Many schoolchildren across Wollongong have no choice but to walk along the road due to a lack of footpaths, Greens Lord Mayoral candidate Mithra Cox says.
The Corrimal mother, who says footpaths and cycleways are a key policy of her party ahead of the September 9 election, says she was contacted by a number of parents about their children’s “dangerous” walk to school.
After a call out on Facebook, Ms Cox was sent pictures from parents in Fairy Meadow, Coledale, Mount Keira, Coniston and Corrimal, showing streets with no pathways, no step-down access for prams, bikes or wheelchairs or no accessible crossings near schools zones.
“I have kids and I have this same issue – almost feeling like walking to school with my kids is a life or death situation,” she said.
“I was surprised about how many people wanted to share photos of their kids with me, showing me these dangerous situations, but I think it’s because a lot of people really want this to be fixed.”
In 2017/18 Wollongong council plans to spend about $18 million on footpaths and cycleways, but Ms Cox this budget should be dramatically boosted by shaving money of the council’s spend on roads.
She also criticised the city’s draft pedestrian plan, on public exhibition now, as “lacking in ambition”, saying the council needed to make a stronger commitment to build more paths near schools.
The plan highlights that the number of children walking to school dropped dramatically in the past two decades, despite the numerous benefits of regular exercise.
However, with 66 primary schools and 19 high schools in Wollongong, staff said it was “unlikely to be feasible to deliver paths across the complete walking catchments of every school in the LGA in the short or even medium term timeframe”.
“It’s great the the council has a pedestrian plan, because it shows a lot of the reason why its important to walk,” Ms Cox said. “But it is lacking in ambition by saying there is no feasibility in the short of medium term to build footpaths in walking catchments of schools.
She said road planners were often focused on “traffic flow” but said it was important to also consider accessibility for pedestrians when building or upgrading roads.
“We need to factor in pedestrian flow as equivalent to traffic flow, and accept that there are lots of places where we need to slow the traffic flow,” she said.
“Budget is the main thing stopping this happening faster, and I think money needs to be shaved off the roads budget.
“Most cities have twice the distance of footpaths compared with roads, Wollongong has over 800 km of roads but less than half that distance of footpaths – so we have a lot of catch up to do.”