner suburbs do not have sufficient numbers of mature and healthy trees to provide adequate shade. There are examples of major streets that do not have any trees at all.

But many of the issues facing inner city pedestrians stem from the priority which decision makers give to vehicles over other road users. .

The number and proximity of high volume and heavily polluting major roads in the area immediately to the north of the CBD is the highest in the metropolitan area.

In a distance of 4km, there are nine major roads—East Parade, Lord, Beaufort, William, Fitzgerald, Charles, Loftus and Oxford Streets, and the Mitchell Freeway.

State and local governments have a responsibility to enable the safe crossing of these roads.

Ideally, a combination of bridges, underpasses and signalised or zebra pedestrian crossings are required.

At the very least, more central median refuge points should be constructed.

The 60km speed limits on many of these roads adds to their danger, and there is no regular speed enforcement by the WA Police.

There is also no speed enforcement on residential streets—where people live and play—and where trucks and rat runners travel to avoid main roads.

High speed traffic is obviously dangerous and must be controlled.

If the WA Police do not have the resources to regularly enforce speed limits on Perth roads, then local governments should be permitted to do so.

In addition, real-time speed display units—that show the speed of passing vehicles—should be installed at high risk locations.

These are a proven and inexpensive method to ‘shame’ drivers into complying with speed limits.

Not only are speed limits ignored by many, the 50km speed limit on local residential streets is too high.

A report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in March reinforces the importance of lowering speed limits to make streets safer for people.

A reduction in speed limits must happen, particularly in the inner suburbs of Perth.

While there are many issues, the solution is simple.

We need leadership from decision makers and for everyone in the community to support streets being for people outside cars, just as much as those inside.

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