Streets for People

Gerhana Waty

Director - Urban Design


Gerhana is an experienced urban designer with over 12 years’ experience in both the public and private sectors with a sound knowledge of design appraisals, master planning and framework initiatives within Australia and internationally. Gerhana’s passion for urban design is driven by her architectural background and her particular interests in how evidence-based design and urban analytic could influence quality decision making and design outcome in a constantly evolving urban environment. Her contribution in strategic and statutory dimensions of urban design at Hansen reflects a strong, tangible and complementary emphasis on creating safe and sustainable spaces. She had previously contributed and led award winning transit oriented development and public realm improvement projects including the Surabaya Urban Develop­ment Program in Indonesia and the AILA ‘Street Works’ prize, for the activation of underused spaces in Sydney’s CBD. In addition to her project work, Gerhana also regularly provides advice to Government agencies and developers on development applications and design justifications both locally and internationally. Gerhana is also an active contrib­utor to research through the University of Melbourne (Melbourne School of Design) as a seasonal Master of Architecture Studio Leader.
Contact Gerhana Waty
  • structure plans
  • activity centre planning
  • strategic planning
  • urban design analysi
  • transit oriented development and pedestrian oriented design
  • architectural design /public space design

OPINION: ‘Streets for People’

The Streets for People concept is all the rage in 2020. It is the new vocabulary used by agencies, planners, designers and communities to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists in our movement networks.

The concept itself is not rocket science.

The Streets for People Concept

A street is not just a conduit for movement. It can also be an inviting, vibrant place that supports the local community and economy.

Pre COVID-19 committed agencies were working hard to deliver Streets for People through finding the balance between providing for vehicles while fostering sustainable transport within the existing streetscape profile. Streets for People represents a paradigm shift in thinking about streets and road reservations as spaces for all users through the negotiation of confined road spaces. This initiative is a quintessential model of the marriage between strategic and transport planning, and urban design.

Implementing successful streets for people goes beyond implementing bike paths. To achieve holistic people-oriented- places, infrastructure upgrades must also be paired with public realm improvements grounded by the following principles:

  • Prioritising People: To recognise people as key street users. Street design should maximise opportunities to improve pedestrian safety and amenity.
  • Maximising vibrancy: To encourage activities to spill out onto the street from nearby buildings. Create opportunities for visible street activities.
  • Minimising conflict: between the varying modes of transport, a higher priority given to pedestrians and cyclists without compromising the functional role of streets to support existing and future uses.
  • Increasing cycling confidence: along the corridors by providing high-quality cycle infrastructure that is connected, easily navigated with varying degrees of separation from traffic.
OPINION: ‘Streets for People’
Movement and Place Concept. Image credit: VicRoads

Streets for People vs Post COVID-19 Agoraphobia

Amsterdam’s cycle-centric urban system is the by-product of the 1970s oil crisis.

OPINION: ‘Streets for People’
Contemporary Amsterdam (right) and 1970s Amsterdam (left). Image credit: Sustainable AMS & Schlijper

We can safely assume agoraphobia will be ongoing within the community in the coming months. Following the Stage 3 restrictions that were announced in late March, there was a recorded 80% drop in pedestrian footfall in the CBD. As pedestrian footfall drops, local businesses bear the consequence and further jobs could be lost.

To revive the local economy in the coming months is to support local businesses. These local businesses rely on passing trade, euphemistically termed the ‘walking wallet’. Bringing people back to the streets is of paramount importance.

When the time comes for restrictions to be lifted, life will not be the same. Social distancing measures and remote working arrangement will continue in some capacity until there is a more permanent solution. Community anxiety for lingering in public space, using public transport and social distancing will continue to influence the way we live. Vibrant places such as the CBD, or local shopping strips will be impacted.

It’s far too early to find a silver-lining in COVID-19. However, you may have noticed as we’re facing the crisis there has been an uptick in creative problem-solving.

When our driving habit is disrupted, creativity follows

In a bid to avoid public transport, commuters have dusted off their bikes.  Bike shops are seeing a spike in new riders. Most of whom have not ridden in years, myself included.

From my home office, supporting local businesses includes buying our groceries and getting coffee from local shops. I was not alone. This spending habit becomes more frequent and in demand. My local streets are experiencing an increase in pedestrian and cycling activity. It is more pertinent now than ever before to start reorganising our streets in response to increasing walking and cycling demand.

New Zealand is already creating a funding stream to facilitate wider footpaths and bike lanes quickly through tactical urbanism. It will enable the community to practice safe social distancing, nurture long-term behavioural change and visually add vibrancy to the streets.

OPINION: ‘Streets for People’

Federal Street in Auckland; more cycleways, extended footpaths – an example of how our cities will be redesigned for COVID-19 style social distancing. Image credit: bikeauckland.org.nz

Embrace the unlikely partnership

Unlike in the context of natural-disaster recovery projects, we can occupy and expand existing infrastructures. Shopfronts can continue to cater to tenancies and generate the desired pedestrian footfall to encourage local spending and bring back the vibrancy of a local area. A vibrant street is a viable street that supports much-needed employment in post-COVID-19.

Without relying on cafés as a trigger for place-activation, this is the time to reconsider what other uses can generate pedestrian footfall and re-activate the street. Temporary, or pop-up working space, or shop fronts for universities, art installations, major shopping centres, or sole operators are ways to utilise existing infrastructure in the short term. Being within the community, to engage and contribute back to the local economy is one way to break down the invisible barrier that some of existing campuses, or shopping centres are modelled on.

Delivering streets for people in a time of crisis

Not too long ago, streetscape upgrades for footpaths and bike lanes were rarely prioritised. With an array of stakeholders and decision-makers, often, negotiation for car parking and traffic lane re-arrangement becomes too complex and political within the context of limited budget and time. 

A strong partnership between government, landowners and the community is needed. In a crisis, vision alignment often puts important and urgent matters to focus to set a common goal. In this instance, we all have a role to play. Transport planners, urban designers, landscape architects must find creative ways to create wider footpaths and safer cycling infrastructure within our existing road network. State and Local Governments should continue working with landowners and shop operators in finding ways to reactivate shops and reduce unemployment through rental relief, or grant. Communities should feel empowered to advocate their local council for streetscape interventions that can improve pedestrian safety and foster stronger community relationships. 

Lastly, on-going community support for a ‘streets for people’ response to COVID-19 is a more productive and energizing defence through this uncertain time.

Final message

When facing novel problems, we see new uses for our resources and skills. The time to implement Streets for People is now. Meanwhile, do take care and be kind to each other.

This article is republished from
Urban.com.au under a Creative Commons
license. Read the original article.

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