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Driving inclusivity into station designs

Navigating a busy underground station can be stressful, especially when it’s unfamiliar. But for the elderly, those with learning difficulties or physical disabilities, children, or simply people with children, the peak time rush can be scary.


The challenge for station designers is to make these spaces inclusive and welcoming for all. And with one billion people with disabilities expected to be living in our cities globally by 2050*, inclusivity is a pressing issue.

Fortunately, there are no shortage of brilliant ways we can make a difference: wider ticket barriers; step-free access; hearing induction loops; Braille imprinted directions on handrails; uninterrupted sightlines that support wayfinding; and fewer escalators (where 50% of slips, trips and falls occur on train stations**). These elements should be front of mind; it is no good having inclusive offices and public buildings with accessible lifts and toilets, and step-free entrances, if vulnerable people can’t get there. Stations are the gateways to our urban centres – they must be inclusive by design.

A step change

Airport designers are good at people-centred design, as anyone who has used the large lifts at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 will know. For those with mobility issues, sensory impairment and for many others, not having to jostle onto a busy escalator with luggage is a big deal.

This social aspect of design is where we can drive the disability and inclusivity debate. It is already happening. In the same way that step-free-access on the Jubilee Line has raised the bar for disabled passengers, larger lifts in Crossrail Stations will help all of its users move more safely around some of our busiest business districts when it opens later this year.

Innovative use of modelling

How we bake inclusivity into our designs is getting more sophisticated. Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) is a 3D-tool traditionally used to gauge a station’s crowdedness by simulating the movement of people in a virtual, rendered landscape. Having been asked to review the architectural design of a flagship metro station in the Middle East, we applied ABM to gauge its inclusivity. We identified design limitations that could inhibit movement; the detailed ‘heat mapping’ demonstrating potential conflicts between lift and escalator users, and those alighting and boarding the trains.

Our novel use of ABM meant we could demonstrate significant reductions in people per square metre in and around traditional blackspots. Ultimately, our revised station design doubled lift space capacity, increasing the number of passengers using the lifts from 10% to 25%, and grouped its escalators together to improve pedestrian flow and reduce the likelihood of accidents (see image).  The more even distribution of passengers across the whole station will enhance passenger safety on the platform level during emergency situations.

Industry needs to be more inclusive

Design is a discourse, evolving as we become more aware of the reality we live in. To be inclusive means more than factoring disability into our designs; we need to consider nebulous aspects, like vulnerability, and our perceptions of it.

As an inclusive designer I take what I know about a station – its capacity, predicted traffic flow, train dwell time, gate throughput etc – and think about how someone other than an able-bodied, six-foot-plus man might interact with that environment. This is not always simple; what constitutes a dangerous space to me might differ dramatically from that of a woman travelling alone late at night. Only by appreciating others’ viewpoints can I begin to understand and design a space that is inclusive for all. ABM is a fantastic tool and our unique use of it shows that it can drive inclusivity into the design process.

However, our designs would arguably be of more benefit to vulnerable people if our design teams were more representative of those people in our society who would directly benefit from greater consideration. We must work hard as an industry to become more inclusive if we want to reap the benefits of a more inclusive world.

*Source: UN

**According to Office of Rail and Rail.

This blog was written by WSP Technical Director, John Harding, get in contact if you want to read his paper on inclusivity into station designs.

John will be presenting his paper at the 9th workshop on universal access and assistive technology on April 10 at the University of Cambridge. 



Enfys Bosworth
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