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Shared surfaces oust the blind - The Shared Surfaces Scheme is being trialled in the UK, but is not welcome by charity Guide Dogs for the Blind

A leading charity for blind people warned this week that urban engineering schemes to remove segregation between motorists and pedestrians posed a threat to the safety of visually impared pedestrians.
Guide Dogs for the Blind has warned that the recent “shared space” schemes to raise road surfaces to the same level as pavements, as well as remove street railings, may have to be retro-designed to cater for blind people.

The charity said it was particularly concerned about shared surfaces where the road and pavement are at the same level.

“Shared surfaces rely on negotiating priority and movement between vehicles and pedestrians through eye contact – this puts blind and partially-sighted people at an immediate disadvantage,” said Guide Dogs’ access and inclusion manager Carol Thomas.

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

The shared space concept, already widely in use in the Netherlands and Germany, is championed for reducing accidents because evidence suggests that people drive more carefully when road markings, curbs and railings are taken away.

More than 40 shared-space schemes are currently under development in the UK and a scheme in London’s Kensington High Street has reported a big drop in pedestrian accidents.

But Guide Dogs for the Blind told NCE that it is working on new guidance for local authorities that is expected to be integrated into the Department for Transport’s Manual for Streets.

Thomas’ view was backed by blind pedestrian, Ken Rosser, who told NCE that where shared surface schemes existed, blind people treated the area as a no-go zone.

“If you make an environment hostile for us we will keep away,” he told NCE. “If you take away the curb, the guide dog doesn’t know it’s crossing the carriageway so it is bad design from the point of view of blind people.”

But Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and a supporter of the shared-space concept, defended existing schemes from Guide Dogs criticism.
“There is great public demand for a more civilised interaction in our public realm between pedestrians and drivers. I believe testing things in practice is the way forward,” he said. “We have worked closely with Guide Dogs and we know they have concerns, but I believe we will work with them to sort those issues out.”

Guide Dogs has appointed Danish design practices Rambøll Nyvig and Jan Gehl Architects to develop design guidance for shared space schemes that are tailored specifically to the blind.
They have worked up design proposals for a safe space within a shared space, where vulnerable pedestrians would be kept away from vehicles.

Different options for demarcating the safe space from the shared space have been tested by blind and partially-sighted people at the University College London PAMELA facility (Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory) and the results will feed into the new guidance.

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