Cardno and the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering have partnered to develop a groundbreaking project for Transport for NSW to address women’s safety after dark.
The Safety After Dark initiative is a proof of concept project that brings diverse data sets together to create a tangible index around passive surveillance and perceptions of safety after dark.
In 2019, more than 80 organisations, including Transport for NSW and the Greater Sydney Commission, came together to develop the Sydney Women’s Safety Charter, which brings private and public sectors together to improve women’s safety. In March 2020, Transport for NSW hosted an innovation challenge and invited submissions on how to improve safety for women around transport hubs. Cardno and UNSW teamed up for the initiative and were one of four winning entries.
Cardno is a global infrastructure, environmental and social development company that delivers services to improve physical and social environments around the world. Founded in Brisbane 75 years ago, it now operates in more than 100 countries.
“It’s not just a handful of women. Every woman has a story to tell about feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in a public place” said Linh Truong, Business Leader – Transport at Cardno.
“Likewise, every woman can list off a few places in their area to avoid, or where they feel unsafe. With this project, we wanted to harness spatial and big data to quantify the factors that create a safe night time environment and verify it with the combined lived experiences from women. We then map the result and share the findings with others to create more awareness around the safety profile of a street or area,” said Truong.
The project team is conducting groundbreaking work to connect geospatial data from a variety of sources to develop the passive surveillance index, including development of a python script to present the index visually. That index could also be used to measure tangible factors that lead to women feeling unsafe, and can even be used to predict areas in cities that are likely to present concern.
“We’re combining the best of Cardno’s expertise in gathering, cleansing, combining and digitally visualising disparate data sources along with the statistical analysis and research capability of Dr Meead Saberi’s team from UNSW to deliver a proof of concept for Transport for NSW. All three partners have had to overcome significant challenges to make this project happen,” added Truong.
Data points include aspects such as the level of lighting, hours of operation for nearby businesses, the width of pathways, levels of pedestrian and vehicle activity as well as distances and gaps in surveillance between public transport hubs. Connecting these data sets, which may come from sensors, databases, satellite imagery or other city data infrastructure, is no small feat.
Some data sources turned out to be far more challenging than expected. Business’ operating hours might seem like straight-forward data to find, but the reality for the Cardno team was far from easy. Data was inconsistent and hard to connect with physical spaces and businesses, especially with changes due to the pandemic. By focusing on a matrix of sources rather than just one or two, the team was able to engineer a more consistent result.
When choosing a suitable location for scalability and other factors, Parramatta stood out as the best trial option. Firstly, it was outside the CBD of Sydney, with identified areas of concern for women near transport hubs. The City of Parramatta had made a significant investment to attract residents, workers and nightlife to the area, and the city is home to diverse cultures, lifestyles and visitor profiles.
“We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of how this data and index could be used. We can take these learnings and apply them to map out spaces in cities around the world. We could even go beyond just saying what areas might be unsafe, and also provide planners with information about built environments and spaces with features that tangibly help women feel much safer after dark.”
“I’m incredibly proud of the Cardno team and the opportunity they have provided me to lead this exciting project. It’s not every day you can walk away and say that you did something tangible to help solve a big problem. I became an engineer to make a difference in people’s lives, and I feel like I’m living up to that with this project.”
Equality and safety are integral to Cardno’s operations. Every year, Cardno employees observe the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women as designated by the United Nations on November 25.
Cardno is endorsed by Work180 as an Employer for Women, and the Sydney operations are a member of the Sydney Women’s Safety Charter. Find out more about the Women in Cardno program at https://www.cardno.com/careers/inclusion-and-diversity/ or read more about the The Safety After Dark initiative here.