The shared space scheme in Preston city centre has not always hit the right note with motorists and pedestrians.
Supporters say by removing kerbs and markings drivers become more uncertain and are forced to lower their speed, making it safer for everyone. But critics say it is a nightmare, especially for those with sight problems.
To find out exactly what people with sight problems face, Coun Keith Iddon was escorted down Fishergate’s shared space scheme in a blindfold.
The council’s cabinet member for highways and transport was accompanied by Jenny Lloyd from Galloway’s Society for the Blind, which has lobbied councils about the effects of shared space schemes.
He says: “If I didn’t have Jenny at the side of me I would have found it very difficult.
“I felt alright until I couldn’t hear the bus. After I felt the bus waft past me, I thought it was safe to go, but it wasn’t as a second bus came.
“I thought it would stop, but it didn’t.
“I then heard a car and I could tell it was going really fast, so I was reluctant to go.
“Cars did stop for me but I couldn’t hear that. If I had been on my own, I’m not sure if I would have wanted to cross.
“Drivers are not sympathetic to the fact I was waiting to cross and that I had no eye contact because I was wearing a blindfold.”
“Several bikes went past me but I couldn’t hear it.”
Coun Iddon says the experience has given him more things to consider in terms of the challenges visually impaired people face.
He adds: “This was a great opportunity for me to find out more about how it feels to navigate the city centre when you have a visual impairment. It’s important to me that we can understand the issues for everyone who comes into the city centre. We know that people have welcomed the wider pavements on Fishergate following the improvement work, and reduced traffic levels have made it a much nicer place.
“I am very pleased with the way everything is set out as I can feel things.
“I understood where I was walking. When I get to the rougher, tactile paving I know I am about to cross the road.
“It has been a worthwhile experience and I will take a lot back with me.
“But we know that there are concerns from some people about certain aspects.
“I think bus drivers need to be instructed to be more sympathetic to blind and visually impaired people.
“A-boards need to be tucked in a bit more as they cause an obstruction to someone who can’t see it.
“The tactile paving needs to be a bit wider as once you get to it and realise you are at a crossing, you can be almost at the edge of the road.
“I would be looking to put something out to communicate to drivers about the fact there may be visually impaired people using the shared space and to give them consideration.”
Other issues of concern Galloway’s highlighted included insufficient colour contrast between the curb and gutter and the new flower planters and the pavement, the worrying trend of drivers incorrectly parking on pavements, and glass bus shelters.
Stuart Clayton, chief executive at Galloway’s, says: “We really welcome the opportunity to provide Coun Iddon with direct and practical experience of navigating a shared space scheme with limited or no vision.
“Without a defined safe space away from traffic, blind and partially sighted people are telling us that they have lost all confidence to enter this space on their own or even with a sighted guide. People living with sight loss are describing these schemes as ‘no-go’ areas.
“Our objection to these schemes is purely based on access and inclusion and not positive development to improve the public highways and pedestrian areas. Lancashire County Council has a responsibility to ensure the public realm is just that, a realm accessible for all members of the public and shared space developments are not inclusive.
“I can only hope that this practical exercise will raise Coun Iddon’s awareness of the very real challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people and in turn he will take forward his experience when planning future development.
“We hope to work more closely with Lancashire County Council going forward to find solutions that means public space is accessible for people living with sight loss in our community.”
Preston Council’s planning committee has approved £60m scheme to turn the Adelphi roundabout into University Square - a shared space.
Stuart Clayton, chief executive of Galloway’s Society for the Blind, told the committee shared space schemes were “fundamentally flawed” because they were almost a no-go area for blind and partially sighted people.
Following this, highways chiefs decided to include controlled crossings as one of the conditions of planning approval.
Lancashire County Council is the highways authority and will have the final say.
More information about the proposed plans at the University can be found on the UCLan website.
•Lancashire Post and Galloway’s are joining forces for an appeal - Gallowheels - to raise £50,000 for a new minibus.
So far, readers have donated £5,000. Can you spare any more? To make a donation visit 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.
Are you holding any fund-raising events to support Galloway’s? Let us know by emailing email@example.com