Taylor Burrell Barnett

Healthy Streets in WA: an Introduction


Eric Denholm

09 Nov 2021

In this article, our resident Healthy Streets expert, Eric Denholm, provides an introduction to the 10 Healthy Streets Indicators. Why WA needs healthy streets, and how the approach can be adopted.

What is the Healthy Streets Approach?

10 Healthy Streets Indicators

There are many reasons for wanting to make streets more pleasant and welcoming places to walk, cycle and spend time. These include adapting to and tackling climate change, addressing public health priorities, reducing inequalities and strengthening communities. - Lucy Saunders

Healthy Streets is an evidence based and holistic framework that is useful to both professionals and community for improving the standard of street environments generally and evaluating the performance of street design projects. The 10 Healthy Streets Indicators are deliberately simple, intuitive and easy to describe. They are universal design principles for achieving better streets; important aspects of human experience that are all too often not considered in an Australian context, but are critical for encouraging people of all walks of life to walk, cycle and interact in our public places.

Originally formulated by UK health and urban expert Lucy Saunders, Healthy Streets features as a central policy platform within all Mayor of London Government strategies, and is now being taken up in Singapore, Auckland and Sydney by local and state governments.

The Healthy Streets Approach is aligned with the Heart Foundation’s Active by Design Guidance, and can also assist in describing and measuring place and movement qualities once the Department of Transport and Main Roads WA formally adopt their updated policy position on Movement and Place. From a transport planning perspective, adopting a Healthy Streets approach is complementary to a safe systems approach, ensuring vulnerable road user needs are considered first in the design process.

Many of us in Perth have been working toward the Perth and [email protected] strategy for “…achieving a more consolidated urban form that will reduce dependence on new urban greenfield development.. …by increasing residential density and urban infill development targets.” It is a truism, however, that West Australian planning outcomes are typically dictated by car-based design policy, practice and modelling considerations, despite the best intentions of strategic plans.

Why WA Needs Healthy Streets?

Source: NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

Urban planning, as a discipline, has become hyper-focused on interventions within private land. While this plays a role, particularly concerning the relationship of buildings to the street and the syntax of form, the way in which we consult heavily on matters in private land creates a frustrating illusion that individuals have more say on what happens on other people’s land they do not own than the law ever allowed.

Paradoxically, there is generally little meaningful consultation on capital works projects and matters concerning streets – space that everyone interacts with at some point during their day, and space where our efforts would have the most positive impact on the public interest. It is not unusual, for example, for a local government planner to be walking down a street to grab a morning coffee and be completely blindsided by an engineering or parks and recreation-led ‘improvement’ project coming out of the ground. Forget the embarrassment of community missing out on adding their say, in many cases projects can progress without any interaction between internal departments.

Source: Google Maps

Black spot funding grants are often a typical culprit. Roundabouts on local streets have a huge (negative) impact on comfort levels for people walking, ease of crossing and are the only intersection type whereby motorists turning onto side streets are not obliged to give way to pedestrians under the Road Traffic Code. This would be less of an issue if we were capable of designing and building mini-radial type roundabouts with dedicated pedestrian priority and without tangential approaches. Unfortunately, free flowing roundabouts better suited to higher order roads are too often deployed on local streets without much hesitation or consultation, typically in response to crash data. But there are other ways in which the objective of reducing the severity of vehicle collisions and increasing comfort levels for people can both be met (and yes the garbage truck and fire truck can still get around tighter intersections, we just need to refer to them as a ‘checking vehicle’ for the purposes of defining swept paths, they are not the ‘design vehicle’ – Auckland’s new Urban Street and Road Design Guide addresses this issue).

The example above shows a typical 4-way residential street in Denmark, and it could equally be in the Netherlands, but would actually make a lot of sense in WA given our road rules. Specifically, the Road Traffic Code requires that vehicles turning give way to pedestrians walking straight across the side street, but we keep building streets that read as though the motorist has right of way. Continuous footpaths on side streets must be the default, and this ought to be reflected in the updated Neighbourhood Design State Planning Policy.

Source: NACTO Urban Street Design Guide and Road Traffic Code 2000

How to Adopt a Healthy Streets Approach?

Adopting a Healthy Streets framework within an organisation, and obliging departments to report on how they assist in achieving an uplift to the healthy streets indicators, would assist greatly in achieving greater collaboration between departments and achieve better outcomes for the community at large. The role of place managers can assist greatly with this role-out, but only when their status in the organisation is at the same level of other Managers. There is little use employing place managers to sit at Officer level only, underneath Marketing, Communications or Community Directorates, and then charge them with the daunting task of coordinating projects across multiple disciplines with Managers that are in no way obliged or motivated to deal with pesky distractions from others at lower pay-grades in different departments. A Manager of place will break down the local government municipality into places, and ensure all programmes and projects involve reporting on their impact through a Healthy Streets lens.

In the City of London, for instance, Transport for London Managers are incentivized to achieve great outcomes for community, by receiving bonuses if certain thresholds are achieved in yearly healthy streets scorecards. Compare this incentive with current practice, in which Main Roads WA key performance indicators are focused on network-wide traffic flow performance (a terrible incentive structure for the City prioritizing hyper-mobility over the key strategic planning intent to deliver a compact and connected city).

Let's take a closer look at some of the qualitative considerations that sit behind each of the 10 Healthy Streets Indicators.


Using the Design Check Tool and Other Ways to a Collect Data

There are various ways to measure performance against the 10 Healthy streets Indicators, and they all have their pros and cons depending on the situation. For example, the design check tool will aid designers in identifying fundamental flaws in street design environments and help steer the project team toward improving physical aspects of the street, but it does not give you a sense of how the street is experienced from the end user. On the other hand, a community questionnaire (fine example at back end of the Evaluation Framework here) or a ‘mystery shopper survey’ will collect experience-based data.

Australian urban design and capital works projects are generally very poor at collecting data. The Healthy Streets Evaluation Framework recommends that at least 10% of project budgets are allocated to data collection alone, to assess the performance of planned interventions and report on the actual experience post-construction. The more data that is collected, the better use of tax-payer and rate-payer dollars will occur for future endeavors, where results can be demonstrated with an evidence base (eg observably more children playing on the street, more elderly navigating the space, more women walking at night etc.). The Transport for London page has various resources to learn more on practical examples for improving the quality of decision-making that will result in more people walking, cycling and using public transport.

The Australian Healthy Streets Design Check Tool has been released, free and available here for all professionals to use on street design projects. It is recommended, however, that training is undertaken to better understand how to utilize the design check tool and ensure metrics are being recorded correctly (see link here to get in contact with Lucy Saunders at Healthy Streets if this is of interest).

The Design Check Tool contains 19 objective design metrics that record physical aspects of the street environment, that all contribute to a scoring system based on the 10 Healthy Street Indicators. Each metric is given a score from 0 to 3. A zero score represents areas in critical need of addressing as they fail to meet the most basic human needs and can become safety liabilities if left in their current state. Note that there are various guidance notes within the tool itself that can be referenced if further clarity or information is required for scoring a particular metric.

To get the most accurate and useful scores, the Design Check is intended to be limited to short runs of the street, 150-250m or so, depending on spacing between side streets. If you have say a 1km stretch for a street design upgrade, consider breaking down the project into character areas or blocks; consider the logical edge conditions, which could be side streets or it could be a point where context changes. It is critical to measure the ‘weakest point’ when scoring against each metric – it is, for instance, of little comfort for someone navigating a street in a wheelchair or pushing a pram on what is otherwise a very wide footpath, but a poorly placed street sign or bus stop restricts the effective width at a single point. On first use, this approach might seem ‘unfair’ if it is resulting in lower than desired scores – for what was meant to be an exemplar street design project or a well-known precedent – but it is far less disheartening knowing the overall score could improve if those simple fixes were addressed. This described example is precisely why the tool is so useful, as it reinserts balance and trade-offs back into the design process, when random ‘requirements’ are otherwise sited based on viewing a design issue in isolation.

The other useful aspect of the Design Check tool is the peer review process. Although many of the metrics are recording the condition of physical aspects, that should in theory have little room for debate or subjectivity, the peer review process ensures the results are accountable and accurate. It is best to have a contemporary from an opposite discipline independently score each metric for the chosen street and then come together to discuss any differences and key areas that need to be addressed. This can often result in the most interesting conversations, as it will assist in ensuring any biases inherit within a particular discipline’s practice are not skewing results in the interest of rolling out a standard response.

Here is an example of the design check tool’s output in identifying a range of shortcomings with a typical ‘compliant’ suburban street environment. The audit reveals that our common approach to suburban street design in WA fails in at least 10 out of 19 design metrics, including unsafe traffic speeds (>50km/h for the 85th percentile), unsafe collision risk for cyclists, pedestrian ramps not on desire line, no safe crossing points, no separation between people walking and cars, no separation between cyclists and cars (would not be an issue if the design speed was reduced to 30km/h), no cycle parking, no shade for people walking, no shade for people cycling and no restrictions on through traffic.

Source: Google Maps


Source: Healthy Streets Design Check Tool (Australian Version)

There are various other advantages a Healthy Streets approach would offer to improving the standard of both individual street projects and for better collaboration across disciplines or internal departments. Equally, at a more strategic level, the raft of health problems associated with low physical inactivity requires a balanced approach to transport, which would benefit greatly from embedding the Healthy Streets approach within all major Government strategies – starting with the WAPC’s Neighbourhood Design and ultimately within Main Roads WA and Department of Transport practice and policy.

If this has tickled your interest:

Refer to the Foundations Course Training Programme for best introductory training possible on all things Healthy Streets.

Refer to the Designers Course Training Programme to learn more on the Design Check Tool.

Alternatively, if you want to chat all things Healthy Streets, get in contact with me here.

-Eric Denholm



Eric Denholm