FOOTPATHS in poor condition, a lack of shade and greenery, and fears about their safety are discouraging Brunswick residents from walking around the suburb as much as they’d like to.
Those are among the key findings of a major new survey of walking conducted by the Brunswick Residents Network.
A report on the survey results says that while walking around the neighbourhood has most likely increased for exercise and enjoyment during the COVID-19 pandemic, more needs to be done to improve pedestrian safety and amenity.
Among reforms that would make walking safer, healthier, and more enjoyable, the BRN says developers should be required to pay for upgrading pedestrian infrastructure, pedestrians need to be given higher priority in council budgeting and transport strategies, lighting should be improved to make walking safer at night, and the parlous state of Brunswick’s footpaths – which are often narrow, uneven, and obstructed – must be addressed.
The 44-page report was launched on Tuesday night and is the result of a survey conducted in late summer and autumn this year, which had 922 respondents.
The wealth of data in the report, which includes information and when, why, where, and how often people walk, along with their views about what is good and bad about walking in Brunswick, will be used to inform and lobby Moreland Council and the state government for improvements to pedestrian infrastructure.
Survey co-ordinator and report author Nancy Atkin said there needed to be a change in perspective to recognise how many people walk for both transport and recreation, to find out how many people don’t have access to driving a car, and to plan services based on this evidence.
“We recommend a systematic approach to footpath upgrades, and a more ambitious approach to lowering traffic volumes and speeds in residential streets,” she said.
“Council needs to plan for innovative solutions to safety that will enhance rather than restrict mobility and encourage walking. And our report calls for housing densification to create a more attractive and enjoyable walking environment, instead of increased ugliness.”
Seven ways to encourage more walking
1. Recognise walking’s importance
2. Fix the footpaths
3. Address walking fears
4. Make walking beautiful
5. Fix traffic
6. Action on traffic hot spots
7. Manage development
Source: Brunswick Residents Network
Like many inner city suburbs, walking is already popular in Brunswick with two-thirds of survey respondents saying they walked every day, and more than half walking for more than five hours each week. And walking has clear benefits both for people’s health and well-being and for the environment.
There is anecdotal evidence that walking has increased during the pandemic, partly because it is one of the few forms of outdoor activity allowed within five kilometre zones, and also because there has been less motor traffic on streets.
But the report found there are still obvious impediments to more people walking in Brunswick.
Not surprisingly, poor footpath quality, too much traffic, aggressive drivers and cyclists, and poor road crossings rated highly among pedestrians’ gripes.
“Much of Brunswick consists of narrow streets with small workers cottages, alongside many new apartment developments on old factory sites,” Ms Atkin said.
“These areas have narrow and poorly maintained footpaths. In addition, developers have not been required to upgrade and widen footpaths when they bring in hundreds of new residents.”
She said a special program was needed to systematically upgrade footpaths, and developer contributions should pay for wider footpaths or shared zones in high density areas.
Survey respondents were split evenly over whether enforcing a 30kmh speed limit in residential streets would improve safety.
Women and older people also identified safety issues around walking at night as a key concern. Almost half of women surveyed said they would walk more often if they weren’t worried about their safety.
Only a quarter of women walk at night, and 35% said they felt less safe walking at night than five years ago. About a third of women said they would walk more often if streets were better lit, and a quarter ranked better lighting as a top improvement that is needed.
Less expected was that a clear majority of people surveyed said shady trees would make them walk more often. More greenery along with other beautification measures would encourage walking, the report said.
The full report is available on the Brunswick Residents Network website.