Tactile paving on our streets and train station platforms is vital to the safety and independence of blind and partially sighted pedestrians. But how does it work?
Tactile paving consists of a pattern of raised surfaces. This can be dots, bars, or lozenge bumps to warn people with sight loss of any dangers or obstacles they may be approaching, such as a crossing, steps, or the edge of a train station platform.
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’.
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 sight loss depend on.
"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 – such as myself – to see. Or obviously, in a more dire situation, people could find themselves in the road, not knowing they’re in the road.” – Richard Holmes
What have RNIB been doing about it?
In 2015, the Department for Transport (DfT) held some consultations around tactile paving. As well as sending in our own response to this, we supported many blind and partially sighted people to attend the consultation in person, and to submit written responses.
You can read our response to the consultation:
Happily, the DfT announced that their current proposals to change tactile paving regulations had been dropped.
While we agree with the need to update the regulations, we robustly opposed changes to the regulations which would have affected the size, shape and contrast of tactile paving.
The DfT said the proposals would be dropped and more research done before any changes are brought into effect. We were also asked by the DfT to sit on a steering group to help advise the direction of this new work. This is a great example of what happens when you empower campaigners to make ensure their voice is heard.
In 2020, Cleveland Gervais, who had sight loss, tragically died after he fell from a train station platform and was struck by a train. The platform had no tactile paving fitted and it was found to be a contributing factor to his death.
This was not an isolated incident. Blind and partially sighted travellers are disproportionally at risk of falling at stations – up to 15 per cent of people falling from platforms are blind or partially sighted, despite representing just 3.3 per cent of the UK’s population.
RNIB have raised concerns with both the DfT and the Office of Road and Rail. We have been campaigning for the installation of tactile paving in all stations as a matter of urgency.