Making streets safer for women and girls


The impact of streetscene and highway interventions on how safe women feel on the streets should become a regular part of council monitoring, a local government boss chosen by the Government to help tackle violence against women and girls on transport has told Transport Network.

West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) interim chief executive Laura Shoaf and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) interim managing director Anne Shaw (pictured below) were named by Government as the UK’s first Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions.


Speaking at the ADEPT Traffic Managers Conference, Ms Shaw discussed the six-month research project that she and Ms Shoaf were asked to carry out for the Department for Transport to identify now to make real change on the ground to ensure women feel safer on transport and on the streets.

Ms Shaw told delegates: ‘DfT has asked us to work with them over the next six months to come up with the problems women and girls face on public transport and how can we provide some recommendations into them to become part of a national strategy about how we deal with violence against women and girls.

‘Streetscene is really important - the design of roads and making people safe on them. That is not a new concept. We do have some safety guidance and standards but are we going far enough to make sure we are removing those barriers?’

Speaking to Transport Network at the event, Ms Shaw said: ‘In terms of assessing schemes, there are a number of research projects and I am leading discussions with Transport Focus, as well, about gathering more evidence on whether people feel safe.

‘Typically when we put in physical interventions our usual monitoring of the value of the scheme in terms of the benefits it is supposed to be creating, that evaluation should also be incorporating what did people feel before it was done and how do people feel now.

'Has it made people safer as well? It should be part of our usual evaluation. That will probably form part of our recommendations to make sure [schemes] are actually delivering against what we said we would.’

Safe streets and transport?

  • 90% of unwanted sexual behaviour on London transport goes unreported
  • Peak travel times coincide with peak harassment times
  • More than half of women in London are victims of sexual harassment on Tube, trains and buses
  • 62% women are scare d walking in multi-storey car parks
  • 60% are scared waiting on train platforms
  • 49% are scared waiting at the bus stop
  • 59% are scared walking home from a bus stop or station

Ms Shaw added that her team was also building case study evidence including factors that make for successful interventions against misogynistic violence and behaviour.

She suggested that while there were examples of factors in public transport more research was needed on key factors in streetscene design.

The WMCA MD added: ‘We need to think differently. We need to design differently. We need to make sure that we are designing in all of those features that give women and girls confidence that they can feel safe in the environment they are using in order to access all those opportunities.

‘We do need to think about behavioural science in our design. Understanding human behaviour and what people will do on the network and the people using the network not just designing for vehicles is absolutely critical. I don’t think that’s new but the behavioural science and behaviour change is key to designing our streets to be safe and used in the best way.’

Her presentation came after the DfT issued a call for evidence in the summer to see how their guidance on street design can be updated to take more account of women’s safety when planning highways.

Rachel Maclean MP, then transport minister, said: ‘It has become clear that many people, particularly women, feel unsafe using the street and experience harassment, intimidation or unwanted sexual behaviour in public spaces. This must be addressed if we are to make streets safe for everyone.

‘Streets and roads make up three-quarters of all public space, so their design has a significant impact on people’s lives. This is about perception, as much as reality – a street may not be dangerous according to the data and yet people will avoid using it, perhaps at certain times of day or night, because it does not feel safe.

‘This call for evidence is a chance to tell us which design features work and which do not, and provide evidence and data to help us establish the extent of the problem. We are updating the Manual for streets (MfS) and Manual for streets 2 (MfS 2), which provides an opportunity to understand design measures and approaches that may help streets feel safer.’

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