Shared spaces ‘simply do not work for blind people’

20.17 | 17 October 2019 | | 5 comments

A charity which represents blind and visually impaired people has stepped up its campaign to have shared space schemes abolished – describing them as unsafe, inaccessible and a ‘big mistake’. 

In a petition to the European Union, issued on 11 October, the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFBUK) says shared spaces ‘take away the safety and navigational features in the urban environment that keep blind people away from moving traffic’.

First developed in the Netherlands, shared space schemes – where features such as kerbs, road surface markings, designated crossing places and traffic signs are removed – have been introduced in a number of UK town centres.

The shared space concept is intended to create a safer road environment – based on the theory that drivers will reduce their speed because of uncertainty over who has priority.

The petition, published to mark International White Cane Safety Day (15 Oct), raises particular concern over the removal of pedestrian crossings with traffic lights which, according to NFBUK, makes the spaces ‘very scary to navigate independently’.

The NFBUK petition says this ‘wide scale discrimination’ has led many local authorities to ‘u-turn’ – putting pedestrian crossings back into schemes.

Andrew Hodgson, president of the NFBUK, said: “As a totally blind person these schemes just do not work for me. The theory works on making eye contact with the drivers or cyclists to cross the road and I simply cannot do that. 

“These schemes are simply not safe or accessible for myself and colleagues who are blind, deafblind and partially sighted. 

“It is clear that a mistake has been made with the original concept and we hope we can highlight this to the highest level, so action can be taken to rectify this problem.”


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    I notice you felt it necessary to ‘gingerly’ step into the road Charles – imagine how a blind person would feel – that is the whole point of this news article.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (5) | Disagree (2)

    Everywhere I’ve come across Shared Space (as opposed to “shared space”) it seems to work well. The common theme is that drivers are treated as equal partners to other road users, and it is amazing how their mindsets change so completely.

    I remember years ago visiting Seven Dials in London and wanting to take a photo of my companion next to the feature in the middle of the 7-way road junction there. We gingerly stepped into the road and were completely stunned to see London cabs, delivery vans and other traffic come to a complete standstill to wait for us to complete our mission. Standing back and watching the traffic afterwards, it was a sheer delight to see – traffic movements (of pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists) were as if beautifully choreographed and rigorously rehearsed. As there were no apparent rules at all, we even saw cars turning right without first circumnavigating the central feature. And even more amazing there was no tooting and no apparent impatience or gesturing, and no congestion or hold-ups in the almost continuous streams of traffic flowing along each of the seven converging roads.

    I guess that shows the power of unconstrained human nature, unpolluted by artificial controls and expectations, and free to observe and decide rather than relying on their understanding of their priority and complying with there compulsion to enforce their rights to dominate other road users with lesser convention-asserted priorities. They are forced (by another facet of human nature) to proceed, oblivious to the other human occupants of the space, to assert their rule-given rights of passage.

    Clearly though, something, whatever we call it, does work – it’s all down to the understanding of human psychology and the purity of implementation. One road sign, or line, or any implied priority to one category of user can totally destroy a whole scheme. People thrive when behaving naturally, as people, and not being told by rules and regulations what to do and when to do it, and what not to do.

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (3) | Disagree (6)

    Carry on Rod, with my blessing.
    When the mindset has been changed it may then be time to consider changing the infrastructure. The sequence is the wrong way round at present.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

    Well, some of us are working to change that mindset.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (1) | Disagree (4)

    I totally agree with the charity.
    Shared spaces might look ‘nice’ to some architects and urban space planners but is a totally flawed concept and should never have been imported into the UK.

    As for its intention to “create a safer road environment based on the theory that drivers will reduce their speed because of uncertainty over who has priority”. Really? Who was idealistic enough to believe that this concept would work with the current drivers mindset across the UK?
    I do sometimes wonder where common sense has gone.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (19) | Disagree (8)

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