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Wheelchair accessible cities

Universal access is something becoming increasingly sought after in all new development, and the design of new train stations in Melbourne in recent years has changed dramatically to be far more accessible than their older counterparts. For new stations to be designed for accessibility seems a no brainer, but what are the possibilities for retrofitting older stations? 

Cost is obviously a considerable factor, but so are heritage considerations, and the availability of land to construct new ramps in densely built up areas. Is the answer simply that these locations will never be fully accessible via public transport? Or can we do better?

Image source: City Metric

Since breaking his neck 9 years ago, Peter Apps has explored many of the world’s great cities via wheelchair and writes on the best and worst to get around by public transport, taxi and “foot” path. 

His experiences of public transport worldwide indicates that the world isn't particularly well designed for people in a wheelchair and a trip that able bodied people take for granted can be unusable for a person who is wheelchair bound. Interestingly, he indicated that Dubai has lifts at every station, unlike some of the world's busiest cities - New York, London, Paris - who have older metro systems.

So yes, we could do better and as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project is developed, we could potentially revisit older stations to ensure that the journey is easy and efficient for all users.

Read more about accessibility here.

What have they done

By Sean Hua

What's next for VW? EPA/Sebastian Kahnert
Volkswagens are one of the best-selling vehicles to date with over 30 million sold up to June 2013. They conjure an image of quality, style and had a strong reputation; while they’re not quite as posh as a Mercedes, they are considered better than a Ford or Holden (by default) due to their European heritage. VWs have long been seen as fuel-efficient too, so much so they were listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability index. Diesel goes one better than normal, requiring fewer litres per 100km than petrol.

Yes, it is more efficient, translating to fewer dollars required at the pump. I assume this is one of the key deciding factors for buyers. But despite the “ultra-low-sulphur” tag that many new diesel engines have, other pollutants like Nitric oxide and Nitrogen dioxide are still emitted.

Instead of trying to rein these outputs in, VW instead conducted a campaign of wilful dishonesty. The engineers programmed their cars to detect when they were undergoing emissions testing, and produce false outputs at the exhaust. Real world driving produced 30-40 times the emissions of pollutants than test conditions. Now, I’m not an engineer… but if they could rig the engine to produce fewer pollutants at a given time, why not just do it all the time? Or alternatively, if they could spend the time and effort to write such a program, why not dedicate it to actually producing a clean-running engine? It’s a senseless “solution” to a problem they didn’t need to have.

While people will speak about the breach of trust to customers, the cost of the recall, the collapsing share prices etc. the important numbers are the health costs that have resulted. Noelle Sellin of The Conversation estimates a figure upwards of US$100 million in the US alone. In Aussie digits, that’s $141,158,993.41, or approximately 3,900 brand new VW Golfs. When you consider that figure only comes from about half a million US-based vehicles, and that affected cars in Europe number almost 10 million… The costs are staggering.

Last year, I wrote about how diesel-powered cars were being encouraged in Australia to promote better fuel-efficiency and come in line with basic EU emissions standards. At the same time, European countries were taking steps to begin phasing out diesel altogether. To them, the diesel efficiency argument doesn’t stack up to the negative social and environmental impacts that it could generate.

We are perennial followers on environmental standards, dragging our feet and being reactive rather than proactive. This time though, when a corporate body has so blatantly cheated its consumer base with damning health and environmental costs, can we allow such an event without change to our regulations? When we’ve just begun to adopt diesel as a common fuel-type, would it be prudent to abandon it before real traction is gained?

This time, it would really make sense to follow Europe. This time, we should at minimum consider stricter regulations on emissions. But why aim so low? Why not aim for car-free cities like what Paris did for a day (see car-less utopia post), and achieve drastic reductions in pollution? Why not aim for halving pollution, hybrid public transport and zero-emission taxis like London? Why not shift towards active transport and active cities?

Why not lead?

Car-less Utopia

By Jessica Guirand

The city of Paris recently had its ‘first car-free day’. It was on everyone’s lips!

Credit: Champs-Elysees

Imagine the City of Light liberated from traffic, pollution and noise. The freedom to walk and ride in the empty streets or the unlocked potential for photographers and film makers to capture Paris unchained.

Sounds pretty amazing but somehow this seems too good to be true. The facts speak for themselves as follows:

  •  This innovative experience was scheduled on a Sunday between 11am and 6pm
  • Only 4 arrondissements in the core of Paris were car-free (the 16 others were subjected to a speed limit of 20km/h) as well as two gardens at the periphery
  • Motorised vehicles such as ambulances, taxis, and buses were exempted
  • Some arrondissements are already car-free every Sunday of the year
  • There are several examples of cities worldwide, where partial and permanent days without cars exist including Bogota and Brussels. Paris itself has experienced car-free days in the past!
Credit: / Car-free areas (dark green)
Clearly, the intention was to create a strong impact in the collective mind and demonstrate that there are other ways to go about pollution peaks and climate change. But is this good enough?

The initiative lacked a firm political support and hid the real issue at stake. This metropolis has an array of public transport options. Paris contains five suburban train lines, 16 metro lines, eight tram lines and about 10 bus lines. It is probably the most dense public transport network in Europe (there are 8.5 million public transport commuters in the Paris area per day). However, an existing and persisting problem is the deterioration of the lines, which have reached or are close from reaching their saturation point (roads are experiencing the same dilemma). This ageing network is desperately in need of maintenance, new lines and stations. The impact of a car-free day in contrast appears ludicrous.

This isn’t just an issue that just plagues Paris. This issue is faced by cities worldwide each day. What is needed is an integrated approach which includes strategic planning of housing, employment and services, and use of technology needs be seriously considered to create a retrofitted metropolis that respond to the challenge of climate change and resources constrained.

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