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Taking Newcastle City Council on a walk to talk street changes

With local partners, we've been campaigning in Newcastle to keep streets accessible for all.

Terri Balon, RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer, and Newcastle Vision Support met with Newcastle City Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and the Officer for Highways to discuss proposed changes in the city centre.  

Following on from the meeting, a site visit took place with Newcastle Vision Support and a representative from local group Blind Ambitions, showing the council the impact local changes are having on blind and partially sighted people.   

The changes

As lockdown eases, new street designs have been put in place to offer more outdoor seating space for pubs and restaurants to allow for social distancing. The designs are also aiming to reduce the amount of vehicle traffic on Grey street and to improve provision for cyclists in line with Government policy.

Our key concerns

Temporary measures that are being made to our streets to encourage social distancing, such as pavement widening and increased cycling provision, can sometimes unintentionally leave environments inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people.

On the walk, Andy Cokely, a member of Blind Ambitions, expressed his concern as a long cane user:

"Where segregation between the footway and the road depends on cones, rather than a kerb, that are spaced 2 meters apart it would be easy to not detect the cones with my cane.  I would risk walking into the road."

Newcastle Vision Support Empowerment Officer, Angus Huntley, added that he felt that the area had become a ‘no-go zone’ as his guide dog was trained to detect a kerb. The extension of the pavement into the road would effectively be encouraging his guide dog to take him into the road. 

"I would not feel comfortable about using Grey street or any of the facilities there while these temporary changes are in place."

What can be done

We suggested a few improvements in Newcastle, including:

  • Improved segregation between pedestrians and vehicle traffic by increasing the number of cones marking the edge of the pedestrian corridor and reduce the spacing of these to 1 meter minimum.
  • Investigate physical segregation between pavement and cycle way.
  • Improve road markings and signage to make it easier for people with some residual vision.

Arlene Ainsley, Newcastle’s City Council Cabinet Member for Transport, was supportive and receptive to our suggestions. We will continue to work with VIEWS, Newcastle Vision Support and Newcastle City Council on these developments and keep you updated.