When an architect, engineer, planner or safety officer signs something off as “acceptable”, what they usually mean is that it is suitable for an average, able-bodied, neurotypical, unencumbered man. To borrow a term coined by Caroline Criado Perez, this is ‘Reference Man’.
We install dropped kerbs and tactile paving to assist people in wheelchairs or who are visually impaired. Yet we tolerate pavements being an obstacle course of bins, lampposts, sign boards, and parked vans, cars and, now, e-scooters. Of course, Reference Man has no trouble stepping into the road when needed. He also doesn’t jump out of his skin when someone brushes past on a bicycle or e-scooter at 15mph.
When it comes to crossing the road, Reference Man is quite happy with ‘courtesy’ crossings. He can confidently judge the speed of traffic, make eye contact with drivers, and make a dash for it if necessary.
Reference Man is fearless in dark alleyways or waiting at an out-of-the-way bus stop. That’s because he’s never experienced being sexually assaulted, so doesn’t worry about it. It’s also why he sees no problem with the idea of driverless public transport. Needless to say, he never needs assistance with boarding or alighting.
Reference Man isn’t too concerned about having public toilets at bus and rail stations. But then he doesn’t have periods or get pregnant, or have young children in tow.
Reference Man rarely experiences a problem locking up his bicycle. That’s because it has a horizontal crossbar at the ‘right’ height. He also doesn’t mind using the upper rack of two-tier cycle parking because his height and upper-body strength make it easy for him to lift up a bike.
Reference man can cope with having his bike stolen because he can afford taxis for a few days until he can buy a replacement. Or he can just use his car. (Oh, did I forget to mention that Reference Man has a car?)
We challenge the new mayor and the new administration at the County Council to ensure transport is designed for everyone, not just the small minority of the population that Reference Man represents.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 26 May 2021.