The little-known language of our pavements

Post date: 
Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The little-known language of our pavements

Tom Scott is a YouTube video creator with over 700,000 followers, covering topics such as science, history and many of the weird and wonderful things in this world. As part of his series Things You Might Not Know, Tom investigates ‘the little-known patterns on British streets’; or tactile paving, as many blind or partially sighted people will already be aware.

With the help of our Regional Campaigns Officer for London Richard Holmes, Tom sets out to understand what exactly these bumpy markings on the pavement are, and decode the meaning of tactile paving that so many people with low or no vision depend on.

Watch Tom’s video below to see how much you already know

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Quick facts about tactile paving (but don’t cheat and read these first!)

  • There are different patterns for different messages - not just generic bumps
  • Dots in a grid mean a dropped curb for crossing the road
  • Offset dots, i.e. not aligned, mean there’s a train platform and possibly a gap!
  • Lozenges mean that there’s a tram crossing
  • Horizontal stripes? There are stairs or an obstacle ahead of you
  • But vertical stripes mean a safe path to follow
  • The pavement can be colour coded too - for example, bright contrasting colours help partially sighted people to understand if they’re at a traffic lights crossing

There is some concern that attention to tactile paving is waning amongst local UK councils, though. Richard Holmes voices his thoughts on the issue as a partially sighted person:

 "Boroughs in London, councils outside of London, seem to be moving towards aesthetic considerations. They’re changing the colours to darker greys, so it blends in more. By definition if it blends in more, it’s harder for partially sighted people or obviously in a more dire situations, people could find themselves in the road, not knowing they’re in the road.”

There is actually an 100-page guide to the use of Tactile Pavings that you can download - it was created nearly 20 years ago, but is still not widely known about by your average pedestrian. 

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