Disability groups continue to raise concerns over colourful crossings
As Cardiff joins cities across the UK which have installed colourful pedestrian crossings, concerns regarding their safety, accessibility and whether adequate consultation was undertaken are growing.
The first of two planned colourful crossings in Cardiff was unveiled last month and is the result of what is described as a public vote, administered by Chapter Arts Centre and Cardiff Council. The original call for artists was launched in September 2020, advertised through Chapter and discussed in an interview in The Cardiffian in December.
Sited on Cowbridge Road East in Canton the winning design is by artist Steffan Dafydd who submitted one of fifty entries, shortlisted to three, by artists with a connection to the area. Chapter called on members of the public to vote via email directly to the council.
When it was first installed, some local residents, who were unaware of the proposal, took to social media expressing surprise at the pedestrian crossing’s change of appearance, and concern that the change would prove challenging to residents with dementia, sensory or neurological disabilities, children and guide dogs.
In response to the concerns, Chapter tweeted that “the council consulted extensively with a range of organisations to ensure that the design was appropriate”, and said the project was being managed by Cardiff Council and that they only worked with the artist on the brief.
Your #Canton road crossing has arrived!
Congratulations to artist Steffan Dafydd @penglogco whose winning design was chosen by a public vote.
You can view the artwork opposite the Co-op and Mowgli’s on Cowbridge Road East.
— Chapter (@chaptertweets) October 22, 2021
A freedom of information request (FOI) was submitted to Cardiff Council on October 26th asking whether charities that represent vulnerable groups – such as Access Association, Guide Dogs, Transport for All (TfA), RNIB, Scope, Alzheimer’s Society – were invited to respond to the consultation, and if they were, details of their response.
The request also asks the council to outline how it sought to engage local people with additional needs on the matter and how assessed the equality impact (EqIA) and discharged its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) on the decision-making process. The council has yet to respond.
The trend for what is termed Asphalt Art has grown recently with cities like Cardiff, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester and Bristol following the lead set by London which has embarked on an ambitious ‘city wide’ bid to install public art.
Civil engineering company THB says initially came up with the idea to start laying colourful patterned preform thermoplastic on road crossings as a local initiative to encourage children to cross at pedestrian crossings points.
The company claims it makes the crossings upto 50% safer by attracting children and being easier to see for people with visual impairment. However these claims are disputed by disability groups.
Transport for All and a coalition of groups representing people with disabilities sent an open letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan regarding the crossings, many of which have been rapidly implemented since the pandemic, with the concerns echoed by some disability groups in Wales.
The letter points out, among other things, that the crossings can be dangerous for blind and visually impaired people and their guide dogs, as can be seen in this video in which a guide dog gets confused by the pattern and leads her owner towards a bus lane.
Additionally, the letter says that people with dementia, learning disabilities and autism may not recognise the crossings, and may experience “visual noise” which can be painful and cause them to avoid the crossings as a result, leading to exclusion from their normal activities.
It says: “Crossing the road safely is an essential part of negotiating our built environment and accessing our local community. The provision of safe crossing points affects everyone’s ability and desire to use their local streets, and this is especially crucial in enabling disabled people to make journeys as a pedestrian.
“We have significant concerns about the scope and scale of meaningful engagement that has been undertaken with disabled people, and the extent to which this engagement has impacted on the design and implementation of the schemes.
“The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is clear that any potential impacts on groups must be considered at an early stage of the formation of a new scheme and to inform whether or not it goes ahead, rather than being added on at the end of the process.”
As a result of the letter Mr Khan announced that he had put a temporary pause to his London initiative to install 11 crossings on Tottenham Court Road, saying “I am concerned to read about the issues highlighted in your letter and the negative impact that these types of crossing can have on disabled people.”
RMP, a risk management company which works with local authorities and public services, details the ways in which variations from the regular crossing designs, which are part of the Highway Code and subject to the Pedestrian Crossings Regulations and General Directions 199, will increase risk to both motorists and pedestrians.
“Local Authorities need to consider the legal, financial and reputational implications of installing road crossings which may directly contravene relevant highway regulations, and which may also, in some eyes, be considered to increase the risks to pedestrian and motorist safety which is already significant at these crossings.”