DANGEROUS and potentially discriminating against minority disabled groups.
That is how Terry Smith, Engagement Officer for Guide Dogs, has described plans to create a ‘shared access’ pedestrian right of way scheme at the end of Solihull High Street as part of the £1.8m Solihull Gateway project.
The project will see improvements in the Station Road and Poplar Road area of the town centre to make it more accessible and convenient, and to ‘improve and update the look of the area’.
The Council and transport organisation Centro, its partner in the scheme, believe the works will also help support the town centre’s economy and encourage investment in the town centre.
But one critical part of the project, to be decided in June or July, has come under fire – branded terrifying and a potential death trap.
Charities for the visually impaired and blind, along with Guide Dog users, have slammed the proposals for ‘shared access’ crossings.
These areas will see the removal of curbs and the continuation of pedestrian zones across the road, which will still be used by traffic.
In Solihull, one of the new shared access areas will be at the end of the High Street (pictured) at the corner of Station Road and Poplar Road where the majority of buses into the town travel.
The traffc light controlled crossing would be removed and the road would be replaced by a raised area identical to the paving used on the High Street.
Mr Smith told us: “The council will say the new traffic system and shared space will slow traffic down and reduce risk.
“But if you take away pedestrianised priority crossings then you are creating an environment that is not inclusive. You are potentially discriminating against minority disabled groups and it’s dangerous.”
He added Guide Dogs did not want to go down the route of the Council having to backtrack further down the line as happened in Warwick.
In Coventry a pensioner died after being hit by a bus in a shared space in the city centre.
Mr Smith added: “”We, along with Action for Blind people and the RNIB, have spoken to Solihull Council about the new Gateway project and our concerns, but the Council seems keen to push ahead regardless.”
Guide Dog user Kenneth Fear said: “As a blind person, I need the safety of traffic lights with an audible signal or tactile button to let me know when it safe to cross the road.
“Not all visually impaired people have a white stick or a guide dog to highlight their needs so there will be many others like me who will feel that it will no longer be safe to visit Solihull Town Centre.”
Coun Ted Richard, Cabinet member for Transport and Highways at Solihull Council, defended the project, saying this aspect of it was based on statistics and evidence it would improve safety.
“I am not in the business of making decisions that will be detrimental to road safety in the borough,” he added.
“There have been problems with people getting hit by buses which have priority of the road when traffic lights are green.
“This system will give priority to pedestrians at all times, so the bus drivers will be more aware of them at all times.”
The section of town centre road to be changed, giving pedestrians the right of way, but with buses and traffic still allowed to travel through and the traffic lights and crossing removed.