Urban villages for people with disabilities

Here is the last of my series on why and how to create urban villages:

Each community has diverse travel demands, including people with disabilities (PWD) and other special mobility needs. With proper planning, everyone can enjoy freedom, opportunity and romance, even if they depend on mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs.

According to the National Household Travel Survey, approximately 9% of US residents are persons with disabilities (PWD). Ability advocates describe the rest of us as “temporarily able,” recognizing that most people will spend part of their lives with some sort of motor disability.

People with disabilities generally have lower than average household incomes, driver’s license rates, and vehicle ownership rates, and are more dependent on walking, public transit, and automobile passengers than people without disabilities. More than half (51%) live in households with an annual income of less than $25,000, compared to 15% of people without disabilities, and less than half are drivers, compared to 69% of people without disabilities.

Planners have a professional responsibility to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and most of us have personal reasons for doing so, as our family members, friends and future may have disabilities. If you want to age in place, you must help make your community accessible to all abilities and incomes.

Fortunately, new technologies, such as electric wheelchairs, can provide a high degree of independent mobility for people with disabilities, but they are only as effective as the weakest link in the pedestrian network. A single obstacle – a hole in a sidewalk, a step or a sidewalk without a ramp – can be an insurmountable barrier. Applying universal design principles ensures that pedestrian facilities accommodate all users, including people with disabilities, parents with strollers, workers with handcarts, and tourists with wheeled luggage.

Highway engineers use a design vehicle, usually a fire or garbage truck, to define the minimum size and weight that a road must support. The same concept can be applied to pedestrian developments. What is the design vehicle for sidewalks? The traditional walkway design vehicle was a single wheelchair, but to allow for sociability and romance, sidewalks in commercial and recreational areas should be wide enough to accommodate disabled couples riding side by side.

People with disabilities need more than accessible pedestrian facilities, they also need accessible neighborhoods, what I call urban villages, where the most commonly used services – shops, healthcare facilities, parks, restaurants and pubs – are easily accessible on foot or by car, without the inconveniences and costs of traveling by car or public transport.


Consider the economics of transporting people with disabilities.

An adult walker (technically called a walker) typically costs between $100 and $500.

A manual wheelchair usually costs between $200 and $800.

Manual wheelchair

An electric wheelchair usually costs between $1,200 and $12,000.

Electric wheelchair

Fixed-route buses and trains usually cost between $2.00 and $5.00 each way. They are limited in time and service area and require users to access stops and stations.

Public transport bus with lift

Paratransit services, which provide door-to-door transportation for people with disabilities, generally cost between $2.00 and $6.00 per trip. They are often limited in service time, area and number of monthly rides provided to each user.

Paratransit with elevator

Taxi or ride-sharing services generally cost between $2.00 and $4.00 per mile, and about double that for special vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs. Some jurisdictions offer taxi subsidies for people with disabilities.

Taxi with Lift

A wheelchair-friendly van typically costs between $40,000 and $60,000 new, or about half that of a good quality used one. Including purchase or lease payments, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and parking expenses, this typically totals $500 to $1,000 per month.

Private van with wheelchair lift

The table below summarizes these options.



Manual wheelchair

$200 annually

Electric wheelchair

$1,000 annually

Conventional transit

$2 to $4 per trip

Mobility services

$2 to $6 per trip

Taxi or VTC

$2 to $6 per mile

Private van with wheelchair lift

$6,000 to $12,000 per year

Experts define affordability as households being able to spend less than 45% of their budget on housing and transportation combined. For a typical household that devotes 30% of its budget to housing, 15% remains for transport. This means that a wheelchair-accessible van is only affordable for the minority of disabled households that earn more than $50,000 in annual income, and since only about half of disabled people can drive, most users should rely on someone else to drive them.

To attend a social event, visit a pub, or go on a date, a suburban disabled person must ask a family member or friend to drive, pay $15 to $25 each way for a taxi, or a carpooling trip, or accept the schedule constraints of the paratransit service. . It can be demeaning, expensive and impractical.

This indicates that most people with disabilities are much better off, with more freedom, opportunity and dignity, if they can live in an urban village with the following characteristics:

Unfortunately, only a small portion of North American neighborhoods have these attributes, and as urban villages become more popular, their housing tends to be unaffordable. The best way to help people with disabilities and prepare for our future is to increase the supply of affordable and accessible housing in urban villages and ensure that new neighborhoods are planned based on these principles.

It’s good news. Urban village planning offers freedom, opportunity and romance for everyone, including our future.

Information Resources

AARP and CNU (2021), Enabling Better Places: A Handbook for Better NeighborhoodsAmerican Association of Retirees.

The access table is a US federal agency that develops guidelines and standards for accessible design.

Access to Exchange International is a non-profit organization that promotes affordable access to public transport for people with disabilities in developing countries.

Kristin N. Agnello (2018), From Zero to 100: Planning for an Aging PopulationPlassurban.

Stephen Brumbaugh (2018), Travel Patterns of American Adults with DisabilitiesBureau of Transportation Statistics.

CDC (2020), Disability affects us allCenter for Disease Control.

Cities for all is an international campaign to make all cities inclusive and accessible.

Gehl Architects (2013), Istanbul: an accessible city – a city for peopleEMBARQ Turkey.

International Transport Forum accessibility resources provides information on practical ways to achieve more universal design.

Todd Litman (2022), Urban Village Planning ChecklistPlanetize.

Todd Litman and Tom Rickert (2005), Assessing public transport accessibility: performance indicators of “inclusive design” for public transport in developing countriesVictoria Transport Policy Institute.

NACTO (2016), World Street Design GuideNational Association of City Transportation Officials and Global Designing Cities Initiative.

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