COP26: Cities need to be redesigned with pedestrian focus to meet climate change and equality goals, say female transport leaders

A global panel of women specialising in transforming infrastructure and street design have emphasised the need for cars to be removed as the soul of modern cities if people hope to reduce carbon emissions and create safer areas for women, children and the elderly.

The event on Wednesday, organised by charity Living Streets, brought together women from across the world at the COP26 climate summit to discuss how changes to street design can positively impact travel behaviours and contribute to the fight against climate change.

The overwhelming message each panellist reiterated was the need for cities everywhere to actively move away from putting motorists first, and instead work to make streets accessible and safe for walkers and cyclists.

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Speakers included Janet Sans, the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona; Leticia Sabino, founder of SampaPé, an organisation based in São Paulo, Brazil, with the focus of transforming cities into more “walkable environments”, and Councillor Anna Richardson, Glasgow City convener for sustainability and carbon reduction.

Ms Sans said because 20th-century cities were designed by “middle-aged men with cars”, roads and cities were primarily viewed as a means to get to work, rather than somewhere for people to enjoy, walk and play in.

She said she wanted to change this and believed democratising public spaces and fighting climate change went hand in hand.

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The discussion comes at a key time in the UK as women find themselves feeling more unsafe than ever after the murder of Sarah Everard in London earlier this year.

COP26: Cities need to be redesigned with pedestrian focus to meet climate change and equality goals say female transport leaders (Picture credit: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Calls have subsequently been made since for improved street lighting and more action to be taken against perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence.

Just last week, people in Glasgow found themselves forced to walk through a poorly lit Kelvingrove Park after COP26 road closures left them unable to access their usual safe and trusted routes.

Ms Richardson said Glasgow needed to step up its climate action and “embed equality and fairness throughout” its future plans because no city infrastructure could be deemed “feminist city building if it can only be used in the daytime” due to fears for safety.

She went on to speak of the need to transform cycle routes in Glasgow by 2030 as a key part of the city’s carbon reduction plan and how the city must actively work towards a shift in attitude so that cycling is viewed as a “serious mode of transport”.

As part of the target to reach net zero by 2030, a “liveable neighbourhoods” plan is being developed to reduce vehicle dominance in residential areas and the city has identified a cycle route needed to “connect to every household within reasonable distance”.

Ms Richardson said: “This is a network which will facilitate journeys across and between communities, as well as in and out of the city centre.

"A focus on commuter routes doesn’t address the myriad of other journeys everyday.”

Committing to creating a network accessible to all sectors of society, Ms Richardson said the route would be “entirely on road”, without relying on routes through parks or other areas which don’t feel safe “all day and all year”.

She said: “Fear of traffic is not the only fear which keeps women from using public spaces, and we must address that in our transport decisions.”

The event was streamed via YouTube and is available to watch in full here.

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