Craig Smith has won the 2022 Voorhees Large Prize, awarded annually for the best Transport Masters dissertation submitted during the year, and worth £1,000.
Craig’s dissertation, ‘Accessibility, Urban Design, and the Whole Journey Experience of Visually Impaired People in London’ was submitted for his Transport and City Planning Masters at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning, which he was awarded with Distinction.
In his dissertation Craig examined how people with a visual impairment experience a typical journey in London, paying particular attention to problems that could be addressed by changes in how cities are planned and built. He plotted a route which encountered features that could be problematic to people with reduced vision, including several forms of street crossing, mixed-use spaces, and interactions with different modes of transport. He then went on this journey on a one-to-one basis with people with a visual impairment, as well with a second group of individuals representing fully sighted commuters.
His research revealed that while visually impaired people encounter several difficulties with travel owing to their reduced vision, many additional barriers are created by poor planning that does not properly meet the full spectrum of user needs. Craig found that journeys were also hindered by existing provisions, such as road markings and signals, being poorly maintained or defective altogether. Both groups of participants were concerned with misuse of dock-less bicycles and e-scooters by users who ride recklessly, operate them in pedestrian space and fail to park them considerately. The visually impaired participants were particularly concerned, reporting instances where their personal safety had been compromised, damaging their confidence to travel independently.
Craig explained that ‘the main output of my research was a set of redesign guidelines that would make significant progress towards making London’s transport network and streetscape more accessible, not just to those with a visual impairment, but to everyone. Many of these guidelines are also low cost, involving simple modifications to structures, or requiring training and policy change’.
From a wider perspective, a particular focus of Craig’s work is on ‘eliminating barriers experienced by those with individual difference. I strongly believe that in the current climate of rethinking and reshaping mobility and how space is used by planners, there exists an opportunity to build structures and systems with longevity that actually account for the diversity of all users. My career focus continues to take a radical multidisciplinary approach towards enacting change within the built environment, employing universal design principles to create a more equitable and inclusive world for all.
While working on his dissertation, Craig joined the Community Partnerships team at UCL PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory), a 4,000sqm first-of-its-kind facility that explores the ways in which people interact with the world by simulating life-sized environments under controlled conditions. His work at PEARL centres around connecting the innovative work within the lab with the world beyond its doors. ‘I achieve this through supporting the research team in a variety of ways, including recruiting participants for studies, and communicating findings to the public. I also employ my experience within stakeholder engagement to manage a range of events held by PEARL. The team consists of academics from several disciplines and industry experts that work together to tackle the big questions that face our increasingly urbanised world.’ www.ucl.ac.uk/person-environment-activity-research-laboratory/welcome-pearl
Craig’s academic career started as a mature student when living in Canada. He began his studies at Langara College in Vancouver before transferring to York University in Toronto, where he earned a First-Class bachelor's degree in Geography. Returning to the UK, he worked as a transport planning consultant while also studying for his Masters.
On being told he had been awarded the Voorhees-Large Prize, Craig said ‘being selected to receive this prestigious award is an incredible honour for me. This recognition is extremely encouraging and affirming to know that my research in my specialisation has the potential to enact change for the better and empower marginalised groups to access the life opportunities that transport facilitates. Alongside my colleagues at PEARL, I intend to continue my work on accessibility and inclusion, employing a holistic approach to bringing about truly sustainable travel that is accessible to everyone. Having been awarded this prize has strengthened my resolve and determination to accomplish my goals and it is with exceptional pride that I accept this award in the names of Alan M Voorhees and Brian Large.’