News | 31 May 2024
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Out of the (bus) box thinking for a more accessible city

When Jacob Wahry joined Wellington City Council as a project lead to deliver sustainable street changes, he wasn’t expecting his mechanical engineering background to come into play. But this proved key to helping people with visual impairments to understand proposed changes for bus stop bypasses, where bike lanes and bus stops meet.

Image of Jacob Wahry in a green jacket.
Jacob Wahry, project lead for sustainable street changes
Jacob works with the Transitional Team, which used a quick-build approach to make improvements for pedestrians, people on bikes, and public transport. Using more affordable and adaptable materials, the street changes could be installed quickly so that people could start using them sooner.  

One of the strongest themes of feedback from people with disabilities had been the interaction between bus stops and bike lanes, where some of the adaptable materials were creating some issues. 

“We want everyone to have safe and easy options when they’re travelling around our city,” says Jacob. “It’s vital we improve the permanent bus stop platforms, so they are more inclusive for everyone.”  

 “As the cycle lanes were implemented, many of us from the disability community and older people had concerns about the design and our safety as pedestrians,” Thomas Bryan from Blind Citizens NZ explains. “The Wellington City Council team and NZTA Waka Kotahi officials met with us and listened to our concerns and worked with us to develop solutions to improve the design.” 

But once refined designs were ready, simply sharing drawings or talking through technical plans wasn’t straightforward for our blind, deafblind, vision-impaired, and low vision community. It was Jacob’s mechanical engineering background that landed a tactile solution to this challenge. 

“In my previous roles designing consumer goods and New Zealand-made pest management tools, creating 3D models was part of the job,” says Jacob. “I was excited to dust these skills off for some CAD (computer-aided design) work and then send them to the Maker’s Space at Waitohu Hub to produce with their 3D printing facilities.” 
Image of a 3D model of the new bus stop bypasses.
Jacob's 3D model of the bus stop bypasses

The 3D model was scaled 1:100 and included textural details so people with low vision could feel the road markings. 

Working closely with Thomas, the team met onsite with the scale model and then paced out the new measurements so they could get a sense for the new dimensions at full scale.  

“As a blind person, having a 3D model of the new design was great - having information readily available and accessible for everyone, including print and electronically, is inclusive,” Thomas shared. “This approach meant we could understand what was being proposed and informed our discussions.”  

Since the bus stop bypasses were installed, there has been national and international research on them, developing more nuanced design guidance.   

“Because we used adaptable materials, our new designs have been informed not just by the additional design knowledge, but the Wellington experience – particularly from the disability community,” says Transitional Programme Manager Claire Pascoe.

The new design makes sure that pedestrians, bikes, and passengers getting off and on buses each have at least 1.2m width. Different materials will used to show the difference in zones where bus passengers get on and off.  

“We really value the input the disability community have had in this improved design as we reshape our streets to give people more options to get around, especially for people who aren’t able to drive”, says Claire.  

Thomas explains that the new bus stop design is a step in the right direction.

“As a blind person, walking across cycle lanes to get on and off the bus remains a real concern for me and others from our community. However, using a more traditional stop and platform goes a long way towards addressing our concerns.” 

The new bus stop bypass design will be used in various spots around the city, including a new stop at Duppa Street. Bus stop platforms including near the Botanic Garden ki Paekākā and on Adelaide Road will be upgraded – making the spaces easier to understand for all users and improving the experience for bus users.