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Councillors get different perspective on controversial “shared space” street

Aberdeen councillors will walk along the city's Broad Street today wearing spectacles that simulate different sight loss conditions.

The organisers of today's event, the charities RNIB Scotland and Guide Dogs Scotland, want to give councillors from all parties a chance to experience getting out and about with a visual impairment.

They say the controversial 'shared space' design of Broad Street effectively bars blind and partially sighted people from using it.

In 'shared space' designs, streets and pavements are levelled with pedestrians and vehicles all using the same surface.  But people with sight loss say they need kerbs to separate them safely from traffic. Shared spaces assume visual contact between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians which they don't have.

Aberdeen resident Amanda Burt, who has had the sight loss condition retinitafibroplaisia all of her life, said she was concerned that people had to share the space with both bikes and buses.

"I don’t use Broad Street as I would find it very dangerous as there is no way of knowing where you are," she said. "They haven’t done the tactile paving correctly. Frankly, for blind people, shared spaces are terrible and very dangerous, and they should be removed in my view."

RNIB Scotland and Guide Dogs Scotland point to a 2015 House of Lords enquiry which found that people’s experiences of shared spaces “are overwhelmingly negative”, that over a third surveyed “actively avoid shared space schemes”, and that drivers consistently report being unsure of who has right of way, resulting in “confusion, chaos and constant near misses”. It warned that “councils are risking public safety with fashionable ‘simplified’ street design” and called for “an immediate moratorium on shared space schemes”.

Catriona Burness, campaigns manager for RNIB Scotland, said: “We’re calling for controlled crossings and physical segregation between the different road uses in the form of a kerb to be installed. We hope that

the City of Aberdeen Council will listen to the concerns of blind and partially sighted people, and others with a disability, to find an acceptable way forward.”

Niall Foley, engagement manager with Guide Dogs Scotland, said: "Blind and partially sighted people, particularly guide dog owners and long cane users, use the kerb as a navigation clue to know where they are in a street. Many blind and partially sighted people, and disabled and elderly people, have said that they feel unable to use shared surface street in their towns, and this obviously impacts on their independence.

“We ask the City of Aberdeen Council to listen to the concerns of residents who are blind or partially sighted.”