A high-profile court case has been put on hold after a council agreed to work with disability organisations on its plans for a controversial “shared streets” development in London’s tourist heartland.
The charity Guide Dogs had raised serious concerns – backed by 30 disability organisations – over the development of Exhibition Road by Kensington and Chelsea council.
Shared streets designs usually remove kerbs so motorists and pedestrians can share the street space, but users of the space 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 visually-impaired people at risk.
Exhibition Road is used by an estimated 19 million pedestrians a year and runs from Hyde Park past the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Guide Dogs won the right in March in the high court to challenge the council’s plans through a judicial review. But the court case has now been put on hold after the charity reached an agreement with the council.
As part of the agreement, Kensington and Chelsea said it hoped to obtain permission from the Department for Transport for a new shared streets traffic sign that would give pedestrians right of way.
Guide Dogs and other disability organisations will also work with the council on “real world trials” to test the “corduroy paving” markings that will separate the pedestrian and traffic zones.
Guide Dogs and other members of the scheme’s access group will be “fully consulted” on how the trials are carried out, and how the results are evaluated.
If the trials show the tactile paving is not “sufficiently detectable”, the council has promised that its cabinet will reconsider the designs.
Richard Leaman, chief executive of Guide Dogs, said the charity was “delighted” with the agreement, and said he hoped it could “herald a new approach to the development of street design in the UK”.
He added: “Blind and partially sighted people have told us that, for them, shared surfaces are ambiguous and distressing environments which can stop them from enjoying the independence and freedom that the rest of us take for granted.
“By working together, we should be able to ensure that Exhibition Road meets the needs of everyone – so being truly fit for the 21st century.”
Inclusion London welcomed the council’s decision to work with Guide Dogs and disabled people on the trials “and amend the plans if trials reveal barriers to disabled people”.
21 June 2010