How can we define a ‘healthy street’? One which is welcoming to everyone, young and old. A place that supports movement but also lingering, conversation and community connections. There would be plenty of shade and places to sit. It is easy to cross the road – at the places where people need to cross. There may be space for play and dancing. It isn’t too noisy – you might even hear birds singing!
Think about your local high street. How many of these qualities does it possess? Too many Australian streets have been compromised by 70 years of car-centric planning. They have become traffic sewers that divide communities and make walking and cycling unsafe and unpleasant.
Life fills Macleay Street, Potts Point, during City of Sydney’s Summer Streets events in February 2022
(Image: Adam Hollingworth)
Healthy Streets® is a human-centred framework for assessing the qualities of a street. It places public health at the centre of transport planning and urban design. Healthy Streets was developed by Lucy Saunders in the UK and is fully embedded in strategic planning in London.
The approach focuses on improving the human experience of being on streets by improving 10 Healthy Streets Indicators. These indicators start from a premise that streets should be fit for human consumption and support health and prosperity throughout life.
A street is scored against each of the 10 indicators. The indicators reflect basic human needs that should be considered in the design of every street! The most important indicators are ‘everyone feels welcome’ and ‘everyone can walk and cycle’.
The Healthy Streets approach aims to lift the score with a holistic set of measures. The emphasis is on continuous incremental improvement, not perfection. Small changes can make a big difference - a bench, a new pedestrian crossing, a pram ramp. Some things can’t be done through design and it is essential to engage a range of stakeholders, such as agencies in charge of parking, public transport, refuse collection or maintenance, to discuss how to lift the score for an indicator.
The Healthy Streets indicators applied to a real project in Fairlight, NSW. The before and after score for each indicator is shown in the centre of the wheel, with the existing score in a lighter
colour (Image: Crossley Transport Planning)
The Healthy Streets approach can be applied to any street, anywhere in the world and has recently been introduced to Australia. It is important to note that Healthy Streets does not consider the function of a street in a network context and needs to be used alongside the TfNSW Movement and Place framework, particularly when assessing arterial roads with an important freight or public transport function.
The team at Bicycle NSW met Lucy several times during her recent trip to Sydney, catching her for a meeting at Parliament House, a workshop at the Micromobility Conference and a presentation at the Movement and Place Community of Practice.
Shayne Mallard MP, Lucy Saunders of Healthy Streets, Peter McLean and Sarah Bickford of Bicycle NSW at Parliament House in November 2022 (Image: Shayne Mallard)
Discussions at Parliament House focused on the initiatives that have transformed London in recent years. 30km/h or 20mph speed limits cover most of the capital, 25% of London schools now have ‘school streets’ that are completely closed to traffic at pick-up and drop-off, and traffic filtering to create ‘liveable neighbourhoods’ (a new term to replace the contentious ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’) is becoming better understood and supported by the community. English councils applying for funding for active transport projects must submit photos of politicians on bikes and engineering staff must do site visits by bike!
Lucy is an impressive and inspiring speaker. She left Sydney’s community of city shapers with a key message: Don’t get overwhelmed by the things we can’t do to improve our streets, and then do nothing! We must focus on things we can do and make incremental changes.
It is important for bike advocates to understand how changes to streets that make things better for walking, sitting and playing usually make things better for cycling too! Walking advocates, bike riders, school parents, businesses and public health charities should work together to amplify advocacy for healthier cities.
Bicycle NSW is excited to be working with a new alliance Better Streets NSW that helps different community groups align to champion changes in local neighbourhoods. We will write more about this soon!
Children in Waverley playing out while their streets are closed to cars on Sunday afternoons in a six-month trial of street play (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)
Bicycle NSW will continue to push back against car-first planning and advocate for TfNSW to always apply its great strategies and policies to prioritise walking and cycling. Please support our advocacy work across NSW by joining the Bicycle NSW family today.