Foot paths and Shared Spaces
Public spaces that are inaccessible cannot accurately be described as ‘public’. More and more obstacles are appearing on our shared spaces and public footpaths, without any warning or consultation with people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision.
Increasingly, riders of e-scooters, bicycles and other micro-mobility devices use footpaths and compete for limited space with pedestrians. Discarded scooters are being left in shared spaces and footpaths. Street furniture is incorrectly placed on or near footpaths. Councils are also installing coloured artwork on shared spaces and footpaths. Together, these new obstacles make it very difficult for people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision to independently and safely navigate around these additional hazards. It’s not fair that pedestrians with vision loss are forced to avoid shared spaces and footpaths due to concern about their personal health and safety.
New Zealand’s 77 local, regional and unitary councils do not consistently apply the guidance from Waka Kotahi – The New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) when designing shared spaces and footpaths.
The RNZFB Board believes that:
- Pedestrians who are blind, deafblind or have low vision must have safe access to shared spaces.
- The guideline for shared space design should always be followed when planning these spaces.
- Signage around shared spaces should clearly indicate correct behaviour for motorists and pedestrians.
The World Blind Union defines a 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” (Local Transport Note 1/11 October 2011, Department for Transport, London).
The World Blind Union adds that:
“A Shared Space can also be described as a low speed residential or retail street where the usual kerb that distinguishes the footpath as pedestrian priority space and the roadway as traffic priority space is removed. The ambiguity of a common level and surfacing material leads to caution and lower speeds by vehicles. While this is generally beneficial to most road users, it creates difficulties for pedestrians who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted as the usual orientation cues are often absent and it is difficult for them to sense the subtle cues on the location of the continuous accessible path of travel (CAPT).
Waka Kotahi uses the following definitions in the Pedestrian Planning Guide.
Shared zone: “A residential street that has been designed to slow traffic and signed to give priority to pedestrians. The shared zone sign means that traffic is required to give way to pedestrians but pedestrians must not unreasonably impede traffic.”
Segregated shared-use path: A route shared by pedestrians and cyclists where both groups use separate, designated areas of the path.
Unsegregated shared-use path: A path shared by pedestrians and cyclists where both groups share the same space.
Footpath: The part of road or other public place built and laid out for pedestrian use.
The CAPT defines the area where the pedestrian route is safe and convenient for everyone, especially people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision and or with impaired mobility. It has even surfaces, gentle slopes and is free of permanent and temporary obstacles at all times. The minimum CAPT width must be 1.8 metres but wider is beneficial on busy footpaths.
Obstacles such as advertising and regulatory signs, seating, rubbish bins, utility poles, post boxes and bus shelters should be kept clear of the CAPT at all times. Advertising signs on the footpath should be avoided if possible. Where advertising is permitted, signs should be located away from the CAPT, i.e., on the kerb edge, and always placed consistently in the same location.
In 2020, 18% of the people that we served were aged between 65 and 79 years, and 46% were aged 80 years or over. This is a significant proportion of the people we serve who are impacted by inaccessible shared spaces and footpaths. The four leading eye conditions that lead to vision loss in New Zealand are age-related. Older and ageing pedestrians with vision impairment are particularly at risk.
We fully support the use of transport devices as active modes of transport. They help people get where they need to quickly and easily. However, for the safety of people with vision loss, they should not be used on footpaths or in shared spaces. This solution can work for all parties.
Shared spaces must be prioritised as safe and accessible for all pedestrians, especially pedestrians with vision loss.
Rules that require users to simply exercise courteous behaviour offer no protection or reassurance to our clients. We believe pedestrians cannot depend on other people’s good behaviour when using shared spaces and footpaths.
Pedestrians who are blind, deafblind or have low vision need to be able to identify when they enter a pathway that is designated as a shared path. Written signage and painted markings alone should not be relied on.
We recommend installing detectable physical barriers between cyclists and pedestrians rather than making paths shared.
We support the World Blind Union (WBU) Position Statement on Electric Scooters (E-scooters) which states that “A motorized E-scooter is powered by an electric motor. It is any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, and a floorboard that is designed for someone to stand on when riding.”
E-Scooters are an example of a micro-mobility device. The WBU Position Statement goes on to state that “E-Scooters are an example of new technology that expands “personal” transport options. They provide a relatively cheap mode of transport that is more accessible than walking or cycling for some people and can go where buses don’t.”
Other examples of micro-mobility devices include but aren’t limited to skateboards and electric bikes. To ensure pedestrian safety, these devices should not be permitted under any circumstances to be used on footpaths.
We support rules that ensure micro-mobility devices, like e-scooters or skateboards, move off the footpath where they’re less likely to come into conflict with pedestrians.
We support the installation of segregated cycle paths. Segregated cycle paths physically separate fast moving micro-mobility devices and pedestrians which prevents pedestrians from unknowingly veering into the cycle lanes. Signage or road markings are insufficient to enable people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision to identify changes in space designation.
What Blind Low Vision NZ will do:
- Continue to campaign for the introduction of accessibility legislation to set the framework to develop consistent New Zealand standards across all domains of life. This includes the built environment domain, which covers shared spaces and footpaths. This will ensure consistent rules across the country.
- Promote safe and accessible shared spaces and footpaths as a member of the Living Streets Aotearoa Coalition.
- Continue to seek feedback from people who are blind, deafblind and who have low vision on their experiences of navigating shared spaces and footpaths, to ensure safe and accessible travel.
- Review the experiences in Europe, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada on accessible design of shared spaces and footpaths.
- Work proactively with Government from the concept and design stage, to ensure shared spaces and footpaths, are accessible, and reduce public money being wasted and creating new barriers for people with vision loss.
- Continue to collaborate with central and local government authorities to put safety of pedestrians who are blind, deafblind or have low vision first. This includes advising road engineers, transport planners, environmental planners, local authorities, building developers and property owners of the importance of accounting for the needs of people with vision loss.
What Blind Low Vision NZ wants Government, Political Parties and Candidates to do:
- Campaign for Government to enact comprehensive accessibility legislation. The legislation must include a mandatory and enforceable built environment standard. We want RTS 14, and other currently non-enforceable best practice to be included in a national accessible built environment standard. This standard will ensure nationally consistent accessible shared spaces and footpaths.
- Advocate for blind, deafblind and low vision pedestrians to be involved at the design stage of shared space schemes.
- Monitor shared spaces and footpaths to determine both vehicle speeds and driver behaviours, and prioritise the safety and ease of use for pedestrians.