Road Safety News
 

Pressure group unhappy with shared space guidelines

Friday 18th March 2016

The National Federation of the Blind UK* (NFBUK) says visually impaired people have not been properly consulted about new guidelines on shared space schemes.

The work on the guidelines is being led by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) and will be published in summer 2016.

14 shared space case studies are being used to form the basis for the guidance which looks set to establish three broad types of public realm arrangement. Media coverage earlier this month suggested the National Federation of the Blind has been involved in developing the guidelines.

However,  David Bates, street access executive for NFBUK, says that the visually impaired have not been properly consulted.

David Bates said: “Shared spaces and courtesy crossings on town streets exclude blind people. At a meeting with traffic engineers, myself a long cane user and a colleague with a guide dog, explained at length why blind pedestrians cannot negotiate right-of-way with vehicle drivers by sight, and why we invariably refuse to share the carriageway with moving vehicles which we can’t see.

“We also explained that neither sighted nor blind people can move safely in any planned direction without some form of guidance, for which the majority of people use their eyes to guide their feet or their wheels.”

Mr Bates added: “With no guidance at all it is not possible for anyone to walk for any distance in a straight line without drifting to the left or right, so blind people quickly get disorientated and lost in shared spaces where kerbs, pedestrian controlled crossings and all other ground level features which they follow have been carefully removed.

“Blind people use a long cane to feel their way by locating ground level features along their memorised route, and guide dogs are also taught to stop at curbs and to find pedestrian crossings.

“Blind people therefore cannot share the roadway with vehicles and negotiate right-of-way with drivers who they can’t see, as required by the shared space theory, so they are being effectively excluded from the increasing number of town streets from which kerbs and pedestrian priority crossings are being removed.

“The Public Sector Equality Duty requires local authorities to make all public areas accessible to everyone, even those who are blind, but some officials think this should not apply to people with no sight because they would never dare to walk alone without someone to guide them.”

In July 2015, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, published a report on shared space schemes in which he described the concept as a “planning folly”. He also called for “an immediate moratorium on all shared space schemes until thorough impact assessments can be conducted”.  

*Founded in 1947 by blind and partially sighted people, NFBUK is an independent, non-political, self help campaigning pressure group and registered charity.

Photo: Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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The concerns raised by blind people about the problems they are facing in shared space roads is quite staggering and instead of embracing these problems the road and transport sector will seem to stop at nothing on introducing more guidance to justify a flawed scheme in the UK. Here are just some of measures blind people have taken to raise concerns:

- Ongoing petition in Scotland to get a moratorium on shared space which has been agreed to be kept open http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01595 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpdACiUk-58, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MPsD-I9eZ0
- Judicial review on going in Lisburn, Northern Ireland due to kerb heights being to low for Guide Dog to navigate them http://www.irishnews.com/news/2016/02/03/news/blind-woman-challenges-city-kerb-height-404042/
- Legal action being taken on shared space in England http://www.unity-law.co.uk/files/file/Unity_Law_Shared%20Spaces_Report.pdf
- Lord Chris Holmes hard hitting debate in House of Lords in October 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeA_RFe4uSU on problems sharedspace caused to many people in the UK and his report Accidents By Design published last year http://chrisholmes.co.uk/news/accidents-by-design-the-holmes-report-into-shared-space/.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission has reported the United Kingdom to the United Nations for shared space use in the urban environment http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/publication_word/Monitoring%20the%20Implementation%20of%20the%20UNCRPD%20(2).doc
- Blind people were filmed in 2013 to try and explain why shared space caused them so many problems https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOObDPOSm-g

What is urgently needed are accessibility audits to be undertaken in all shared space schemes in the UK and plan of works established to make them accessible for all. There is an urgent need for a moratorium on all future shared spaces and an urgent relook into the claims that these schemes are safer. Instead of new guidance for shared space, there is an urgent need for guidance to ensure access for all, while tackling the need to reduce congestion and the needs of cyclists too, and to develop our towns and cities, which are fit for purpose for all the 21st Century.
Sarah Gayton Leek Staffordshire

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