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Surface Tension

Councils are levelling our high streets to make them ‘people-friendly’, says Helen Smith. But the policy is having unwelcome consequences for disabled people
Guide DogsThere is a growing trend by councils to develop their town centres as “shared surfaces” – removing the kerb between the footpath and road, so pavements and roads are at the same level. This idea is supposed to reduce the dominance of vehicles and make streets more “people-friendly”.
But, as pedestrians and motorists are then expected to acknowledge each other through “eye contact”, the idea is not very “friendly” for sight-impaired people.
Research by the charity Guide Dogs* has shown that shared surfaces can seriously undermine the safety, confidence and independence of blind and partially-sighted people.
Carol Thomas, access and inclusion manager for Guide Dogs, said: “The kerb edge is fundamental to the mobility of blind and partially-sighted people, particularly guide dog-owners and long cane-users who are trained to use it as the key orientation cue in the street environment.”

But the safety of other disabled people may also be compromised.
Neil Betteridge, chief executive of Arthritis Care, said people with arthritis are also likely to feel vulnerable in shared areas, where cyclists and others may be travelling at speed.
“Without the physical ability to navigate such spaces deftly, people with arthritis are at a level of risk which may reduce their confidence in travelling to such an extent they will in effect be excluded.”

Last year, more than 20 UK disability organisations released a statement saying that shared surfaces would be frightening and dangerous for many disabled and older people.
Research commissioned by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) highlighted similar concerns about shared surfaces in home zones – residential streets with shared surfaces.

Despite these concerns, some local authorities are pressing ahead with “shared surface” projects.

This could mean these councils are not fulfilling their disability equality duty (DED) under the Disability Discrimination Act. The DED requires public bodies to use their influence over the built environment to promote equality for disabled people.

More research on this issue has now been commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT), and Guide Dogs is urging local authorities to stop implementing shared surfaces while the DfT research is undertaken.

One accident has already been reported, on a “shared surface” in Newbury, where a three-year-old broke his leg when he was hit by a bike. Guide dog-owners in Hull, Dundee, Lowestoft and Coventry, which have shared surfaces, have also complained of near misses with buses and bikes.

Although planners argue that shared surfaces slow traffic, being hit by a bus at 15mph is still not a pleasant prospect. Surely local authorities shouldn’t wait until a pedestrian is killed before re-assessing if shared surfaces are appropriate for our town and city centres.

*More information at www.guidedogs.org.uk/sharedsurfaces

• Helen Smith is director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, and is a member of DPTAC

The above article was taken from the www.disabilitynow.org.uk website on the 30/06/2009

The below ilong cane usernformation is from www.guidedogs.org.uk/sharedsurfaces

What’s the problem?
Shared space is a new design concept for town centre and high street developments, often delivered by means of a shared surface street design. In most cases the design involves removing the kerb that has traditionally separated areas for vehicles and pedestrians creating a shared surface street.
The shared space concept aims to create attractive shared ‘social’ areas and to reduce the dominance of vehicles to make streets more ‘people-friendly’.
In shared surface street design of the road and its surroundings are altered to cause changes in the behaviour of drivers, encouraging them to be extra cautious as they negotiate the new road layout.
controlled pedestrian crossingPedestrians, motorists and cyclists need to make eye contact to establish who has priority. However this puts blind and partially sighted people at a serious disadvantage.
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.

Campaign Report

Shared Surfaces Campaign Report (word) 55K

Shared Surfaces Campaign Report (pdf) 861K

guide dog owner and guide dog sitting on kerbShared surface streets are not just an issue for blind and partially sighted people. Our concerns have been well-supported by a wide range of disability organisations who have concerns about the dangers of these street designs for other vulnerable road users.
Building on that support we invited these organisations to work with us in developing a joint statement urging both national and local Government to make sure that the pedestrian environment is inclusive and safe for all users. 

Supporting inclusive streetscapes statement (pdf) 2.3K

For more information on the above information go to www.guidedogs.org.uk/sharedsurfaces

This link will take you to a template letter to to send to your MSP

This Template letter was sent to FIDN by Moira Douglas SDEF

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Disabilities Fife
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Kirkcaldy, Fife, KY1 1TE
Scottish Charity No: SC 026112