Road controlling authorities are under increasing pressure to find space within the road corridors. In recent years this pressure has turned to placing additional traffic on footpaths. Footpath users are increasingly encountering situations where they are asked to share facilities with wheeled and motorised users. In many cases these users are being moved from the roads to the footpaths in order to improve their safety. There is a need, therefore, to be certain that the improvement in the safety of one group of users is not made at the expense of another group, such as the elderly or those with physical or cognitive impairment.

Where cyclists and skateboarders share footpaths with pedestrians, the risk of injury to elderly pedestrians and those with impaired vision, hearing or mobility through falls or collisions is increased, often to the point where these pedestrians feel afraid. Accidents as pedestrians and fear of such accidents can deter elderly and vulnerable members of society from using their streets and roads. This drastically reduces their ability to remain active, socially connected and independent.

There is a particular urgency in addressing the issue of ensuring the participation of the elderly on the transport network, because New Zealand is moving towards having relatively high numbers of senior citizens in the coming decades. By 2031 about 21% of the New Zealand population is now expected to be over 65. As this segment of the population continues to age the proportion of those aged over 65 who are over 85 will rise from one in eight in 2031 to one in four by 2061.

Mobility related disability affects about one third of persons aged over 65. Nevertheless, personal mobility and independence are particularly important for this age group. Continued community participation has been found to be an important element of positive aging, related to greater life satisfaction and perceived quality of life. Continued activity is seen as being relatively more important for older people and walking, the most common form of physical activity among older adults, contributes to better overall health.

There is a need, therefore, to ensure that pedestrian infrastructure being designed and put in to place now will meet the needs of older users and that it functions as a means of enabling participation by those with mobility or other physical or cognitive impairment. A working group was established to examine the issues around shared footpaths and to ensure that the extensive international research literature is being reflected in local practice. See the terms of reference.

The group supported and steered research on the effect of shared footpaths on participation rates by different segments of society. It examined the guidance provided to practitioners on the design of footpaths and shared paths and considered the changing users of footpaths, and the needs of users of mobility scooters and other devices. See the Working Group page for more on the meetings, activities and membership of the group.

Provision of safe travel options that allow easy access to services and amenities, and full participation in the community, is seen as vital for maintaining quality of life for the elderly or disabled. There is a need to balance avoiding creating a barrier to greater independence for those needing mobility assistance against creating a barrier to that same independence by putting elderly or vulnerable pedestrians at greater risk from wheeled and motorised devices sharing the same footpaths.

The Shared Footpaths Group strongly supported the RCA Forum submission opposing the petition of Joanne Clendon to change the Road User Rule to allow cycling on footpaths by children under 14 years of age (and accompanying adults), seniors over the age of 65, or vulnerable adults; to make bells mandatory for any bicycle used on footpaths or shared use paths; and to allow local authorities to exclude, on a reasonable basis, certain areas of footpath from being used for cycling. See Submission.

In recognition of the greater expectation for mode neutrality in transport planning the separation of two working groups operating in the same field, but with one focussed on cycling needs and the other on pedestrian needs, was seen to be inappropriate and the Active Modes Infrastructure Group has assumed full responsibility for all matters and issues associated with shared footpaths.