Edinburgh's Leith Walk: New streetscape layout raises safety concerns for blind and visually impaired people
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A Leith resident who is visually impaired is urging the council to make changes to the new design of Leith Walk. Alan Dudley, who has been blind since birth, has encountered difficulties navigating new design elements on the two-kilometre street, citing sections of the cycle track and new continuous footways as particularly hazardous.
Mr Dudley said continuous footways – pavements that remain unchanged in their design as they extend across side streets (without a level drop or kerbs) – present a danger to visually impaired individuals as there is no tactile paving installed to warn them they are approaching a crossing.
The Leith resident of 20 years, who is very familiar with the street, said he now fears he could walk into oncoming traffic whilst carrying out his daily routine and the absence of kerbs and tactile paving mean he can no longer ask for assistance.
Mr Dudley said: “I wouldn’t want to attempt to cross here on my own because of vehicles turning onto the crossing. But if you can’t see at all, you need to have some indication where you can stand and wait for assistance if you’re not sure when you can cross. But I can’t do that because I don’t actually know where it is. I would prefer that the council put tactile paving on the edge where the road starts.”
The 73-year-old said: “I realise that the highway code has changed so motorists have to give way to pedestrians and whilst I accept that many motorists will do that, mistakes will occur and I would rather not take the risk.”
In addition to safety concerns, Mr Dudley explained that tactile paving also indicates where he is in Leith Walk and the absence of the textured slabs mean it is now difficult to pinpoint his location.
He added that sections on the cycle track where there is a small kerb separating the track from the pavement also poses issues as it acts as both a trip hazard and is difficult to detect with a cane. He said he doesn’t always walk in a straight line and could very easily enter the cycle path without knowing.
Mr Dudley’s concerns are shared by the Edinburgh Access Panel and the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) who are calling for a raised uplift on the cycle track and introduction of tactile paving at continuous footways.
Robin Wickes, chairman of the Edinburgh Access Panel, said: “The whole point of continuous footways is that there’s no kerb – it’s a continuous, seamless footway with no tactile paving. So how on earth is a blind person to know when to turn left onto Dalmeny Street for example? Simply, they can’t.”
Mr Wickes said the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance state ‘there is a presumption in favour of tactiles at continuous footways’ however they also ‘list some exclusions.’ He said: “Basically, unless it’s a really busy junction they use a continuous footway rather than traffic lights – but they don’t put tactiles down - so we’re pushing really hard for tactiles to be installed – certainly at the larger junctions.”
He added: “Our position is that the onus is on the council to make sure the streetscape that they design is safe and easy to understand. If it isn’t then we are going to have problems.”
Eileen Clarkson, spokesperson for the RNIB said they are raising the issue with ward councillors. She said: “We want people to be able to go about their day to day business in an environment where they feel confident and that means that there should be tactile paving so that they can use the physical cues that are there to let them know they are coming to a crossing.”
Transport Convener, Councillor Scott Arthur advised a safety audit will be carried out following the completion of the project. Cllr Arthur said: “I do acknowledge genuine concerns about significant changes to Leith Walk’s layout, particularly from people who are visually impaired. The introduction of continuous footways are about prioritising pedestrians, in line with the Highway Code. Drivers are required by law to heed this and we’ve installed additional signage at key junctions like Dalmeny Street as a reminder.”