Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Professor Jeremy Myerson and Mr Ross Atkin of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art (DAT 33)

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Jeremy Myerson and Ross Atkin of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art present issues relating to travel on foot by people with visual impairments raised by the Sight Line research project (CABE, RLSB 2009–2012). These issues relate to two separate areas, the deployment of tactile paving and the signing of street works. Both areas concern the shortcomings of published guidance and regulation, resulting in unnecessary barriers to the most vulnerable group of pedestrians travelling independently.

1.2 The issues regarding tactile paving focus on the inconsistency in the way it is deployed, most notably in London, but increasingly elsewhere in England and Wales. The inconsistency results from contradictions between different Department for Transport publications as well as divergent emerging design practice. The issues regarding street works concern the incompatibility of current codes of practice and equipment dating back to the “New Roads and Street Works Act 1991” with the “Equality Act 2010”.

1.3 Recommendations are made regarding the clarification of the deployment of tactile paving as well as the formal assessment of an accessible system for signing street works created by the RLSB (Royal London Society for Blind People) and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

2. The Submitter

2.1 Professor Jeremy Myerson, Director and Chair, The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, is a leading researcher on inclusive design to address the needs of ageing and disabled people. He has developed innovative qualitative methods in design ethnography to study the behaviour of people in the built environment, and has wide experience of leading large, complex, interdisciplinary projects in healthcare, public and digital space, such as DOME (EPSRC), i~design3 (EPSRC), Welcoming Workplace (EPSRC-AHRC) and The Creative Exchange (AHRC). His many books include New Public Architecture and New Demographics New Workspace.

2.2 Ross Atkin is a design researcher working at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art. He has industrial experience practicing as a designer of street furniture, having worked on schemes such as Grosvenor Square and Hereford Town Centre, and designing the Lambeth range of inclusive street furniture which is used on TfL’s Tactical Road Network. Whilst at the Helen Hamlyn Centre Ross has conducted extensive qualitative research into the issues faced by people with sight loss in streets and public spaces on behalf of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). The Sight Line projects represent the only research into how people with visual impairments navigate to have been conducted in situ during real journeys on actual streets. The research for CABE culminated in the Sight Line report published in 2010[1] whilst the RLSB work has produced a proposal (also called Sight Line) for reducing the disruption caused by street works to people with visual impairments.

2.3 This document represents the views of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and of Mr Myerson and Mr Atkin based on their research and experience and not the views of the RLSB, Design Council CABE, or any other organisations with whom they are currently working or may have worked in the past.

3. Factual Information

3.1 We would like to draw the attention of the committee to the following issues raised by the Sight Line projects.

4. Tactile Paving

4.1 Tactile paving is inconsistently deployed, particularly in London. This inconsistency reduces the reliability of the information it is supposed to impart drastically reducing its usefulness as a navigation aid for people with visual impairments. Dick, a long cane user from Bromley said “I’m not a great believer in tactile paving; it is an indicator but it’s not a very accurate indicator”. An extensive discussion between Peter White and some of the Sight Line project participants on this subject can be heard on an edition of the BBC Radio 4 In Touch Program first broadcast on Tuesday 2 November 2010.[2]

4.2 This inconsistency is increasing as local authorities continue to fail to deploy tactile paving as recommended in the published guidance.[3] The spread of new approaches to street design, such as expansive level surface areas associated with Shared Space, which are not specifically addressed in the guidance is also contributing to this increased inconsistency. Notable inconsistencies in the deployment of tactile paving can be found on the boundaries of Camden and The City of Westminster, Brent and Hammersmith and Fulham and between the TfL Tactical Road Network and surrounding Local Authority Streets all over London, as well as between level surfaces deployed at Sloane Square, Exhibition Road, Broadway Market and Walworth Road in London and on New Road in Brighton, Elwick Square in Ashford, Old Mill Street in Manchester.

4.3 Even when deployed as set out in the national guidance, tactile paving is still capable of generating significant confusion for people with visual impairments because of the different messages a similar installation may be conveying. For example on a street with raised entry treatments on its side roads (a feature becoming increasingly common and recommended in Manual for Streets[4]) an identical strip of blister paving encountered running perpendicular to the street could indicate either the presence of a controlled crossing to the left or right, or mark the boundary between the footway and the carriageway of a side road.

4.4 The national guidance is poorly understood by the practitioners who use it, another factor that may be contributing to its inconsistent deployment. This may be due to the poor quality of the communication design and illustration contained in the guidance document, as well as its complex language and considerable length. For example the illustrations depicting the correct tactile paving installation a uncontrolled crossings show only a top view and not the level changes that are required for the installation to function correctly.

5. Street Works

5.1 Street works and other temporary obstructions represent a considerable source of disorientation to people with visual impairments. This is due to their reliance on memory as a navigation aid. Even relatively small diversions can be extremely disorientating and can put people off travelling independently. This is illustrated by a quote, gathered from Sandi, a guide cane user from Barnet, immediately after she had safely negotiated some street works on an observed journey. “I feel unsafe. As a human being when you feel your life is in danger you have a physical response to it. That just made me feel nervous and uncomfortable and unhappy and blind and you just don’t want to be feeling that way”.

5.2 At the time of the passage of the New Roads and Street Works Act in 1991 street works were the most common source of injury accidents befalling people with visual impairments when walking.[5] It is likely that the improved code of practice mandated by that law (known by operatives as “The Red Book”)[6] has made some impact on the accident rate however it does not tackle the disorientation caused by street works.

5.3 On its first page “The Red Book” poses the key question to operatives to consider when setting out the signs and barriers around a site “Will someone coming along the road or footway from any direction understand exactly what is happening and what is expected of them?”.[5] It is apparent that a system that relies entirely on visual signage cannot possibly be effectively performing this task for people who can not see. It is therefore likely that this code of practice is in breach of “The Equality Act 2010”.

5.4 In addition to failing to communicate its information to people who cannot see, the “A-board” type pedestrian instructional signs (arrows and “use other footway”) commonly used at street works, present a dangerous obstruction to people with visual impairments causing trips, broken canes and torn clothing.

5.5 Other issues identified during observational research sessions involving people with visual impairments navigating real world street works sites include determining if an obstruction is street works or something else, determining if the obstruction should be circumvented or if the footway is closed, determining in which direction to proceed, determining on which side of the barriers pedestrians are expected to be and determining where the obstruction finishes and people should be looking for familiar features to re-orientate themselves.[7]

5.6 A system has been developed by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and the Royal London Society for Blind People which deals with the issues discussed above with minimal changes to the current equipment and the way it is deployed.[8]

5.7 The system comprises a re-designed pedestrian information sign that is includes tactile and digital information sources as well as ceasing to be an obstruction, tactile strips which can be inexpensively retrofitted to existing barriers and a digital system for streetworks operatives to quickly and simply register street works sites to a central database to be retrieved by street users through their digital devices.

5.8 The physical elements of the system were tested, in comparison to the typically used equipment and set-up by 13 people with visual impairments on Vauxhall Bridge Road in London on the 14–15 June 2012. 11 out of 13 participants preferred the new system to the existing one with the other two (both registered visually impaired, and the participants with the most usable vision) registering no difference.[9]

5.9 In order to streamline their administrative processes some contractors, most notably Volker Highways, are currently commissioning and deploying systems to allow operatives to digitally register street works sites in real time. Volkers system does not make any of this information publicly available because they did not think it would be useful to anyone.[10]

6. Recommendations

6.1 We make the following recommendations for action by the Department for Transport (DfT) relating to the issues around tactile paving and street works.

7. Tactile Paving

7.1 The DfT needs to act quickly and decisively to clarify what is the correct installation for tactile paving at level surfaces as the advice provided in “Guidance on the use of tactile paving surfaces” contradicts both what is contained in “Manual for Streets”[10] and what is evolving as standard practice amongst practitioners after Exhibition Road. Without decisive action tactile paving installation will become increasingly inconsistent reducing the usefulness of tactile paving as a whole.

7.2 It is much more important that a decision is made quickly than which of the several options for resolving the contradictions associated with applying the guidance to contemporary street design trends is actually chosen.

7.3 If the DfT wishes to gather evidence in support of one of the options we recommend that this is gathered through in-situ observations and interviews with visually impaired street users on the streets they actually use. There are significant issues relating to both talking about street features with people with visual impairments and testing in idealised lab conditions which can only be overcome by conducting research in this way.

7.4 Future DfT guidance on tactile paving should be designed from the point of view of its users—urban design and highways professionals—rather than the department. Guidance should be simple, easy to follow with the correct tactile paving installation in common situations clearly illustrated in an isometric or similar 3D projection with shading in order to minimise possible confusion.

8. Street Works

8.1 We recommend that the DfT consider formally evaluating the Sight Line Street Works System for possible inclusion in either the forthcoming update to “The Red Book” or the subsequent update.

8.2 The DfT should also consider separately the option of issuing guidance on digital registration systems for street works to promote the convenient interoperability of systems being developed by individual contractors or local authorities. Action now will drastically reduce the cost of rationalising potentially hundreds of separate systems in five years time to create a service of enormous benefit to all street users, particularly those with impairments.

References and Further Information

[1] “Sight Line: Designing Better Strets for People with Low Vision”, Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art, 2010
http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/Documents/Documents/Publications/CABE/sight-line.pdf

[2] “In Touch”, first broadcast 02/11/2010 on BBC Radio 4:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vkxkf

[3] “Guidance on the use of tactile paving surfaces”, Department for Transport
http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/3622/tactile-pavement.pdf

[4] “Manual for Streets”, Department for Transport, 2007, p66–67 (6.3.15 and 6.3.16)
http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/3891/pdfmanforstreets.pdf

[5] “Safety at Street Works and Road Works: a code of practice”, Department for Transport, 2001
http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/4388/safety-street-works-code.pdf

[6] “Project Report 82: Accidents involving visually impaired people using public transport or walking”, Transport Research Laboratory, 1995, p56

[7] Observational research session at street works stes in Canning Town London with seven people with visual impairments, 1 and 2 February 2012

[8] “Sight Line: safer streetworks for all”, 2 minute Film by Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, 2012 http://vimeo.com/51072404

[9] “Sight Line: An improved system for signing street works”, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, 2013, p23

[10] Interview with Stephen Goode, Network Manager, Volker Highways, 17 May 2012

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013