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Getting Home Safely: the women rethinking urban design

Posted by Abeera Alam
Posting date:5/5/2021 8:39 AM
Getting Home Safely: the women rethinking urban design.

Meet Adrienne, Kelly and Rachel from Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group. Three Transport Planners with the passion and drive to make a positive impact on the world. Working on Getting Home Safely, they're looking at how urban and transport planning and design can help women to have a more comfortable commute, without feeling intimidated or harassed.

Combining skills and expertise:

Although based in different UK offices, the trio has worked together on a few projects over the years. Their disciplines bring together various aspects of the user experience across transport schemes. 

Adrienne: I started working in Atkins' Pedestrian and Cycle Planning team after studying sociology, urbanism and urban planning. I focus on the design and function of streets as spaces of social and community life. With Atkins, I've been able to explore that. I've expanded my skills in multidisciplinary teams addressing the complexity of streetscapes from infrastructure to community projects. 

Kelly: I applied to work at Atkins after finishing my Maths degree. I had a friend working in Transport Planning and it looked so interesting to be involved in shaping transport and accessibility across the country, so I applied! I've worked here in Transport Planning now for 16 years. I lead the equality and diversity impact assessment workstream. My work has always focussed on users and communities, undertaking social research and assessing the equality impacts of schemes.


Rachel: I was looking for my next career opportunity after three years working as a Graduate Transport Planner and gaining my chartership. I knew Atkins was a market leader in sustainable transport, which is my passion. I'm now the national technical lead in Sustainable Transport after 16 exciting and dynamic years at Atkins. My specific focus is on travel change management and developing travel hubs at the centre of communities.

How did you come to work on Getting Home Safely?

Rachel: Our director, who is very passionate about the subject, approached the three of us because of our skillsets. We were delighted with the opportunity!

We each have distinctive lifestyles, live in different parts of the country and have diverse experiences when travelling alone. But we share the passion for making a change and ensuring every woman feels safe in our public spaces.

"Rachel is so passionate and has boundless enthusiasm and energy for sustainable travel. She's a real inspiration to everyone she meets!" 
– Adrienne

Pulling together on the initiative.

For Getting Home Safely, the team has focussed on the first and last 'miles' of journeys in our public spaces. These are usually made on foot are one of the and most likely sources of personal safety concerns. The team's approach is to make all schemes in public places Safe by Design by Women, considering the safety needs of women from the outset.

Here's how they've brought their skills and talents together to create public spaces that allow everyone in society to use them safely and equally:

Adrienne: My personal interest is in women's empowerment. I enjoy creating spaces for people in urban areas, especially families and children. On this project, I've focused on streetscapes, walking, cycling, urban realm and placemaking. 

"Adrienne has incredible attention to detail and positively engages people to think more creatively about how we can improve our public spaces. Her passion and determination to drive change is so inspirational"
 – Kelly

Kelly: My passion is to drive change in our public spaces, so women don't feel they have to behave in a certain way when travelling. I've brought research, statistics and experience in assessing and promoting equality for all to the initiative.

Rachel: In the past, I've managed personal safety and customer experience in first and last-mile journeys to stations for a major Train Operator, and incorporate that experience into Getting Home Safely. I also have a passion for getting more people, particularly women, walking and cycling regularly.

Is there really such a thing as gender inequality in urban planning?

Adrienne: There's definitely inequality in the way cities are designed because a much higher proportion of women feel unsafe when travelling compared to men. 

Kelly: We're not saying it's only women. Everyone has their own concerns around safety, and improving transport and public spaces for women will benefit others as well. But women are the focus of our work, given the fact that statistics show such high levels of harassment against women in our public spaces. Research even shows girls are experiencing harassment in urban areas. How would people feel if their daughters were walking around a city on their own at night? 

Rachel: There are too many circumstances that make women feel unsafe. Each woman will mentally and physically challenge every aspect of her journey before heading off and while commuting. And this may not be generally the case for men. Women are also asked to alter their behaviour when travelling to avoid harassment. That's not a fair society!

How do we go about designing women-friendly cities?

Kelly: We need to look at all of our cities and public spaces to ensure a safe environment for women. According to Safe by Design by Women Principles, community spaces can be assessed, considering women as a specific user group. 

Scheme appraisals and equality impact assessments may already be done for new schemes. But our many existing public spaces don't meet these principles or look and feel factors, which are intrinsic to how safe, comfortable and connected women feel with public spaces.

"Kelly inspires me by how perceptive and inclusive she is in understanding and acting on diverse needs. She lives and breathes the philosophy, every user's travel needs are different." 
– Rachel

Adrienne: We have a range of measures in our toolkit. These can be more standard, such as ensuring clear sightlines, active shop frontages, and wide-open footways. Or facilities such as safe havens and having technology in place to assist travellers. 

Rachel: When new designs are developed, they are usually drawn up in daylight hours with busy streetscape activity such as shops open. It's vital to think about how different a place can be after dark.

How would you like the initiative to make a difference, and in what time frame?

Kelly: Everyone is affected by this. If it isn't you, personally, think about your mother, your partner, your sister, your friends, or your daughter. We need to make a change right now. We realize that it will take time to deliver all of the Safe by Design by Women toolkit improvements. But there are some impactful quick wins in there that can make our streets to be safer right now! 

Rachel: So, our call to action is for everyone. From scheme designers to funding partners, landowners to interested citizens, please look at the toolkit and identify areas where we can pilot the measures in our guidance note. We want to drive real change and ensure public spaces are inclusive and welcoming for women. 

If someone reading this wants to get involved, what can they do?

Adrienne: Share the guidance note wide and far. If you want to see these principles implemented, think about places and spaces where this could be rolled out to improve your area. Then, speak to the authorities, landowners, business and community organizations who will help make the change we need. 

Play your role in being a great citizen who looks out for others on the street. Just a simple smile and friendly hello go a long way!

Why do you think Atkins deserves its spot in the Times Top 50 Employers for Women in the UK?

Adrienne:  Atkins has had a focus on gender balance since 2011. And I definitely feel I benefit from the organization's approach to equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) in my working life. The Women's Development Programme and Professional Network have also been great supports. The focused career training courses for women have inspired me to forge my own path in a male-dominated industry. My managers have always supported and encouraged my growth. Flexible working has also been a real blessing for me, allowing me to better balance my career and family life. 

Kelly:  I've been supported throughout my career in Atkins by my male manager and a great female role model who has positively challenged and encouraged me. The organization has a brilliant ethos around flexible working, which has also played a big part in my career story. It's allowed me to continue developing my career and achieve senior promotions while working around my family commitments. In fact, people are always surprised when I say I work on a term-time contract! The ability to enjoy time with my family while developing my career has been really fantastic. Atkins has a clear, global ED&I plan, which includes issues in company policy that have previously not been considered for women,(such as absence related to menopause) and show we are really considering the needs of our women staff.

Rachel: My career has gone from strength to strength at Atkins. Our Transportation MD is an inspirational woman, and my male manager has also been hugely supportive. He has encouraged me to invest my energy and passion into positively influencing as many colleagues and clients as I can in both a technical and behavioural way. Atkins' culture has nurtured honesty and integrity in me. And, as a single person without children, Atkins has created an environment where I can feel part of a 'family' community and thrive on social interaction.

Read the full guidance notes on Getting Home Safely here'.

See more about how Atkins' ED&I plan prioritizes women's goals and issues.
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