As The Post continues its campaign to raise funds for a minibus for Galloway’s Society for the Blind, NATALIE WALKER looks at the implications of the shared space scheme in Preston city centre for visually impaired people.
Crossing the road is a daunting task when you have no clear vision.
A visually impaired person is forced to rely on canes and kerbs to determine where their path ends and the road starts.
But take away one of the indicators used to guide them, they can become confused and potentially put in danger.
In recent months, the highways team at Lancashire County Council (LCC) has turned Preston city centre into a ‘shared space,’ meaning kerbs have disappeared and both pedestrians and cars have right of way.
Following its installation, service users at Galloway’s Society for the Blind have encountered problems and no longer feel safe.
Stuart Clayton, chief executive of Galloway’s, says: “Whilst Galloway’s was included in the original discussions relating to the Fishergate scheme and some comments were taken into account, the key issue of introducing controlled crossings was not taken forward by LCC.
“Shared surfaces rely on eye contact between road users - pedestrians and drivers. This is clearly a fundamental flaw in the scheme if you are blind or partially sighted.
“Navigating the street without designated crossing points will mean depending on drivers to notice and stop when a blind or partially sighted person wants to cross. Whilst many drivers are considerate, some are not.
“We are seriously worried about safety issues and want to see safe crossings included in street design.
“Kerbs are a very important part of street layout for blind and partially sighted people. Yet shared surface schemes mean kerbs are removed. The kerb is vital for street orientation for long cane users, whilst guide dogs are trained to navigate by them. Removal of the kerb risks leaving people in danger as it is difficult to work out where the safe area stops and the roadway for vehicles begins.
“Tactile paving is vital to street navigation and informs people about risks and safe places to cross the road. Without it, yet another aid to mobility and safety for blind and partially sighted people is lost.”
Stuart adds that as a result, visually impaired people feel they can no longer go into the city centre.
He says: “A fear factor will cause another barrier to blind and partially sighted people. Without a defined safe space away from traffic, they will lose confidence and will stop using these streets and they will become “no-go” areas.
“There are also worries about children’s safety as basic rules of crossing the road cannot be used.
“People with learning disabilities may also find it difficult to understand how to cross the road safely. Older people may find it difficult to see or hear traffic; they may have mobility problems and may not be confident getting traffic to stop.”
Galloway’s is working in partnership with the project team developing the UCLAN Adelphi project, by providing an awareness raising session, focusing on the mobility challenges facing blind and partially sighted people.
Stuart adds: “We provided an opportunity for the team to experience first hand the challenges facing blind and partially sighted people on the Fishergate scheme. We hope this will influence their plans for the Adelphi project and indeed future projects across Lancashire.”
County councillor Keith Iddon, Cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “The changes on Fishergate were created following discussions with various organisations including Galloway’s, and included changes to the design to take their comments into account.
“We’re taking a similar approach with the proposals for the Adelphi roundabout, with people giving their views and helping us to shape the proposals.
“I’ve met with Galloway’s and agreed to go out with their team and a guide dog, to find out for myself about the issues people with visual impairments can experience in the city centre.”
The Post has launched a campaign - Gallowheels - in conjunction with Galloway’s to raise £50,000 for a new minibus, which would be used to transport visually impaired service users to Galloway’s appointments; other appointments; guided activities; leisure activities; holidays and day trips; and training.
The charity now needs to buy two new minibuses to keep up with demand and to support its service users.
So far, kind hearted readers have donated £5,000. Can you spare any more? To make a donation visit http://www.galloways.org.uk/gallowheels; Call: 01772 744148 Text: GALL25 £amount, £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10, to 70070 or send a cheque payable to Galloway’s to: Galloway’s Society for the Blind, Howick House, Howick Park Avenue, Penwortham, PR1 0LS.
Video used courtesy of BBC North West Tonight