Why did the blind man cross the road?

Lord Holmes and Lottie at side of Exhibition Road as taxi passes

I have been campaigning for some time against a street design approach known as “shared space” which has, de facto, led to the creation of unsafe environments which discriminate against blind people and negatively impact the vast majority of users.

The Department for Transport defines shared space as:

A street or place designed to improve pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles and enabling all users to share the space rather than follow the clearly defined rules implied by more conventional designs.”

The key part here is a desire for “all users to share the space” so “traffic signals are often removed, with indications of priority at minor junctions omitted… conventional kerbs are omitted and pedestrians share an undifferentiated surface with vehicles.”

On Wednesday I gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee whose inquiry into disability and the built environment has asked “to what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved?”

Throughout the course of my campaign, increasing numbers of professionals have responded by asserting that shared space is no longer a useful term. Indeed, the man who claims responsibility for introducing the term in 2003, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who also gave evidence, claimed that “the term has stuck in ways it was never meant to.” Discomfort over the term has even extended to one local authority currently introducing a scheme in Bodmin, where the council website now statestechnically we are not delivering a true shared space scheme.”

Whilst, like any campaigner, I am pleased to have arrived at an area of consensus, and I can certainly agree that “shared space” is a complicated, confusing and contested term I would also have to insist that as long as the government continues to use the term in official guidance the confusion will continue.

A further area of agreement that all sides have arrived at is the need for much better data. It seems very hard to find evidence that satisfactorily answers questions about the accessibility of these schemes as it is so rarely included as an objective, or indeed consideration, of a design plan.

Clearly, arguing about a definition of shared space is far less useful than taking a closer look at design components and what impact those features have. I am in no way opposed to: innovation and change, a more attractive public realm, or town centre regeneration but it is absolutely essential to look at how this is achieved.

If inclusive design is not the bedrock from the outset, schemes will inevitably fail, exclude, cause confusion, chaos and significant potential cost to councils facing legal challenges and further works. Pedestrian crossings are a key area. Of the 14 local authorities enacting U-Turns on their so called shared space schemes, 11 have reintroduced crossings.

The DfT have suggested that a review of shared space currently underway by the Chartered Institute of Highway Transportation will reconcile many of these concerns although CIHT stated yesterday at the evidence session that although their review will make recommendations it will NOT be sufficient to update guidance and that that would require further input from the government.

Real change will only be achieved when local authorities put inclusive design at the heart of any work in the public realm and this means asking at the outset “how does a blind person cross the road”?

 

Chris gives evidence to Commons Select Committee

Lord Holmes giving evidence on shared space at the Women and Equalities Select Committee

On Wednesday 7th December from 10.30am Chris gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. This was a public session in The Thatcher Room, Portculllis House, it was live streamed and is still available to watch on Parliament Live. As part of their current Inquiry into Disability and the Built Environment the Committee has asked: “to what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved? A major advocate of shared space in the UK, Ben Hamilton Baillie also gave evidence.

Surveyor Transport Network were in the audience and reported on the Chartered Institution of Highway Engineers (CIHT) announcement that they believed there was still much to be done by government to improve the situation.

 

Chris appointed to Channel 4 Board

Chris is delighted to be appointed as non-executive director at Channel 4. During his time as Director at London 2012 he worked closely with Channel 4 on the paralympic broadcast deal and memorably on the award winning “Meet the Superhumans” Campaign. He has spoken powerfully about the importance of that campaign in delivering one of the most enduring legacies of the London Paralympics in raising awareness, connecting with people and ultimately changing attitudes to people with disabilities.

Chris said “I feel passionately about the power of Channel 4s public service remit which encompasses a commitment to being innovative and distinctive, reflecting cultural diversity, championing alternative points of view and inspiring change in people’s lives and am honoured to play a part in such an important and beloved cultural institution.”

An end to unpaid internships?

Chris welcomes reports that the government are looking at ways to end the unfair system of unpaid internships. Internships are often offered to recent graduates as a way of gaining valuable work experience but clearly exclude those unable to work for free. Alec Shelbrooke MP has campaigned on this issue and is set to introduce his second Private Members Bill aiming to ban the practice  by introducing an explicit four week limit to unpaid work experience.  Chris introduced the same Private Members Bill to the House of Lords in June 2016.

The Economist, Unpaid Internships are coming under fire in Britain.

The Mail Online, Theresa May is set to ban internships in latest Cameron snub.

Parliamentary inquiry to look at shared space

TV camera and reporter interviewing Chris in Sloane Square

Chris welcomes the Women and Equalities Committee’s decision to conduct an inquiry into disability and the built environment. The inquiry will ask whether more could be done to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of both new and existing properties and spaces. In particular they ask whether shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved.  Chris did some filming with BBC Breakfast in Sloane Square and they also sent cameras to Poynton to draw attention to the inquiry. You can see Chris’s evidence here and follow the inquiry through the committee’s website.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

Design and management of the public realm

  • Are the needs of all groups given adequate consideration in the design of streets, highways, parks and publicly accessible open spaces and in the provision of services such as public toilets?
  • To what extent do shared space schemes in roads and highways cause barriers for disabled people and how can these be resolved?
  • What opportunities are there for delivering greater accessibility and inclusivity alongside more age-friendly towns and cities, including liaison with the NHS?

Media response:

The Times, “Shared spaces for drivers and pedestrians ‘are causing chaos'”, October 24th 2016.

Evening Standard, “Roads shared by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers ’cause chaos’, government report finds”, October 24th 2016.

Talking Buses come to Manchester!

Chris and Councillor Andrew Fender

Chris joined transport bosses in Manchester to formally launch new equipment on the city’s free Metroshuttle service. Chris was delighted to support the launch observing  that the improvements are a fantastic way of ensuring the city’s transport network is more accessible.

The Department for Transport’s Green Bus Fund and Transport for Greater Manchester funded the 20 Optare low carbon buses that operate on the Manchester Metroshuttle routes. Transport for Greater Manchester paid for them to be retrofitted with brand new passenger information screens, making travel easier for passengers with visual or hearing impairments.

The 19-inch high-resolution screens provide automatic audio and visual announcements for passengers on aspects of the journey such as the route plan and the next stop, as well as places of interest and nearby businesses. The technology was fitted by contractors McKenna Brothers working with the charity Guide Dogs UK.

Chris was given a guided trip on one of the buses to experience the new technology for himself and he was delighted to congratulate Transport for Greater Manchester for the initiative which will mean people living with visual or hearing impairments can feel more confident in travelling independently. Chris has spoken in Parliament on the importance of talking buses during debates on the Bus Services Bill.

 

 

Rio Paralympics 2016

Chris was very much in demand in Rio, delivering presentations for corporate sponsors, BP and Visa and hosting the IPC Inclusion Summit with Helene Raynesford.

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