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Our streets should be accessible for all!

Our Policy and Campaigns Manager, Hugh Huddy, tells us about re-developments called 'shared space' that are being implemented by local councils without sufficient regard for the impact on blind and partially sighted people's safety.

From the moment UK streets started to be re-developed using designs called 'shared space' and 'shared use', we started to hear the following:

'How can we negotiate our right of way in front of bicycles, cars, lorries and buses that we cannot see?'

It’s a scary experience feeling out of control, stepping out in the hope that any approaching cyclist or driver has seen you in time. When a bike or quiet car passes close and you get that blast of wind across your face you can quickly lose your confidence, go back home and think twice about going out alone again.

These are common complaints that many people have put to their local council about these new developments, but have been told the new designs were fully consulted on. Some of the schemes have even won prizes.

We know that blind and partially sighted people up and down the country are experiencing these problems everyday, in towns and cities, in residential areas and on high streets and shopping areas.

Why has all this happened?

'Shared space' and 'shared use' started off as an approach to street design that had some very important ideas behind it; improved traffic flow, lower speeds, fewer accidents, nicer for cyclists and pedestrians, better for business. Nobody argued with that. However, instead of dedicated pavements for pedestrians, cycle lanes and roads for motor vehicles, intersected by traffic lights and formal pedestrian crossings, the new design swept away the physical kerbs and traffic lights leaving everyone to negotiate their right of way by communicating with each other.

The thing is, the only form of communication that works most reliably between pedestrians and moving bicycles and motor vehicles is visual gestures and signals. Pedestrians see these signals and negotiate back, whether that means letting the vehicle pass or deciding it is safe to cross. But, what if you can't look? Is it enough to listen? A ding on the bell or a beep on the horn, is that enough to know it is safe to cross? But, what if it means the opposite, 'watch out I’m coming through!' Or what if the ding on the bell was meant at someone else not you? Listening isn't enough to allow one to negotiate ones way with moving vehicles. This along with many other issues creates massive problems for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

That's why we at RNIB, along with other groups representing blind and partially sighted people, have kept on flagging up the problems of these new sharing based designs to local authorities and the Government. However despite some recognition about the issues from the Government, most planned schemes seem to be going ahead and all existing schemes are, it seems, here to stay.

What can you do?

We need to know where these re-developments are planned so we can mount a challenge to them.  Please tell us about any re-developments in your area via Twitter @RNIB_Campaigns or email [email protected]

Together, we can challenge these re-developments and speak up to ensure the accessibility of our streets!

Note: This blog was written by Hugh Huddy, Policy and Campaigns Manager, RNIB, and is part of a series of blogs on Shared Space.