When is a pavement not a pavement?

4 December 2018
Man with a cane crossing a continuous footway

Continuous footways

A continuous footway (or pavement) is a street design popular in the Netherlands which is being introduced in the UK, where the pedestrian footway that runs alongside a main road extends over the junctions where side roads join onto the main road. The surface at these junctions is designed to look and feel exactly like the pavement. The junctions are still “road” junctions, so cars, lorries and bicycles will continue to travel across them.

The physical surface as the footway goes over the road junction is usually level and smooth. Designs vary, but there are no graded slopes from the pavement onto the road and no tactile paving. That is why it is called a continuous footway!


Why are continuous footways being built?

Engineers we've spoken to say the design changes driver behaviour in a way that benefits pedestrians. They also say continuous footways make it easier for pedestrians to walk. 


Do continuous footways make it easier for pedestrians to walk?

No, not for blind or partially sighted pedestrians. Continuous footways provide no detectable features to enable blind or partially sighted people to know where the footway has changed into a road and back again. A major downside I found was that I strayed into the road even though I was trying to walk in a straight line, as shown in the photo.

The problem is a continuous footway flattens out the tactile information that those of us who are blind or partially sighted rely on to orientate ourselves when walking from A to B. They effectively make road junctions "invisible" to us.

Continuous footways also create a new problem by pitching us, without warning, into a shared space without knowing it. It's vital we know that there may be vehicles and cyclists sharing the same surface, so we can change our behaviour accordingly.

Then there's the legal problem. We don't know if the extended section of the footway that runs over the road junction is legally a footway or legally a road. Neither did the engineers we spoke to.

We assume where the footway extends over the road that is a road. If anyone does know the legal facts, please get in touch.


What do we think needs to be done?

We are really concerned about the continuous footway design because of the problems outlined above. The fact that schemes have now been installed seemingly without any resolution of these problems or even research is troubling to us.

We want to know from people who are blind or partially sighted about your experiences of continuous footways; have you walked along one recently and what was it like? If your local authority was to install a continuous footway along your street what would you think of that? Please share your views.

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