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New report calls for a moratorium on shared space schemes

A new report by the equality and inclusion campaigner, Lord Chris Holmes, has found that 63% of people surveyed classified their experience of using a shared space as ‘poor’. This rose to 70% among disabled people. The report, ‘Accidents by Design’, also found that One-third (35%) of participants reported that they deliberately avoided using shared space schemes, suggesting that many disabled and older people feel physically excluded from using public shared space schemes.

What is a shared space?

Shared space refers to a street design that integrates vehicles and pedestrians together, by removing crossings, kerbs and traffic signs. Disability campaigners have long warned about the potentially harmful impacts of shared street schemes for disabled and older pedestrians. Indeed, Guidedogs initiated legal action in 2009 against Kensington and Chelsea Council over their Exhibition Road Shared Space scheme, although they later suspended this when the council agreed to consult.

The lack of delineation between pavement and road presents clear risks to blind and visually impaired people.

Disabled pedestrian’s experiences of shared spaces

The Holmes report highlights the significant practical difficulties faced by disabled pedestrians using shared space schemes. The visibility of crossings was a key problem experienced in particular by blind and visually impaired people. Several users commented that travelling cars would often not slow down near crossings and prevent pedestrians from crossing roads. One asserted that shared spaces are:

“…lethally dangerous. In poor light or glare or shadow, drivers cannot see pedestrians. Disabled people and those with poor sight or mobility cannot protect themselves.”

One blind pedestrian stated that:

“…for people with no sight like myself they are a death trap. I cannot express how terrible they are and how they make me feel so angry; to think all the people responsible for them expect us to use it when we cannot see.”

Moreover, some disabled and older people felt that they were not given sufficient time to cross roads safely whilst using shared space schemes. Many participants felt frightened and intimidated, revealing that they had to run across roads due to the fast pace of traffic in most shared spaces. Various respondents conveyed that the removal of road signs and markings in shared spaces lead to a sense of confusion amongst both motorists and pedestrians. One older pedestrian remarked that:

“People do not know it is a shared place as there are no signs to say it’s shared. Cars still go at a speed. I am older and need more time to cross.”

Lord Holme’s report also identified that the removal of road crossings in many shared space schemes negatively impacted wheelchair users. Respondents who used wheelchairs stated that it was virtually impossible to locate a safe crossing point on roads with shared space.

A further striking finding of the report finds that delineation in shared space schemes has presented challenging obstacles to disabled and older pedestrians. The removal of kerbs means that blind and visually impaired pedestrians frequently cannot navigate their way through shared spaces. One blind pedestrian in Lord Holmes’ report affirmed that:

“I am blind. Not knowing the difference between the place where I’m safe and the bit where I can be killed is scary!”

Participants in the Holmes report also criticised the materials used to construct shared space schemes. For example, some visually impaired pedestrians commented that they could not distinguish between pavements, kerbs and roads in some shared spaces as they all were the same colour and were built from identical materials.

Lord holmes in a shared space

Lord Holmes’ key recommendations

We support Lord Holmes’ calls for an immediate moratorium on shared space schemes in the UK. He argues that impact assessments should be undertaken to fully assess the impacts of shared spaces on disabled and older people. Lord Holmes states that there must be a “better understanding of the consequences of people literally designed out of these spaces.”

He also recommends that the Department for Transport should update their guidance in order for local authorities to fully comply with the Equalities Act.

Accidents by Design: The Holmes Report on “shared space” in the United Kingdom – Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (July 2015)