Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People (WTC 42)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  The Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People (JCMBPS) welcomes the opportunity to submit memoranda to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on Walking in Towns and Cities.

  1.2  The Joint Committee is an independent body consisting of representatives of all the principle organisations of and for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people with a specific interest in mobility. The JCMBPS believes that blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people should be able to move around safely and independently.

  1.3  A comprehensive survey on blind and partially sighted people in 1991 entitled "Blind and partially sighted adults in Britain; the RNIB survey" revealed that there were one million blind and partially sighted adults in the United Kingdom as a whole. A further 750,000 would have difficulty even with the aid of glasses, in recognising a friend across the street. Additionally, many blind people also have other disabilities.

  1.4  Figures from the 1999 DSS Research report No. 94 "Disability in Great Britain" indicate there are now an estimated 1.97 million people with a significant sight loss.

2.  JCMBPS MEMORANDA TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ON WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

  2.1  The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars.

  For blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people a safe and accessible pedestrian environment is fundamental to independent mobility.

  Walking provides independent mobility in its own right and enables access to other forms of travel, such as taxis and buses.

  Walking sometimes makes up an entire travel chain. Even more significantly, most people access public transport by walking. In effect walking is the glue that ties together all journeys, whatever the mode. It accounts for a third of all journeys and for some blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people it is their only form of independent mobility.

  If blind and partially sighted people are to have a active role in and benefit from the Urban Renaissance, then any endeavour to improve walking in towns and cities must ensure that walking is safe, accessible and moreover enjoyable for all.

  RNIB's research "Lost Vision—Older Visually Impaired People in the UK" found that 59 per cent of respondents in the study never go out alone due to difficulties with moving about the pedestrian environment and in accessing public transport, and frequently consider themselves to be isolated and excluded as a consequence.

  Enabling more blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people to enjoy walking would improve their health, reducing isolation and so depression, facilitating cardio-vascular exercise, and providing easier access to facilities such as shops and other amenities.

  The most frequent form of transport used by older blind and partially sighted people is a car belonging to a relative or friend. This is a consequence of the problems they experience moving around the pedestrian environment and in using public transport. Walking strategies which take account of the needs of blind, partially sighed and deaf-blind people will contribute to a reduction in car dependency.

  2.2  The reasons for the decline in walking and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made by foot.

  Independent mobility of blind and partially sighted people is more restricted than that of the general population.

  RNIB research "Rights of Way" identified key concerns of blind and partially sighted people in the street environment, these included;

    —  A lack of mobility training—Research by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association states that 88 per cent of those who had saying it gave them the skills and confidence to be more independent in moving about the environment.

    —  Obstacles and obstructions—There are a wide range of obstacles and obstructions facing blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people every time they undertake a journey, including fixed items like street furniture and changing items like parked cars or overhanging vegetation.

    —  Maintenance—Ten times as many people go to hospital due to pavement falls than as a result of road accidents. Cars parked on pavements cause long-term structural damage to the footway, leaving cracked and uneven surfaces.

    —  Parked cars—More than three quarters of blind and partially sighted people see parked cars as a problem where they live. Pavement parking in particular is a problem, often making it impossible to get past on the pavement. Parking by junctions also makes it more difficult for pedestrians to cross road safely and independently.

    —  Cyclists and wheeled hazards—Cycling on footpaths and footways is undoubtedly one of the greatest causes of concern to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted pedestrians. The problemsl with cyclists is that their silent presence is unnerving and potentially dangerous, the perception of the danger caused can reduce the confidence to go out independently.

    —  Crossing the road—Many sighted people feel they are taking their lives into their own hands when they cross roads. The increasing volume of traffic and high speed of vehicles is a serious problem for all pedestrians, and one that increases significantly for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people.

    —  Road crossings—Even where there are road crossings using them may involve a significant detour and for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people the facilities they provide may make them inaccessible, for example by lacking any audible signal or rotating cone. TOUCAN crossings are potentially very dangerous for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people.

  The Transport Research Laboratory research "Accidents Involving Visually Impaired People Using Public Transport or Walking" suggests that visually impaired people have more accidents when using public transport or walking than sighted people. Accidents, injurious or otherwise, encountered whilst walking included those with overhanging objects such as trees, badly maintained footways and objects on the footway. A previous experiences of accidents and the preception of risk whilst walking can severely undermine the confidence of blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind people and so their independent mobility and opportunities to walk.

  2.3  What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking and public transport and improved safety and security for pedestrians.

  Blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind people face innumerable difficulties with walking. Changes to the way the walking environment is designed and managed, combined with increased individual support to enable people to walk are required if blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people are to benefit from the Government's walking strategies.

To make walking easier for blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind people:

  At the strategic level, policies to retain and provide local facilities for day to day activities should be promoted to make walking a more realistic option. This would have particular benefits for many older and disabled people.

  Enabling people to access facilities in their own localities through land use policies will contribute to overall sustainability objectives. For blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people it will help ensure independent access to facilities like banking, primary health care, local shopping and public transport services.

  Site planning is as important as overally location planning. It is important that any pedestrian route continues to be accessible even within the curtilage of the site itself. The location of buildings within sites can influence the overall distance people walk to reach services located within them. Careful design can minimise the distance needed to walk, the number of potential conflicts with other travel modes and improve linkages with public transport services. There may also be opportunities to provide pedestrian routes across and around existing sites that offer shorter trips overall, making walking easier.

  Strategic pedestrian routes would enable comprehensive planning to ensure accessibility throughout the walking environment, enabling blind, deaf-blind, partially sighted and other disabled people to move without due restricton from, for example, a bus station to shopping areas. Within such areas, such as in precincts, tactile features to enable safe mobility and orientation, the careful positioning of furniture to remove unnecessary hazards, the exclusion of vehicles and cyclists and set down points to enable people to rest would encourage walking by blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people.

  Transport planning decisions must take account of the needs of pedestrians, including blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people. Too often traffic schemes include measures which make it difficult for people to cross roads safely in their local areas, for example with roundabouts, filter lanes or bus priority junctions. Traffic calming measures and the enforcement of speed restrictions are crucial to encouraging more walking.

ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING OBSTACLES IN THE PEDESTRIAN ENVIRONMENT

  Some of the hazards facing blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people are created by the actions of others and are a product of the way the pedestrian environment is abused, rather than its design. Problems are frequently experienced with A-boards, street cafes, parking restrictions and cycling on the footway. To make walking easier, law and regulation governing such issues and in pace to ensure that pedestrians do not encounter such obstacles must be enforced.

REMOVING BARRIERS TO AN ACCESSIBLE PEDESTRIAN ENVIRONMENT

  For blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people even the smallest barrier in a route can make the whole journey impossible. There is a need for a greater understanding of the access issues affecting blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people and the solutions that make independent mobility possible.

  Various references are available detailing access standards to meet the needs of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people. JMU Access Partnership, a service provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Guide Dogs for the Blind Association publish ``Streets & External Environments'' specifically addressing the needs of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people.

  Increasing use of shared facilities and the increasingly illegal use of footways by cyclists is one of the greatest concerns of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted pedestrians, limiting independent mobility.

  In encouraging walking, and cycling, there needs to be a recognition of both users' needs. It is clear that the best facilities for cyclists are to make it safer and easier to remain on the carriageway, protecting pedestrian routes for walkers, who may have no other independent travel choice. The Government should make it easier to reallocate road space to allow this to happen, and local authorities should be required to demonstrate why carriageway solutions are not possible if there is any loss of pedestrian amenity.

  Where there are segregated routes for cyclists and pedestrians, pedestrians should have priority where routes cross.

  Controlled crossings with rotating cones and audible signals are an absolute necessity for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people.

EQUIPPING BLIND, DEAF-BLIND AND PARTIALLY SIGHTED PEOPLE WITH THE SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE TO USE THE PEDESTRIAN ENVIRONMENT SAFELY AND INDEPENDENTLY

  Mobility training and providing the skills and confidence to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people should be a key component of any strategies to promote walking.

  Additionally, the Committee may wish to consider how support could be provided to those individuals who otherwise will not go out alone, in the form of volunteer ``walking partners''.

MANAGEMENT

  It is not only the physical environment which affects accessibility but also how that space is used and managed. Policies on enforcement were mentioned above. Additionally, issues like maintenance, street cleaning and waste collection and location policies can all affect accessibility.

  It is important to have effective reporting of day-to-day problems and issues which affect accessibility. Issues like how to report defective streetlights or pavement obstruction should be clear, accessible and explained to all users of the pedestrian environment. Some local authorities have established telephone hotlines to report defects and problems and town centre management approaches show what can be achieved.

PROMOTION AND MARKETING

  It is also important to promote any improvements which have been made to the walking environment. New journeys may become possible now accessibility improvements have taken place or from the greater priority given to walking issues. Promotional material on walking should include accessibility issues. It should also be accessible itself, available in a variety of media.

2.3  Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG 13 and the Government Paper, Encouraging Walking, are adequate

  JCMBPS feel that current provision with regard to walking in towns and cities, and in particular those which enable blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people to enjoy walking are inadequate and would encourage the following:

    (a)  The work of the three working party's which culminated in the Government's paper ``Encouraging Walking'' is revisited, and positive outcomes of that work which were not included in the final document are reviewed.

    (b)  More research should be undertaken to establish the benefits of improving opportunities for walking across all aspects of life, including economic and quality of life benefits such as a reduction in pedestrian road accidents, reducing falls among older people, reducing crime and the fear of crime, and in assisting the Government to achieve its objectives with regard to general health.

    (c)  The Government should do more to promote the role of the pedestrian environment within the context of local transport strategies.

    (d)  DETR should bring forward for early publication its guidance concerning infrastructure.

    (e)  Mobility training, to enable blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people to move about the pedestrian environment should be more widely available and requires additional funding.

    (f)  Law and regulation governing the pedestrian environment, such as parking on the pavement, obstructions and cycling on the pavement must be enforced by the relevant authorities.

2.4  What can be learnt from good practice both in England and elsewhere

  A range of good practice guidance exists concerning a more accessible pedestrian environment for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people. JMU Access Partnership publish a technical bulleting ``Streets and External Environments'' detailing best practice. The Institute of Highways and Transport publication ``Reducing Mobility Handicaps—towards a barrier free environment'' recommends how thepedestrian environment can be made more inclusive. DETR's own guidance on the use of tactile paving should be implemented by all those responsible for the street environment.

2.5  Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  Research undertaken by Oscar Faber Consultants on behalf of the DETR Walking and Cycling Forum found that those professionals assigned with the task of designing the pedestrian environment felt that they had an insufficient understanding of the user needs, and would welcome more training on the issues involved, including access issues.

2.6  In particular, whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government budget and the re-allocation of road space

  Greater priority should be given to measures to improve walking. In particular, more road space should be allocated to cyclists, so reducing any need for share facilities between cyclists and pedestrians on footways and also encroachment by cyclists onto pedestrian facilities.

  A greater share of the Government's budget should be allocated to ensuring that walking can be enjoyed by all sections of the community, without fear of experiencing environmental barriers or hazards.

  Measures to enable individuals to enjoy walking, including mobility training for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people should also be given greater priority and funding.

  The Government should be more resolute about reinforcing car dependency by targeting the issue more directly, encouraging people firstly to stop using their cars as opposed to indirectly encouraging them to walk.

2.7  Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

  In any national targets, JCMBPS would advocate specific targets focusing on accessibility being considered as a sub-set of wider targets.

  For example a target considering improvements in public satisfaction with the condition of the pedestrian environment, as measured by opinion polls, should ensure the opinions of disabled people can be highlighted separately, as could single measures of how many more disabled people are choosing to make journeys using the pedestrian environment.

REFERENCES

  Blind, and Partially Sighted Adults in Britain: the RNIB survey, Burce, I et al, London HMSO 1991.

  Disability in Great Britain, Department of Social Security, London HMSO 1999.

  Lost Vision—Older Visually Impaired People in the UK, Baker M & Winyard, S, London RNIB 1998.

  Rights of Way—Transport and mobility for visually impaired people in the UK, Baker M & Winyard, S, London RNIB 1999.

  ``Accidents Involving Visually Impaired People Using Public Transport or Walking''; Gallon, C et al; Transport Research Laboratory; 1995.

  Streets and External Environments—Technical Bulleting; JMU Access partnership; 1997.

January 2001


 
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