Campaigners have highlighted the dangers of controversial “shared space” street developments by blocking buses outside a railway station, as part of an international day of action.
The protest in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, was led by blind and partially-sighted people, but included other disabled people, older people and families with prams, all protesting at the town’s two new shared space developments.
More than 50 people held up buses outside Southend Victoria station, before marching along the high street to the second of the town’s shared spaces at City Beach, on the seafront.
The protest came just days before the government published new guidance aimed at helping local authorities “design high-quality shared space schemes”. The guidance points out that such designs “can be problematic for some, particularly blind and partially-sighted people”.
Shared space designs usually remove kerbs and crossings so motorists and pedestrians can share the street space, but pedestrians and motorists and cyclists have to make eye contact to establish right of way.
Campaigners say the need for eye contact and the absence of kerbs, which people with guide dogs and long canes use to navigate, puts blind and partially-sighted people at risk, as well as some people with learning difficulties and children.
Visitors to Southend Victoria station now come out of the main entrance straight into an area shared with buses, cars, taxis, bicycles and other pedestrians.
The protest was organised by Jill Allen-King, who chairs the European Blind Union’s commission on mobility and transport and has warned the council that she believes its developments breach the parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on accessibility and consulting properly with disabled people.
She said the two developments had become “no-go areas” for blind and partially-sighted people.
She said: “I have lived here for 71 years and for the first time in my life there are two areas that I cannot go.
“We keep being told that these shared streets work well in Europe but, as chairperson of the European Blind Union’s commission on mobility and transport for the past 14 years, I know that they don’t.”
She also welcomed the inclusive nature of the demonstration. “The majority were not blind and partially-sighted people, they were local residents really concerned about the shared spaces, because they are dangerous for everybody.”
Tony Cox, the council’s executive councillor for public protection, waste and transport, claimed that both schemes were “designed in consultation with a number of disability groups”.
He said they both provide “guidance” for blind and partially-sighted people, including “signalised junctions” at the end of each scheme, and crossing points with dropped kerbs and tactile paving.
He said: “We would challenge the claim that these locations have become ‘no-go areas’ for blind and partially-sighted people and we have received positive comments on both schemes from partially-sighted and blind visitors to the town.
“However, we are aware of Jill Allen-King’s concerns and have made a commitment to review the performance of both schemes, particularly for vulnerable users and people with impaired mobility, who have told us they welcome the step-free environments.”
The protest took place on Saturday 15 October, White Cane Day, an international day that recognises the rights of blind and partially-sighted people to independence and mobility.
18 October 2011