“Shared space” means that pavements and kerbs are levelled so people and vehicles all use the same surface. Its proponents say it encourages more care and attention in drivers.
However, RNIB has warned that people who are blind or partially sighted, or have other mobility issues, face real danger if they no longer have a distinct pedestrian zone separating them from traffic.
Now it seems the charity’s fears have struck a chord.
A UK Department for Transport strategy is recommending that local authorities pause the development of shared space schemes while officials “review and update the Department’s guidance”.
RNIB Scotland director James Adams said he hoped the Scottish Government will also review its policy on shared spaces as a matter of urgency. Town planning is a matter reserved to Holyrood.
“People who use white canes, as well as guide-dog users, rely on kerbs to give them vital tactile cues for their safety,” he said. “Where shared spaces already exist, people with sight loss have said they feel much less confident using them.”
We are pointing to a 2015 House of Lords enquiry that warned that “overzealous councils are risking public safety with fashionable ‘simplified’ street design”. It found that “people’s experiences of shared space schemes are overwhelmingly negative”, that “over a third of people 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”.
RNIB Scotland has been pressing for a wider rethink of urban planning since launching its Street Charter in 2015. One third of blind and partially sighted people RNIB surveyed then said they had been injured by obstacles like advertising boards and bollards when walking outside. The Street Charter urges local authorities to give more consideration to accessibility.
RNIB Scotland had a notable success earlier this year when the City of Edinburgh Council voted to ban advertising boards from the street of the capital.
Mr Adams said: “We want to help decision-makers understand what it's like for blind and partially sighted people trying to navigate the street environment. Introducing design features that end up creating no-go zones for residents and visitors with disabilities would be a major step backwards for our towns and cities.”