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The way in which people move around their environment will have a major impact on it. Carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles (currently responsible for 30% of the UK's CO2 emissions) is a major contributor to global warming.
People driving fuel guzzling off-road vehicles and SUVs to go to a supermarket half a mile away will only compound this. The use of cars is often unnecessary with nearly a quarter of all trips made being less then a mile away and 42% being within two miles.
When designing on a large scale, such as a housing estate, the way in which the roads and pathways are designed will have a profound impact on the environment by encouraging people to walk, cycle or use public transport.
There are four main areas which are important to people when considering what method of transport to use:
The safety of footpaths and cycle tracks is paramount to encourage people to use them, especially after dark. Pathways should be as open as possible to allow people to travel through without feeling trapped.
Subways are commonly seen as a dangerous place at night as people can often not see into them from a distance and vandalism can damage lighting. A well-designed transportation network should allow a variety of safe crossing points over roads without requiring subways. Where this is not possible (due to heavy traffic for example) bridges should be used allowing people to see what is ahead from a clear distance enabling a feeling of safety. Wider, straighter paths are often safer than narrower winding pathways.
Separating pedestrian and cycle routes will enhance the ease of use and safety for both parties. Pedestrians can feel intimidated by cyclists zooming past inches from them and cyclists can often collide with or be forced to swerve around pedestrians. Where possible these two paths should be kept separate by a physical barrier or by being on different levels, this will also help visually impaired people who may stray into cycle paths.
Providing some sort of weather protection will also make people feel more comfortable when walking in hot, windy or wet weather. Lining busy routes with tall trees will create a natural windbreak as well as providing cover from rain and shade in the summer. Using tall trees will allow them to be placed further apart which will prevent the trunks from feeling like a solid wall at ground level, although some consideration will need to be taken to make sure that roots will not damage the pathway beneath.
Lighting is also important to the feeling of safety required by pedestrians and cyclists. Routes should be well lit, by natural light during the day and artificial light at night. Streetlights may consume electricity but there are numerous ways these can be powered either partly or fully by renewable means. This involves building batteries into them that can be charged during the day by either mini wind turbines or small solar panels mounted on the top of the light. Solar panels are already used extensively for powering parking meters.
The length of time a journey takes will often make the difference between a person choosing to cycle or walk over taking the car. Designing cycle routes and pathways that flow through an areas 'desire lines' (the way people naturally want to move, for example cutting corners off of pathways) as well as utilising the shortest route possible between common destinations, will save people time and make them much more likely to use human-powered transportation methods.
Designing a transport layout with the pedestrian and cyclist in mind rather then the car will make this possible. Some eco-estates do not have car-parking facilities within their boundaries allowing the space instead to be used to create cycle ways and broad footpaths. Car parks can be located on the outskirts encouraging people to walk or cycle small distances and only use the car for longer, out of town trips.
Cars often provide the easiest option, all people have to worry about is a parking space. When an estate is designed to reduce the use of cars, space is created. This space could be put to good use allowing secure cycle storage to be constructed in front of shopping areas and work places.
Commercial buildings should allow for cyclists by providing locker rooms allowing people to change into work clothes and store safety equipment such as helmets and waterproof riding gear, and of course showers.
Blocking car access to certain areas will further encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport. To ensure access to allow deliveries, removable bollards can be used to fence off areas to public traffic, but not interfere with deliveries that will require the vehicle to be as close to its destination as possible.
Public transport, the easiest to implement being buses, should be used extensively. The monorail (above) is not a very efficient method of transport, and is usually for tourists or occasional use. Kuala Lumpar and Sydney both have monorails.
Bus-stops should be located as near to residential and commercial cores as possible, for example as close to the entrance of a supermarket as possible to reduce the amount of distance people travel with heavy bags (and making it nearer then cars will further encourage its use). Bus-stops should be sheltered to protect people from the weather and should ideally be placed where they can be over looked to prevent vandalism.
Where possible stops should be given an appropriate name in order to make travel easier, people are more likely to remember names then they are numbers. Information about bus times should also be on hand at the stops to allow people to see when the next bus is at a glance instead of having to plan ahead.
Where possible bus networks should link with existing bus services allowing a fully networked public transport infrastructure with the outside world. Bus services to and from rail stations, and to a lesser extent airports, will encourage the use of public transport over taxis (which are still after all a car) and private transport (which will require paying a hefty parking fee). Once at the station people will travel longer distances on trains instead of the road, further saving on CO2 emissions.
Sign posting on pedestrian and cycle routes will also make the transport network easier to use by allowing people to navigate their way easier. Distances should be added to allow people to calculate time left on their journeys. Sign posting can also be used to ensure people are aware of facilities such as recycling collection points that they may not realise exist if they drive past them.
When a new development is planned consideration should be given to the location of amenities such as shops, schools, doctors surgeries etc. Where possible new developments should be sited close to existing commercial areas. Where this is not possible they should be built into the new development.
Placing these in close proximity to each other will allow people to do the same amount of shopping or other activities in fewer trips. For example locating the newsagent, post office, doctors, chemist and school all within easy reach of each other will encourage people to walk to them and make full use of them while there.
The convenience of having everything located next to each other will also encourage people to use local facilities instead of having to drive (which may be more inconvenient still if the car is located further away) to out of town shopping centres.
Where cycle paths and pedestrian walkways are extensively used they will need to be maintained. Hedgerows and other plant life should be trimmed back, and litter and dog mess should be cleaned at regular intervals to make pathways as pleasant as possible. The provision of bins along the route will encourage people to not drop litter with the same effect resulting for placing dog mess bins. Where possible benches and shelters should be placed along heavily used routes allowing people a place to rest and shelter.
Accessibility is an important challenge for all new builds and one that is enshrined in Building Regulations. All new houses and commercial buildings have to provide disabled access, usually in the form of a wheelchair ramp. Doorways should not have raised lips or anything that might create a trip hazard. Also new buildings should have a downstairs toilet, and commercial buildings need a safety fireproof room as a gathering point before rescue for those less able to move about. Why anyone would want to assemble inside a burning building is not addressed, but these rooms have to be provided.
Where large car parks are used to encourage vehicles to be parked outside of centres of human activity, there should be appropriate facilities for them. Petrol filling facilities should be nearby or even better on site to prevent extra road miles. A larger out of town car park will also make it easier to establish new transport technologies. LPG pumps can be placed in the local filling station and even electric hook-ups can be placed within the car park itself.
By being at the point the car is stored it negates the distance disadvantage as cars can be fully fuelled or charged when the journey begins allowing them to reach maximum mileage. Regular buses or trams should be available to take people from car parks around an estate, enabling the convenience lost by not being able to park outside the property to be offset.
Large estates will also require transportation to be used to keep the estate maintained. These vehicles do not need a high top speed and will rarely leave an area of a few square miles. This makes electric vehicles an ideal choice as they would not be hampered by the limited range electric vehicles offer. Once the workday is done the vehicle can then be charged overnight ready for the morning.
The type of material used in road and pathway construction is also important to improving the sites green credentials. Commonly roads are created using asphalt cement as a binder to hold aggregate together to form a road. The asphalt is produced as a side product of oil refining and as such is not a sustainable or ecologically friendly material. To improve the environmentally friendliness of a sites transportation network its use should be kept to a minimum.
Where it is not possible to reduce the amount of roads used they should be constructed from as environmentally friendly materials as possible. Non petroleum based asphalts are available and can be made from corn, starches and sugar which can be grown sustainably, although this does have the problem of taking field space away from food crop farming. Other methods include the use of used vegetable oil and vegetable based binders although these are still in the development phase.
Recycled aggregate can be used to further reduce a road's impact on the environment. This is often rubble taken from demolition sites, producing a double saving, as not only does the recycled material reduce the need for new rock to be dug, it also prevents waste from building sites going to a landfill. Where noise is of a concern rubberised asphalt can be used, this contains rubber from recycled tires to dampen some of the sound typically resulting in a 2.6 - 5Db reduction from tire noise.
The design of large sites is a particularly tricky task. Carefully considering the effect transport has on the health and well being of an estates occupants, as well as the planet can lead to huge advantages in environmental and safety terms. Reducing the cars on the roads will cut carbon emissions considerably, and on an social level, large pedestrianised zones will create a much safer bustling environment.
Encouraging people to walk or cycle will help them achieve their daily levels of exercise and efficient public transport on hand will allow people to feel they can still make longer trips without using private cars.