Fears over extension of Fishergate shared space scheme to other Preston streets

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A charity which helps people with sight loss has criticised a proposal to extend Preston’s “shared space” scheme to other parts of the city centre.

A charity which helps people with sight loss has criticised a proposal to extend Preston’s “shared space” scheme to other parts of the city centre.

Fishergate had a facelift in 2014 - but should other Preston streets head in the same direction?

Fishergate had a facelift in 2014 - but should other Preston streets head in the same direction?

Penwortham-based Galloway’s said it is “hugely disappointed” by a suggestion that the street design introduced on Fishergate in 2014 should be replicated on other roads in the area.

As the Post revealed earlier this month, a 20-year vision to overhaul transport in Preston proposed similar schemes for up to a dozen city centre streets. The shared space concept involves reducing or even eliminating the height difference between the kerbside and carriageway.

Although the City Deal-commissioned report has not been adopted as official policy by highways bosses at Lancashire County Council, Galloway’s chief executive Stuart Clayton says that he was alarmed by its contents. He called instead for the incorporation of controlled crossing points into the existing Fishergate layout.

“I’m dismayed that Preston could further embrace a scheme which alienates a part of the population – especially in an era of supposed inclusion,” Stuart explained.

Lancaster Road is one of the streets recommended for a revamp

Lancaster Road is one of the streets recommended for a revamp

“Shared space relies upon pedestrians making eye contact with drivers as they navigate their way through the streets – how can you do that if you can’t see? It makes it a very dangerous and frightening place.

“Guide dogs are trained to stop at the kerb, but if there isn’t one, they’ll just keep walking into the road. And people using a cane rely on being able to sweep it across their body and sense the drop into the gutter so that they know where they are – but that, too, becomes very difficult or impossible.”

Stuart added that he has witnessed fully-sighted people trip over the shallow kerbs in the rain, because they are a similar colour to the gutter and so “melt into one during wet weather”. On Fishergate, the kerb is 40mm above the carriageway, having been increased by 10mm during the design of the scheme in response to concerns.

In the Preston City Transport Plan (PCTP), it is suggested that the Fishergate version of shared space, known as an “informal street” – where there is a minimal drop from the pavement into the road – could be introduced on Lancaster Road, Lune Street, Church Street, Manchester Road and Moor Lane.

Sarah Gayton is the National Federation for the Blind's expert on shared space

Sarah Gayton is the National Federation for the Blind's expert on shared space

It also proposes the introduction of “pedestrian priority” streets – where the distinction between the road and pavement is completely removed – on Avenham Street, Cross Street, Glover’s Court and Guild Hall Street. That design has already been incorporated into Cannon Street.

While the PCTP’s authors, consultants Mott MacDonald, acknowledge the need to ensure such schemes are suitable for the visually-impaired and disbaled, it says that the Fishergate project has emerged as a model for other areas.

“Fishergate has been a trailblazer, said Tom Roberts, the firm’s principal transport planner.

“It’s had a few teething problems, but has ultimately been successful in achieving the regeneration which it set out to achieve.

How the new UCLan civic square will look once work at the Aldelphi roundabout is completed

How the new UCLan civic square will look once work at the Aldelphi roundabout is completed

“Introducing a European city-feel really helps to market Preston. Fishergate is now heralded as an example for other places like Manchester,” he added.

But Stuart Clayton appealed for planners to talk to organisations like Galloway’s before making any further changes.

“It’s immaterial if it only disadvantages a small section of the community – the cityscape should be inclusive for everybody,” he said.

CALL FOR UNIVERSITY U-TURN ON STREET DESIGN

Work is stepping up this week on the creation of another major shared space-style scheme in Preston which was given the green light almost two years ago.

The University of Central Lancashire's £200m masterplan development will include the creation of a civic square at the Adelphi roundabout, outside a new student centre. However, the distinction between the pavement and road surface on the square will be greater than on Fishergate - with a 60mm drop and enhanced colour differences.

Eleven informal or uncontrolled crossings will be included within the development and on approach roads. These take the form of coloured sections built into the road surface indicating where pedestrians can cross.

But the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) warns that such measures are no substitute for traffic light-controlled crossings - of which there will be three on the outer edges of the scheme, in a similar location to existing ‘toucan’ crossings on Walker Street, Moor Lane and Fylde Road.

However, the various sets of pedestrian lights which were in place on the Adelphi roundabout until works began will not return.

“Most students will pile across the road wherever they can - but what will visually-impaired students do?” asks the NFB’s shared space spokesperson Sarah Gayton.

“They will have to walk out of their way just to cross the road. That will be time-consuming and eats into the time they have to get to lectures or even just to socialise, as they should be able to do just like any other student.

“It will take them off the main track, particularly after dark, and away from other students who could help them.

“UCLan have such a good reputation for going and above what is needed to give all students equality of access - but this has the opposite effect.”

When planning permission was granted for the scheme by Preston City Council in January 2018, the inclusion of fixed crossing points was included as a condition.

A spokesperson for UCLan said: "In securing planning permission for the student centre and the new civic square, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) actively sought the views of a wide range of stakeholder groups and their contribution to shaping the University’s plans has been invaluable.

"UCLan continues to work closely alongside Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council, key stakeholders and interested parties to ensure the scheme is accessible and safe for all users, be they students, staff or members of the public.

"As a result of our stakeholders’ beneficial involvement and their specific requests, the raising of kerb heights in excess of those on Fishergate, the inclusion of sufficiently contrasting colours between kerbs and pavements, and the introduction of new controlled crossing points will be implemented by Lancashire County Council.

"The University is fully committed to implementing its vision which is to provide a welcoming, inclusive and safe environment.

"The new student centre will be a welcoming, functional, focal point for all front line student, visitor and staff enquiries. It will also be an important public asset that embraces the city scale and positively contributes to the ongoing regeneration of Preston."

SHARED SPACE SCHEMES STUCK ON AMBER - AND FISHERGATE RATING “MIXED”

The Department for Transport put the brakes on any proposed shared space schemes which completely removed the distinction between pavement and road surface back in July 2018.

Officials ordered a review of the concept, but the new guidance promised as part of that process has yet to emerge. It is thought that the pause was to ensure that all local authorities were fulfilling their duties under equality legislation.

Earlier that year, the Chartered Institute for Highways and Transport (CIHT) published an extensive report on shared space which concluded that councils need to ensure that they are creating streets which are “inclusive and accessible”.

As part of its analysis, the CIHP focused on Fishergate and found that pedestrians had given a “mixed” response to its introduction.

The report said that the new pavement widths - which were more than doubled compared to the previous layout - and reductions in street furniture like traffic lights and railings had “made it easier for all user groups, including visually-impaired people, to move along the footways”.

Accident data in the first two years of the scheme also showed that incidents had approximately halved.

However, the CIHP acknowledged that some visually-impaired people did not feel that informal crossings provided them with “sufficient certainty” and so were unwilling to walk the street unaccompanied. Almost half of all users surveyed said that they felt that the new design was “less safe”.

The research also found that there was a low “courtesy level” amongst drivers on Fishergate itself, with motorists reluctant to give priority to pedestrians. However, that reluctance decreased markedly on approach roads at their junctions with Fishergate, where drivers were found to be more willing to wait.

Delays for pedestrians crossing roads in the shared space scheme were observed generally to be limited to less than 10 seconds.

Daniel Herbert, highway group manager for Lancashire County Council, said: “Safety has improved on Fishergate since these changes were put in back in 2014, which was one of our key aims. Before this improvement work was done, we carried out extensive consultation and got feedback from organisations representing people with visual impairments.

“We widened the pavement and narrowed the road space. Since then new shops and cafés have opened along the main shopping street.

"There has been a significant reduction in the number of collisions and injuries on Fishergate since these improvements were carried out.

"Our scheme on Fishergate has wide pavements and many courtesy crossings with tactile paving to assist people, especially those with visual impairments. There is a clearly defined, narrow road space for vehicles. Other schemes across the country don't constrain vehicles in the same way.”