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Maria Bula
Urban Planning specialist at BU Latam, Egis group
Published on September 07, 2021

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Inclusive and accessible design for everyone: new public transportation projects in Colombia

The railroad network for passenger transport in Colombia has been underutilized for decades. In 2020, the Railway Master Plan was adopted, with the aim of recovering them. Egis is developing one of the first projects to reactivate passenger rail transport: the Bogotá-Zipaquirá Surroundings Train.

railroad in Colombia

- Crédits : © Alexandre - AdobeStock

In the project we are prioritizing an inclusion and accessibility approach, which will be reflected in the designs of both the stations and trains, as well as the public space that will be intervened for the urban insertion of the system in the city. One of the objectives of the team is that the development of this approach can turn the project into a pilot exercise, and a reference for future similar projects in the country.

This approach is part of the current policies of the city hall to promote, on the one hand, development under the Caring City model, and on the other hand, that large public transport infrastructure projects apply the DOTS methodology (Development Oriented to Sustainable Transport).

As expressed by Jane Jacobs in her book Death and Life of the Great Cities:

"Cities have the ability to provide something for everyone, just because, and only when they are created for everyone." 

A new approach: gender, accessibility and inclusion perspective

Approximately half of the population of any city in the Colombian context are women, 23% are children under 14 years of age, 10% are people over 60, and 6% are people with reduced mobility. According to this, only 30% of citizens would enter the category of men of adult age and good health. This without counting the increase in the migrant population, LGBTQIAP+ people, ethnic minorities, and the population in situations of vulnerability or extreme poverty. However, historically the design and construction of cities, including mass transportation projects, have not taken into account the particular needs of all the population groups that comprise it. There is a great variety of needs among them, and the city and its transportation projects should contribute to equal opportunities in their use.

In the project, this inclusion and accessibility approach will act as an umbrella under which the needs of all these population groups will be considered (women, children, older adults, people with permanent or transitory reduced mobility, or people with visual, hearing, sensory or cognitive disabilities).

The objective is that through design we achieve that the proposed system is not itself a generator of disabling situations. This must be adapted to enhance and allow autonomy, comfort and safety for all users, in all sections of the path. The standard measures for the different elements of transport and public space are the result of the sum of the calculation of the mean of many standard people, but the design should cover the largest number of people at the extremes of this mean and facilitate its intuitive, flexible, safe and error-tolerant use; universal design and accessibility is essential for 10% of the people, necessary for 40% and comfortable for 100% of the population.

Some design aspects to take account

In order for the public space of the city and its transport systems to be used with equity by all, it is necessary to analyze who the users are, how they move around the city, and what their particular needs are. One of the clearest examples we see from urban planning with a gender perspective; in general, in the traditional family model, the man is transported from the home to his workplace and vice versa, in a linear manner. On the other hand, by women having more diverse activities, such as taking their children to school, taking care of the elderly in their family, doing the shopping, taking their children to the doctor, etc., the routes and the necessities mobility varies, while presenting additional challenges, such as having to circulate with pushchairs, shopping trolleys, people in wheelchairs, etc. This represents in many cases a greater investment in time and money to be able to make all the necessary journeys. These differences must be taken into account when designing. In the development of the project we are paying special attention to aspects such as:

  • optimization of the different routes, accesses, ramps and slopes both in public spaces and inside stations
  • avoid the generation of long barriers or blind walls, since active facades are essential for safety and visibility issues
  • specification of urban furniture pieces that allow the use by all types of people, such as the use of 2 different heights in railings, ticket booths or sanitary ware
  • special care in the definition of lighting, security systems and alarms for the effective reaction in cases of emergencies, robberies or harassment situations
  • horizontal and vertical signage, sound signage and floor design with tactile pruning strips for the viability of using the system autonomously for people with some type of disability
  • interior design of rolling stock that takes into account the different needs of users, such as spaces for people in wheelchairs, people with baby carriages, or cycle users
  • facilitate, through material specifications, easy maintenance and good use of the facilities

Perhaps the most important aspect to highlight with respect to inclusive city design is that it is not that the projects will have a higher cost. The inclusive, accessibility and gender approach is more about taking into account that projects, and their impact on the city and public space, should be designed taking into account all possible users, and that they can be achieve big benefits with small adjustments. Additionally, it is also interesting to note that in the exercise of enriching the designs to achieve inclusion, viability and comfort for the sectors of the population mentioned, the user experience is improved for all.

We want to think of a more inclusive city, one that strengthens community cohesion, the sense of belonging and appropriation of the place, resilience, and that the project is a catalyst for development and autonomy for all its users. It must be the environment that, being shared, feels like its own, safe and inclusive.

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