Designing for universal access means accounting for humans, in all of their varied capabilities and states.

The following principles of Safe, Obvious and Step-free (SOS) incorporate human variation, so that planners and designers can incorporate universal access into their projects. It is important that safe, obvious, step-free routes are provided as a priority on the most important pedestrian routes in towns and cities.


Pedestrians are safe from harm. They feel safe and comfortable in environments that have:

  • safe speeds where pedestrians and vehicles can conflict: collisions are survivable if someone makes a mistake
  • separation: pedestrians are separated from faster modes
  • sufficient width to allow users to pass each other
  • non-slip surfaces: surfaces are not slippery or in need of maintenance
  • no hazards: routes are free from obstacles and trip hazards
  • good lighting: all public space and walkways are well-lit
  • public surveillance: public spaces and walkways are located in places where they are visible by the public.

PNG: Relationship to speed and speed environment

People regularly grab me in public, usually trying to be helpful but it is so disconcerting I avoid places that make me feel even more unsafe, particularly at night. I like to know there are other people around and that places are well-lit, even though I cannot see. I am definitely more likely to walk in some places than others, based on how safe I feel from the risk of being attacked.



Routes and wayfinding are clear for all people when:

  • affordable, accessible transport choices are available
  • there are clearly marked pedestrian-priority routes along paths and streets, through public spaces and across roads.
  • routes are navigable: wayfinding information is –
    • provided in digital, paper, and on-street formats
    • visual, tactile, and audible
    • consistent within and between towns, cities, and across New Zealand
  • pedestrians, bicycles, other mobility devices, cars, buses and trucks each have their own space or are clearly excluded.

If something doesn't feel familiar or if I am not sure which way to go, I can panic and freeze, and I can't talk to people when that happens. So I stick to the most obvious walking routes.



Step-free route choices are available. They are easy to find and navigate when:

  • smooth step-free, obstacle-free ways to navigate through spaces and to access public spaces and buildings exist
  • safe and obvious (that is, they do not involve excessive diversions, or require people to put themselves in danger to avoid a step)
  • step-free routes can be negotiated independently
  • routes have gentle gradients and places to rest (for example, landings on ramps).