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Carol's blog: Blinding rules of the road

They may irritate us, but traffic signals act as another pair of eyes for the disabled and so the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has raised safety concerns about local authorities scrapping road markings and traffic signals.

Carol Thomas is access and inclusion manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind

The resulting ‘shared surfaces’ – with road and pavement at the same level – relies on negotiating priority and movement between vehicles and pedestrians through eye contact.

Guide Dogs believes shared surfaces pose a threat to all vulnerable road users, including those with physical, sensory or cognitive impairments.

The charity is part of an alliance of organisations that has signed a statement directed at local and central government, stating that they will only support streetscape and public space developments that meet the needs of all disabled people. The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), a statutory body set up to advise government, has welcomed this statement, which calls on government to:

- Demonstrate its commitment to social inclusion, and to meet its disability equality duty in regulations, guidance, planning policy and decisions which impact on the pedestrian environment.
- Ensure that professionals involved in the design, development and monitoring of streetscape and public space schemes take into account the requirements of disabled people.
- Ensure that all parties consult with disability organisations at all stages when developing streets and public places.

NCE notes Matthew Lugg’s concerns on legal issues such as liability, if there is an accident after removing road signs and markings. Guide Dogs also contends that there may be implications for councils under the Disability Discrimination Act.

“While supportive of some of the ideas behind the shared space concept, such as streets that are attractively designed and ‘civilised’, we are concerned by the creation of shared surfaces for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in the name of shared space,” says Guide Dogs.

When the demarcation between footway and carriageway is removed, there are access and safety implications for all disabled people – including those with physical and learning disabilities, as well as people with sensory disabilities.

Although pedestrian casualties have fallen by 64% since London’s Kensington High Street was redesigned along shared space principles, Guide Dogs makes the point that the high street still has pavements with kerbs and controlled pedestrian crossings.

Guide Dogs is developing potential design solutions that could fulfil the ideals of shared spaces for pedestrian-friendly streets with low or reduced vehicle speed – without putting the lives of blind and partially-sighted, and other disabled people, in danger.

Designers Bjarne Winterberg of Ramboll Nyvig and Lars Gemzoe of Jan Gehl Architects were commissioned to develop the designs. Their report advocates the creation of a safe space within shared-space schemes, where vulnerable pedestrians would be away from vehicles, giving them confidence to use the street independently.

Design proposals to identify this safe space area were tested by blind and other disabled people at University College London in May. The results are being analysed.

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