‘Shared Space’, Sight-impairment and City Planning

By: A.C.

Kirkintilloch is a small town nestling at the foot of The Campsie Hills to the north and east of Glasgow. Kirkintilloch, when I was a youth, was still a ‘dry’ town, meaning that a local referendum could ban licensed premises, and that was the case until around the early 1970’s. For the drouthy it meant travelling out of town.

It would seem that Kirkintilloch wants to be first with a recent development in town planning; sharing road space.

Town Planners have adopted a scheme to completely remove all street furniture, pedestrian crossings, and safety barriers thus creating a shared space for traffic and all road users, where the pedestrian is allegedly the priority.

The situation was reported by the BBC. The reporter – himself sight impaired – speaking to local protesters against the scheme. Why is this particular town so important for all sight–impaired, disabled and elderly road –users?

Because this type of town-planning has nothing to do with transportation.

It is a Political Process that Councils want to implement. This was observed by American Road Engineers when they visited the Netherlands to understand this concept which was pioneered by the Dutchman Hans Monderman, and is where several towns there have taken to the idea

Willem Foorthuis, Director of Research and Development for the Shared Space Institute, was quoted by the delegation from the USA as saying :

“that creation of Shared Space is a political process, not an engineering process. As stated in the Institute’s book entitled From Project to Process, A Task for Everybody: “Often in Spatial Design projects, the role of politics is limited to approving plans, but in a Shared Space process, the politicians are expected to have a coherent view of man and society from the outset and have to make a definite choice about what level of participation is desired.”

This view of consultation and understanding is also one shared by Guide Dogs UK. They have produced numerous documents in support of shared space, but also have many reservations.

Their researcher travelled to Holland to speak with sight–impaired groups in a town that had adopted the shared space philosophy.

There are some memorable quotes and examples of how this philosophy is undermining the confidence and ability of sight–impaired people, who are reluctant to use shared space to get around town.

One participant commented that
“9 out of 10 cars would stop for me. My difficulty is recognising the 10th”

Back in Kirkintilloch, a wheelchair using and sight–impaired protester interviewed by the BBC was recounting the day she met the people behind the scheme. She was told to “eyeball” the traffic. She said “how can you eyeball the traffic if you are sight–impaired?”.

I think those who drive will feel fairly safe inside their motorised steel boxes. Even if they have bad eyesight, which is a known cause of road accidents.

Youngsters on bikes will probably use the space like a pedestrian area, and start cycling in all directions, and doing tricks on their bikes, with little or no regard for other road users. The Councillors in Kirkintilloch vote on 30 April on this issue, and if successful we can expect this philosophy to probably spread throughout Scotland.

More consultation between Politicians, Council Officials and local and national disability groups, is a must, with the needs of sight–impaired groups being listened to. It is the sight–impaired or blind person who has the experience and opinion on the removal of surfacing, acoustic tiles, street furniture, and so on, which are there to provide clues to orientation.

At the moment it appears that the blind, sight–impaired, elderly or disabled, are ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

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2 Responses to ‘Shared Space’, Sight-impairment and City Planning

  1. tggzzz says:

    After experiencing shared spaces, pedestrians are afraid of them (91% of women are anxious), blind people are excluded, and eventually some key festures are removed because of real-world problems.
    Don’t believe me, for the real-life practical experience in Ashford, Gloucester and Portishead, see http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/17937/ and http://www.gloucestercitizen.co.uk/Gloucester-City-Council-criticises-shared-space/story-23005273-detail/story.html and http://www.northsomersetmercury.co.uk/Peak-time-traffic-lights-return-Cabstand-resort/story-26266061-detail/story.html
    And have a look in the background at 3:50 http://vimeo.com/118137432

  2. AC says:

    Thank you for your input. To learn what the outcome was for the Visually Impaired and Disabled of Kirkintilloch , this link explains the partial fudge following a protest by 400 hundred people outside the Council Offices as the vote was being taken. The plan was voted through with amendments, but more consultation and improvements will be made. It would be helpful I suppose, to these campaign groups if these links and studies were made available to those who make the decisions.

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