UC students aspire towards a future of sustainable and equitable transport
30 September 2022
Two students at the University of Canterbury (UC) want to play their part in creating an accessible, sustainable and people-orientated future for cities, and as they study towards a Master of Urban Resilience and Renewal (MURR), they’re hoping to play their part in making this a reality.
Pippa Sheppard and Emily Ward, who are studying towards a MURR with thesis scholarships from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, are looking at transport from two different perspectives. But they agree on one thing – that they want to see a city designed for people, and a sustainable future not focused on catering to vehicles.
Sheppard wants to understand what incentives it would take for people to embrace active modes of transport such as cycling or walking, and public transport like catching a bus or train.
“Most of my friends turn their nose up to public transport when I suggest it, so I want to understand the root cause of that stigma, and how we can persuade people to travel in a different way,” she says.
When selecting her research, she identified a need for understanding individuals’ behaviour to support efforts towards reducing carbon emissions. “With the transport sector being one of the largest contributors, it made sense to look at an individual’s transport habits and how those who use private vehicles could be convinced to try other modes.”
As part of her research, Sheppard is partnering with Christchurch City Council’s (CCC) Travel Demand Management Team to understand how businesses have successfully incentivised people within their community to change how they get from A to B. She’s hoping to create a model could be used nationally by councils to support businesses to help individuals travel in a better way.
“Lots of places are willing to help encourage employees to travel in a sustainable way, they just need that guidance on how they can actually achieve it,” says Sheppard.
Meanwhile, Ward, who also received a scholarship from The Hope Foundation, is looking to better understand the impact surface water can have on the disabled and the elderly’s ability to travel. While major flooding has obvious impacts to moving around a community, Ward says that puddles can prevent some people from leaving home for the day.
She has been interviewing people about the everyday challenges that they face after recent heavy rains and resulting surface water.
“There seems to be an increasing appetite for active transport and designing cites to have less reliance on cars,” she says. “However, accessibility can be an afterthought, I haven’t seen much information on how surface flooding (10cm or less) impacts travel. The research that does exist, focuses on delays for cars, not the people on the streets.
There was a lot of rain in Christchurch in July and roads were closed but there wasn’t a lot of reporting about how that affected people who find it difficult to leave the house.
“My research is focusing on those invisible barriers that seemingly get overlooked. I feel that the shape and function of your body shouldn’t limit the places you can go,” Ward says.
Working in partnership with the Coastal Hazards Team within the CCC, she hopes that her research will help inform councils and government to make cities more equitable and identify how active transport modes can be more resilient to poor weather. She believes this is important for adapting to the changing climate.
She also hopes to highlight transport barriers for people with physical impairments, especially in the context of an aging population.
“I’d like to see my research inform the team of some of the specific travel needs for disabled and older people when planning a future Ōtautahi.”
MURR is believed to be the only programme in Aotearoa New Zealand that focuses specifically on how communities respond to challenges cities are facing today.
While there are a range of offerings across the country that focus on local planning and legislation, MURR is focused on empowering the next generation to build a brighter future as they consider all the complicated facets of urban development.
MURR Programme Director, Dr Lindsey Conrow, says she sees many graduates go on to “interesting and varied careers such as urban planning, transport, and health, where they make real world impacts from day one”.
Professor Simon Kingham, who developed and teaches within the programme, describes it as, “a combination of understanding the science of many of the contemporary urban environmental challenges we face and knowing how society can respond to them.”
“Given the major environmental challenges we are facing that impact the way we live, we need people who have the skills to find solutions to these issues.”
Read further stories on how UC researchers are contributing to the resilience of our cities and communities.
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