Blind fears over new road layout

Blindspot: Carl Ibison has criticised the new road layout on Fishergate
Blindspot: Carl Ibison has criticised the new road layout on Fishergate
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A city centre road revamp has been branded a “death trap” for the blind and visually impaired.

Pedestrians with guide dogs say they are dicing with death in the new “shared space” layout in Fishergate.

Traffic lights have been removed, pavements made wider and a new road surface put down as part of a multi-million pound re-furbishment project.

But blind people say without traditional kerbs and pedestrian crossings they have no way of knowing where or when they can cross.

Carl Ibison, who has spent the past 27 years walking the route from Preston’s railway station to the city’s university with a succession of guide dogs, says he no longer feels safe.

“I have tried crossing every morning and evening and it’s quite horrifying,” said the UCLan recruitment officer. “I have always told the blind and visually impaired that Preston was a very safe place to be. It was safe. But now anyone coming to or from the train station won’t stand a chance.”

The £3.4m “shared space” project, intended to make Preston’s main shopping street more attractive and accessible, has already been condemned by a city councillor as dangerous even before the work is complete.

Coun Christine Abram claimed she was left “dicing with death” trying to cross Fishergate with a pushchair because, without traffic lights, there were no natural breaks in traffic flow. “There is going to be a serious accident there before long - it doesn’t work,” she said.

Guide Dogs for the Blind recently did a blindfold walk for County Hall members with a guide dog. Emma Allen-Taylor, the charity’s engagement officer, said: “Shared space environments like Fishergate can pose real difficulties for blind and partially sighted people. The absence of controlled crossing points can make crossing the road very dangerous. In some cases blind and partially sighted people will stop using shared space environments as they do not feel safe to negotiate these independently.”

Phil Barrett, director of Lancashire Highway Services, said: “It is really important to us that this scheme to improve Fishergate creates an attractive space that works for all of its users.

“We have consulted with a wide range of groups representing people with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments, and made significant changes to the scheme as a result of what they told us.”

Carl Ibison added: “The main issues are that for blind people, and those with mobility issues, the area around the train station used to have clearly elevated crossings so when you were standing there dogs knew where the kerb was, so knew to stop and there was an audible crossing to let you know when it was safe to cross.

“That has gone and we now have shared space and drivers are supposed to stop.”