Thursday, 18 June 2009

Shared Spaces

As well as the Cycle Around Scotland stuff I’ll use this blog as an opportunity to witter on about issues relating to disabilities that I come across and that wind me up. (We’ll not mention the lazy individual at work who sees an empty disabled space as a legitimate parking spot, even though there’s nothing wrong with her other than pathological laziness. …..Did I mention she was lazy?)

The latest Government fad seems to be the introduction of ‘shared spaces’. This is an urban area that has been developed so that there is no clear definition between where the road and the pavement starts and finishes. A definition found on Wikipedia states:

Safety, congestion, economic vitality and community severance can be effectively tackled in streets and other public spaces if they are designed and managed to allow traffic to be fully integrated with other human activity, not separated from it. A major characteristic of a street designed to this philosophy is the absence of traditional road markings, signs, traffic signals and the distinction between "road" and "pavement". User behaviour becomes influenced and controlled by natural human interactions rather than by artificial regulation.[3]

One of the concepts behind shared spaces is that pedestrians and motorists make eye contact to establish who has priority….. that’s right… ‘eye contact’. Now that immediately puts blind people at a disadvantage for what I would imagine are fairly obvious reasons.

This doesn’t just affect blind people. Children and other more vulnerable road users are going to struggle with this. What about an individual with a learning disability who may not be able to decipher what the rules of the shared surfaces are? It might not be to everyone’s overly politically correct tastes but it has to be considered.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association have the following statement on their campaign website:

“Blind and partially sighted people, particularly guide dog owners and long cane users are trained to use the kerb as a key navigation cue in the street environment. Its removal, without a proven effective, alternative feature, exposes blind and partially sighted people to greater risk, undermines their confidence, and so creates a barrier to their independent mobility. The kerb is also vital for children's safety when using roads. From an early age children are taught as part of the Green Cross Code to Stop, Look, and Listen at kerbs. If these kerbs are removed, how will children know where to stop?

Guide Dogs supports the aim of creating attractive ‘people-friendly’ street environments but opposes the use of shared surface streets to achieve this. For background information on our previous campaigning work on the issue of shared surface streets, please read a copy of our Campaign report."

In Inverness we have a new shared space on Ness Walk, it’s all very pretty with benches where you can sit and take in the ducks, seagulls and goosanders on the River Ness. It has one particular flaw which will cause issues for the people that use it. It’s a one way street..... fair enough. It also has a cycle lane…. In a shared space? Ok so it only runs for a couple of metres at the start and finish of the space so I suppose that’s ok…. But it goes in the opposite direction of the one way traffic! I’ve used it on the bike and I’ve been given dirty looks by motorists and pedestrians as they quite rightly presume that I’m going the wrong way on a one way street. When you get to the junction to turn on to Young Street there is no safe way of doing it as there is no traffic control in place to deal with traffic (ie me on a bike) coming the ‘wrong way’ on to the junction

And why is it that Councils seem to be intent on installing uniform grey bollards that blend in to the rest of the street in these shared spaces? There's no clear definition on them and they seem to be at the perfect height for the unsuspecting person with a visual impairment to crack their knee off.

I'm going to take a few photos tonight and get them posted on here.

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