Road safety in the City – some thoughts of a sight-impaired pedestrian

Road safety is an issue of particular concern to me as a person with a ‘hidden disability’. You wouldn’t know to look at me that I have a sight problem – and, in this, I’m one of many, judging from my fellow outpatients in the Eye Hospital’s waiting areas. But my long-term condition of glaucoma and a recent sudden – and, I hope, temporary – deterioration of vision in my right eye means I have lost some peripheral vision and in consequence don’t always see cyclists fast approaching on my right side. So I get very nervous at those ‘shared space’ crossings, or when negotiating a two-way cycle lane – while to the approaching cyclist I look like any other pedestrian, able to react quickly and get out of the way if necessary.

My point here is not to invoke special pleading for myself, but to try to increase awareness that we all need to take greater care – both of ourselves and of other people – when negotiating our crowded and fast-moving City streets and walkways.

We shouldn’t take risks with our own or others’ safety – by crossing when the lights are on red, whether pedestrian or cyclist, or by ignoring cycle lanes or cyclists’ priority areas if we’re driving a motorised vehicle.  But, equally, in order to lessen risk-taking behaviour, traffic planners need to implement systems that cater to users’ actual needs and behaviour, rather than basing layouts and traffic-light phasing on unrealistic expectations. It is maddening to stand waiting for the pedestrian lights to change to green when you can’t see the reason for them being on red. There’s been a recent trend to remove the kind of traffic lights that enable the pedestrian to see what the drivers and cyclists can see, and this seems to me to be a mistake. It may make a junction look less cluttered, and planners may want pedestrians to stand waiting obediently for no apparent reason, but in real life we like to make our own minds up, using all the available evidence. And people take risks when they’re impatient, when the indications are unclear, or when they don’t believe the ‘stop’ message being given to them.

So traffic planners need to take more account of pedestrian behaviour and cater to it, rather than always trying to dictate it. They need to take account of desire lines; they need to make it possible for pedestrians to get across a whole intersection without having to run; and they need not to tell us we can’t go when we manifestly can.

And all those of us who use the roads and pavements need to look out for one another a bit more, and remember that a minute lost in waiting or in slowing down is better than a life lost through an avoidable accident.

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