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“Patel’s Pelican” makes Eltham Town Centre safer for blind and partially sighted people

After a long campaign, Dr Amit Patel has successfully persuaded his local council to turn a courtesy crossing into a much more accessible pelican crossing, which the press has dubbed: “Patel’s Pelican”.

Image: Dr Amit Patel walks with a guide dog, among local council members

Local shared space development triggers concerns

Dr Amit Patel, a blind campaigner and disability activist, raised concerns about the introduction of a courtesy crossing in his local town centre, Eltham, with RNIB in December 2018.

A courtesy crossing – unlike a signal-controlled crossing or a pelican crossing – is not an official crossing, meaning that drivers are not required by law to stop. Instead, pedestrians rely on making eye contact with drivers to signal that they wish to cross. This makes the crossing very dangerous for blind and partially sighted people.

The new crossing was part of the redevelopment of Eltham Town Centre into a “shared space environment.” Shared spaces aim to blur the lines between pedestrian areas and roads, encourage more pedestrians and try to calm traffic. But sharing space with traffic means blind and partially sighted people find it impossible to travel safely and confidently.

It can be difficult to predict where the traffic will be. Shared space developments often also remove detectable kerbs which are essential for many cane users and guide dogs to navigate.

MP backs the campaign after trying to travel blindfolded

Supported by the RNIB, Dr Patel took his local MP Clive Efford on a “blindfold walk”. This allowed him to demonstrate the difficulties these changes to the street design would present to a person with sight loss. Mr Efford was struck by the challenges presented by the new crossing, which led to further meetings between himself, the local council, Dr Patel and the RNIB over the following year.

Dr Patel said: "I am fully aware that campaigning can be a very long process, endless letters, phone calls and meetings - just to find the right people to talk to. I’m very lucky that I have an MP like Clive Efford, who makes the time for his constituents and who was willing to work with me to help find a way forward."

"Getting the RNIB involved from the beginning was hugely beneficial as they have the right people, skills and experience to help me put my concerns into a plan of action. Together, we got a controlled crossing reinstalled making my high street safe for everyone."

Campaign success – the pelican has landed

Finally, last August, Eltham Council announced the replacement of the courtesy crossing with a much safer pelican crossing. The local press has been calling it: “Patel’s Pelican”.

Dr Patel explained:

"The name made me chuckle, but I am delighted that a safe crossing has been reinstated. Campaigning can be a long and tiresome process but having the right people involved can help build your message and achieve results."

If you want to run a local campaign of your own, get in touch with our regional campaigns officer for your local area.