Pedestrians have different characteristics that affect their safety, confidence and comfort when walking, including when using a mobility aid. People’s different capabilities (vision, hearing, body, mind, hands) and their momentary state - that is, how they are feeling - can impact how they can travel. Decisions made by those who design streets and places affect how easy it is for people to travel, even if their capabilities are reduced, or they are not feeling as well as they could be.


Limited vision affects pedestrians’ comfort, safety, and ability to find their way on paths, determining when it is safe to cross, keeping alignment when crossing roads, and in public spaces where there are no well-designed pedestrian facilities; car parks can be an example. Making street and path environments safe for people with low or no vision requires separation from other modes, or for those other modes to be travelling slowly, along with legible and consistent design. Separated spaces mean that pedestrians are not likely to be in conflict with heavier, faster modes of travel. Where people cannot be physically separated (when crossing streets for example, and in shared zones) slow traffic speeds reduce impact speeds and can increase pedestrian confidence.

People with low vision rely on contrasting colours and surface textures. Pedestrian routes should include visually contrasting and tactile cues for blind people to follow. Detailed information about pedestrian infrastructure design for vision impairment is contained within RTS14: Guidelines for facilities for blind and vision impaired pedestrians.

New Zealand 2018 Census data states that 3% of males and 4% of females have a health problem or condition (lasting 6 months or more) that causes them difficulty seeing, even when using glasses or contact lenses[1]. Around 30,000 people in New Zealand are either blind, or have limited useful sight even when using lenses[2] and many more people experience imperfect or deteriorating vision. Vision can be temporarily obstructed on crowded paths and visibility between pedestrians and other road users can be obstructed by different temporary obstacles including vegetation, street furniture and other road users themselves.

For specific guidance on designing areas for people with low or no vision, see RTS 14 content.

RTS14: Guidelines for facilities for blind and vision impaired pedestrians [PDF, 1.6 MB]


Pedestrians’ ability to hear affects their comfort using paths, and crossing roads and public spaces. When crossing the road, pedestrians who cannot hear well rely on their sight and traffic control devices (such as traffic signals) to be safe. On paths, many pedestrians who cannot hear well are affected by people approaching from a direction they cannot see. Devices such as bicycles, skateboards, and scooters on paths can be very concerning for pedestrians whose hearing is compromised.  It is very important to separate spaces for people travelling at different speeds and in low-speed environments where pedestrians mix with cyclists and other forms of micro-mobility.

An estimated 19% of New Zealand’s population suffer from some form of hearing loss[3]. New Zealand Census data (2018) states that 10% of males and 9% of females have a health problem or condition (lasting 6 months or more) that causes them difficulty hearing, even when using a hearing aid[4]. Pedestrians’ hearing can also be temporarily impaired by ambient noise, or by devices such as headphones.


People vary in their size and physical strength. Many people, including children, shorter adults, and people who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters on paths and road crossings, cannot see over obstacles as well as other people can, and are also less likely to be visible to drivers. Safe street and crossing design means designing for those least likely to be seen.

Around 15% of New Zealand adults living in private households, and 90% of adults living in residential care facilities have a mobility impairment[5].

Some people can walk, but not very far, or very quickly. Some people can move using a mobility aid and/or a support person, but rely on that aid and/or support person to help them. Design features that help people whose body strength is limited include seating, step-free choices and wayfinding information (to connect with public transport, for example). Designing safe environments where traffic speeds are low will mean that people with limited strength are less likely to be injured.

Hands and arms

Peoples’ hand strength varies, so transport that includes opening doors or reaching to press buttons, such as push buttons at signalised crossings, is not always accessible. Some people have strength in one hand, or one side of their body only. Handrails on both sides of staircases are important. Arm rests on both sides of a seat so that people can choose where to sit and so that they can support themselves to stand up again is important, as are back rests so people can support themselves when seated.

It is unclear how many people in New Zealand have impairments affecting their hand strength. It can be a condition such as arthritis, which is experienced by approximately 16% of New Zealand’s population[6]. Stroke is another cause of reduced hand strength. Approximately 9,000 people in New Zealand experience a stroke each year, of whom 25% are under the age of 65 years[7]


Design for varying states of mind and neurological diversity is broadly captured by the principles of ‘safe, obvious, step-free’. The two most relevant of those principles for neurodiversity are ‘safe’, including feeling comfortable and secure; and ‘obvious’, whereby environments are clear and legible, so that people do not feel confused, and are able to remain calm.

PNG: Safe, Obvious and Step-free (SOS) principles

People with conditions such as autism; with neurological disease such as dementia; and with mental health problems exist in all communities. There is no objective way to prioritise for them specifically within a town or city, as part of pedestrian network planning. However, identifying gaps in accessible walking networks and working to retrofit best-practice infrastructure can help people to walk, wherever they live. Given that walking is a determinant of good health, including good mental health, prioritising accessible pedestrian networks can help people maintain healthy state of mind; as well as supporting access for people who are experiencing anxiety or depression.

People vary in their ability to navigate complex environments such as busy urban streets. For example, visual clutter, objects on the footpath, unusual lighting, unexpected designs, and high traffic volumes of pedestrians and vehicles (including cyclists) can affect a person’s ability to identify and navigate the continuous accessible path of travel, therefore creating a complex environment. The principles described here summarise design guidance for people with autism; people with learning disability, people unfamiliar with conventions, including children; and for people with dementia or other conditions affecting cognition, including stroke.

The ‘Six Feelings Framework’[8] (Knowlton School of Architecture, 2019) provides more advice for designers interested in understanding the needs of autistic people.  The six design principles of dementia-friendly neighbourhoods[9]  show the need for clear and safe design:

  • Familiarity: Familiar surroundings enable people to recognise and understand their surroundings, which helps to prevent and reduce losing a sense of direction, confusion and to aid short-term memory.
  • Legibility: People can understand where they are and identify which way they need to go, helping to prevent and reduce losing a sense of direction, confusion and anxiety
  • Distinctiveness: People’s attention and concentration are captured by the unique parts of the neighbourhood, which aids orientation and wayfinding.
  • Accessibility: People are able to reach, enter, use and move around the places and spaces they need or wish to visit, regardless of any physical, sensory or cognitive impairment.
  • Comfort: People feel at ease and are able to visit, use and enjoy places and spaces of their choice without physical or psychological discomfort.
  • Safety: People are able to use, enjoy and move around the neighbourhood without fear of coming to harm.

Human states

All of the variable human states of mind are related to how people are feeling. In any moment feeling can be affected by temporary or long-term physical and psychological conditions; as well as momentary fluctuations in mood and comfort.

People who identify with disability are also more likely than the general population to experience mental health problems as well as low incomes, so they have fewer transport choices. The pedestrian network is the most freely available when it exists. The pedestrian network can therefore enable participation, so long as it is accessible to all. 

Whatever peoples’ current state good planning and design of paths and crossings that are safe and obvious can support peoples’ travel. Clear and consistent design that makes travel as a pedestrian easy and straightforward can help to overcome extremes of short or long-term mental impairment.


[1] Statistics NZ (2013) Household Disability Survey 2013: Data Tables(external link), accessed 25 October 2019 

[2] Blindness and Low Vision in New Zealand – Latest statistics, accessed

[3] Deloitte (2017) Social and economic costs of hearing loss in New Zealand(external link), accessed 25 October 2019

[4] Statistics NZ (2013) Household Disability Survey 2013: Data Tables(external link), accessed 25 October 2019 

[5] Statistics NZ (2013) Household Disability Survey 2013: Data Tables(external link), accessed 6 April 2020 

[6] New Zealand Health Survey 2018/2019(external link), accessed 6 April 2020

[7] Stroke Foundation: Facts about stroke in New Zealand(external link), accessed 6 April 2020

[8] Knowlton School of Architecture, 2019 Autism Planning and Design Guidelines 1.0(external link), accessed 12 December 2019

[9] Mitchell, L., & Burton, E. (2010). Designing dementia-friendly neighbourhoods: Helping people with dementia to get out and about. Journal of Integrated Care, 18(6), 11-18.