Crime prevention and urban design

Criminology has aided crime prevention and has been applied specifically to produce guidelines to improve urban design. The ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual (2000) was a product of this approach.

There is no one size that fits all for crime prevention in urban design. The manual recommends instead a methodology for risk assessment. Risk assessments are nothing new for the ACT Government, and also found in the areas of environmental protection and construction projects.

Stakeholders’ perceptions versus crime statistics

The methodology is driven by crime statistics but integrates stakeholder consultation in the process, which is typical for planning new developments in the ACT. When engaging the population it is often difficult reconciling the crime statistics with their perceptions of personal safety. What comes out of these discussions has been heard many times before.

Stakeholders’ perceptions of the threat of crime were seen by some to be as important as actual crime statistics.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 3

People’s perceptions of crime and levels of fear vary greatly within the community.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 3

Significant concern was expressed about access and transport. This focused on the safety of public transport and the need for safe movement corridors, especially at night.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 3 

A common theme is older people are scared of younger people, but this fear is at odds with crime statistics.

It was noted that while groups of young people may appear threatening to other groups, statistics showed that young people
were more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators of crime.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 4

As youth, we have the desire to spend time with our peers, we would like urban planning to reflect this by “providing appropriate, well-located spaces for youth activities.”

In the last article, canberra.bike notes that our perceptions of safety must be addressed if we want people to ride and walk. Our personal comfort and perceived safety is essential. Crime prevention principles applied to urban planning should calm our fears and reduce levels of crime, but also boost active travel.

It is impossible to eliminate all crime. When crime is at a low level, psychological barriers will still need to be investigated and addressed. As the psychological barriers are hard to diminish, it may be worthwhile addressing these at an early stage. The  psychological barriers will be discussed in another article.

The manual

The ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual (2000) is for public places and buildings and not specifically targeted at active travel, let alone at cycling infrastructure. The ACT Government should consider updating this manual to tap into new practices and also consider innovative technologies such as LED lighting, which is now common in the ACT.

Lighting

Good lighting at night is essential for active travel.

Lighting is an important aspect of community safety and crime
prevention, impacting on both actual crime and fear of crime.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 12

Improved lighting encourages people to use spaces. This increases informal surveillance, thereby contributing to actual and perceived levels of safety.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 12

Only three per cent of crime at night occurs when the lighting level is above 20 lux.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 12

Lighting for older people needs to be designed with care. About twice as much actual brightness is required to create the same degree of perceived brightness for a 60-year-old as for a 20-year-old, and the ratio increases even more for people in their seventies.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 12

The most important thing to note is that lighting suitable for roads (7 Lux) is not suitable for pedestrians (20 Lux). Pedestrians have therefore their own lighting standards and these should be followed.

Lighting for car activity is different to that for pedestrians, hence the need for lighting on a pedestrian scale. Recognising this, Australian standards for road lighting have been revised to take into account pedestrian lighting and the effect on crime against the person. Australian Standard 1158.1.3 Pedestrian Lighting outlines minimum requirements for pedestrian lighting

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 12

Natural surveillance

A lot of weight is put on natural surveillance, and not just because of the peace of mind that it provides, “but more importantly because offenders think they will be seen.” Potential perpetrators are just as likely to be fearful and uncertain as those walking home. The manual provides tips for natural surveillance. Here is a selection.

Avoid sharp “blind” corners, especially on pathways, stairs or
corridors. …

Ensure that pedestrians can see what is in and at the end of tunnels and underpasses. …

Avoid use of landscaping materials which could, when mature, serve as screens or barriers to unimpeded views of pathways. …

Ensure that, where possible, windows of surrounding buildings
overlook routes to and from problem areas such as car parks. …

Collocate pedestrian, cycle and vehicular movements systems to
encourage maximum surveillance of public areas.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 15

The last suggestion of collating pedestrian, cycle and vehicular movements is problematic, as it ties pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to roads. Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is less attractive and less safe from a road safety perspective. As travel modes shifts, we will increasingly build pedestrian and cycling infrastructure without roads. This is another area where these guidelines should have greater emphasis. Researching solutions from high cycling countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark is always a good start.

Why signage matters

Signage reassures. The manual provides some helpful tips.

Prepare a signage plan focussing on the “safe routes” and indicating destinations, facilities and amenities en route. …

Clearly indicate closing hours at entrances to public areas which are closed off at night. …

Illuminate signs which are essential for night use. …

Locate signs so that they are not likely to be obscured by growing
vegetation.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 16

For so many of the community paths in the ACT, any signage is sadly lacking, damaged or overgrown. The lack of maintenance of the cycling infrastructure is a bane and the signage is part of this. Keep an eye out for the brown and yellow signs that were put up around Canberra as early as 1989, and are often yet to be replaced 32 years later.

Bicentennial National Trail . Yet to start. Kuringa Drive and Owen Dixon Drive intersection, Belconnen. Stand 11/10/2020
Bicentennial National Trail. Yet to start.  Kuringa Drive and Owen Dixon Drive intersection, Belconnen. Stand 11/10/2020

Land use mix

Urban planning has come a long way since the 1980s when it was normal for everything to be shut at night or even weekends in the business or retail district.

A public space has little vitality when all surrounding uses are office buildings which are closed at night and on weekends. It is essential that the mix of uses is capable of providing safe havens, as well as legitimate activity—especially pedestrian activity. One way to encourage greater use and “ownership” of public spaces is to encourage land use mixes which enhance opportunities for cultural or recreational activities.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 19

Mixed zones are the most likely category for new multistory developments, even away from town centres in place such as Wright, Molonglo Valley. Currently, the developers may only pay lip service to the concept, making their money from sales of the units rather than business premises on the ground floor. We clearly need to get better at mix developments.

Landscaping

People are happier in a green landscape. The ACT Climate Change Strategy (2019) has seen the introduction of a 30% tree target to keep our cities cooler and more comfortable. Paths and cycle infrastructure is more likely to be used if they are attractive. A green landscape does that. Some care is, however, required to avoid compromising our safety.

In general, studies have found that the landscaping design and maintenance of a whole site correlates with user satisfaction and safety. However, where planted areas are poorly maintained and vandalised, this may increase the risk of crime.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 19
ANU

Bicycle paths

Very little of the manual is on cycle paths and few of the recommendations are specific to cycle infrastructure. Further there is a tendency to quote Australian standards, particularly for disability and pedestrians. These standards are not laid out specifically to reduce crime, but it is not surprising that the standards provide for safer paths. The standards should be applied consistently in Canberra, which is all too often not the case.

In order to maximise the use of cycle paths, it is essential that they provide a safe environment for cyclists of all ages, with adequate and safe facilities along the routes and at destinations. Bicycle routes should be selected both for convenience and security—that is, they should be routes with vehicle and pedestrian traffic during the day and evening, and with minimum empty spaces and underground crossings.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 36

Cycling in Canberra is often through bushland.

Where bicycle paths travel through natural bush, clear approximately three metres either side of the pathway. The recommendation for sightline heights is then ignored.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 36

Bicycle parking is now mandatory in the ACT, and we have our own ACT standards.

Provide bicycle parking and locking facilities in accordance with
AS2890.3 Parking Facilities—Bicycle Parking Facilities.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, page 36

Underpasses and overpasses

For cycling underpasses and overpasses are safe and fast. Unfortunately underpasses are often poorly maintained, not lit or they flood regularly, leaving mud and other deposits that may take weeks to clear.

There is also a dilemma here between grade crossings versus tunnels. Crossing a road is dangerous for vulnerable road users, particularly the very young, old and people with a disability. Underpasses may present other problems if poorly designed. In recent years the ACT Government is only building underpasses for flood waters.

Overpasses and underpasses in many locations have contributed to road safety for pedestrians and cyclists. However, both can be subject to safety problems with underpasses generally regarded as major sources of risk of crime and/or fear for pedestrians.

Great care needs to be taken in designing underpasses, as they are
likely to contribute to safety, as well as maintenance problems. This is particularly so where pedestrian routes have underpasses located away from occupied buildings.

If there is an alternative, it is preferable not to have underpasses and overpasses. If a choice exists between an underpass or overpass, the preference is an overpass with good natural surveillance. Open, well lit underpasses are preferable to tunnels.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, pages 36-37

Pedestrian routes

Pedestrians are very important for active travel. Within the Active Travel Standards there is a special path type for pedestrians with an emphasis on the aged and disabled – Access Community Routes (ACR). Although the standard is about accessibility and crime prevention, the ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual (2000) discusses Access Community Routes.

The particular needs of older pedestrians and people with
disabilities need to be considered in path design. Walking is a very popular activity, but mobility problems are frequent among older people. Strolling and stopping to rest or for a chat are popular activities among older people.

Walking and cycling also can provide access to other activities. While being safe and barrier-free, a walking circuit should be interesting with changing views and allow for casual social encounters en route. Symbolic barriers (as opposed to fences) can be a useful way of defining space—and making clear its designated purpose. This also applies to footpaths where design may be used to channel pedestrian traffic so that people, especially in the evening, are more likely to encounter other pedestrians. For details on the design of pedestrian paths for use by older people and people with disabilities, see Appendix B.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, pages 40

Barrier-free

Appendix B barrier-free criteria for the design of pedestrian paths borrows from the Australian Standard 1428 Design for Access and Mobility (AS1428). The slopes on Canberra paths are often very steep, so the following is worth mentioning.

Both slopes greater than three per cent (1 in 33) without
frequent rest areas and slopes greater than five per cent (1 in 20) – with or without rest areas – are difficult to negotiate. Where walkways have gradients of 1 in 33, a landing (level and 1.2 m long) should be provided at least every 25 metres and at least every 14 metres for walkways with a gradient of 1 in 20 (AS1428.1).

Major on-site pedestrian access routes should not involve a slope of greater than 5 per cent (1:20). These are considered paths (or walkways); those with steeper gradients are considered ramps.

ACT Crime Prevention and Urban Design Resource Manual 2000, ACT Government, pages 46

As discuss in here, the paths planned for Whitlam are too steep to comply with such standards and should be considered ramps.

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