Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shared Spaces and Disability

Shared spaces seem to be very divisive.

The CTC has a bone to pick with Guide Dogs for the Blind, which has been blocking shared-use schemes and has successfully lobbied with other disability groups to remove cycle access in Woking town centre. However, some disabled people like the 'shared space' concept because they find kerbs and raised surfaces a barrier.

As Woking Cycle Users' Group points out, the anti-cycle campaign is based on somewhat irrational fears than actual collisions, and goes against the established research, which indicates that shared use does work and doesn't present particular dangers to pedestrians.

There's also a public health issue here. More cycling and better conditions for cycling will result in fewer road injuries and fewer 'sedentary' diseases. Making life more difficult and dangerous for cyclists (who in the Woking case case will have to take the busy ring-road instead to avoid the town centre) is, I would submit, detrimental to the nation's health and in the long run likely to increase the number of disabled and blind people. How can I justify that assertion? See if you can guess at a couple of leading causes of disability. Try 1) injuries due to car crashes, and 2) diseases whose root causes include lack of exercise, including a) heart disease;  b) arthritis. c) stroke; d) diabetes.

Would it be better to go back to traditional road layouts? Car-centric streets are not in the interests of most disabled people. Pavement parking, narrow, uneven pavements, clutter, kerbs and traffic in general makes life difficult for anyone who's not able-bodied. The abuse of blue badges by able-bodied drivers makes it more difficult for disabled people to park their cars. Councils replacing proper crossings with 'pedestrian refuges' causes further problems for people unable to sprint across a road, and inconsiderate road use always disproportionately affects the most vulnerable.

It seems clear that the town planners can't please all of the people all of the time. Blind and partially-sighted people, it seems, need tactile features in the streetscape, while these can be problematic for some in wheelchairs. Having a distinct and separate roadway appears to increase collisions, yet it also seems to reduce the fear of collisions at least for partially-sighted people.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently Guide Dogs for the Blind has about a dozen full-time staff whose sole responsibility is campaigning, mainly on the issue of shared space use.

    GDB is of course a wealthy and powerful charity, because it panders to that most English of obsessions, animals. Ask most continentals and they will marvel at how the UK seems to value animals more highly than its own children.

    Their policy is clearly hostile to many other groups deserving of protection, eg children, low income families who can't afford a car, users of disabled cycles/handcyles etc. Unfortunately single-mindedness is a common failing in the charity sector. Personally, I save up my generosity for anything but animal and childrens' charities, as they largely monopolise giving in this country, and I give to mental health, elderly etc charities precisely because fewer other people do.

    GDB is very definitely off my giving list now!