I met the Builder coming up the road with his dog. He was chuckling to himself and told me that he had just seen a very funny incident. He said he wasn’t sure if it was politically correct to laugh at something to do with blindness but he couldn’t help himself. I asked him if it was a blind person or a sighted person who came off worst out of this story. “The sighted one,” he said.
“Go for it,” I reassured.
He was walking his dog when he spotted a blind man with his guide dog waiting to cross the road. The Builders’ dog began to pull, so he reigned in the dog in the hope of avoiding a diplomatic incident. As he got closer he noticed that a car had stopped and was flashing its lights to indicate to the blind man that he could cross the road. When nothing happened the driver started tooting his horn. Still nothing happened so he revved his engine while continuing to toot his horn and flash his lights. Still nothing happened. He gave up and put his foot down, disappearing in a trail of exhaust fumes.
The blind man and his dog stoically waited on the side of the road until both man and dog were satisfied it was safe to cross and there were no more lunatics tooting and revving their engines for who knows what reason.
As he told this story, the Builder began to wonder what this commotion must have been like from the blind mans’ perspective. “I can imagine it could be pretty unnerving to hear all that and have no idea what was going on. What an idiot. I mean the driver not the blind man,” he added in case I doubted his intentions.
Learning how to safely cross a road if you can’t see the oncoming traffic is quite a skill. Whenever a car stopped to let me cross it seemed cherlish not to do so. Then came the dreaded day when it revved its engine and tooted its horn and juddered towards me. From its hidden interior came a disembodied voice “You people make me sick. …… Idiot.” These days when a car stops, I wave it on and stand my ground. Just because a car has stopped does not mean that it wont’ start again.
The kerb offers protection from inadvertently wandering into moving traffic. It’s a touchstone that keeps me safe and is rapidly vanishing from urban landscapes as planners favour the development of #shared space where pavements and roads merge into one. #Raised dots don’t offer the visually impaired pedestrian the certainty that herein ends the pavement and begineth the road. It might look like good design but not if you can’t see.
In a snow covered city centre I once wandered from car park to four lanes of traffic without noticing I’d left the car park. That’s what #shared space has to offer me. I may as well be walking in snow. How will #guide dog owners know when it’s safe to cross if not even a dog can tell when one ends and the other begins?
Perhaps #shared space could build in a place for a spotter up a ladder with a loud hailer, who can keep an eye open for wandering pedestrians, and offer suitable instructions to any blind people meandering into the traffic. It could be modelled on an announcement I once heard at #Wokingham station. “Could the man with the guide dog please move to the other side of the yellow line.”
Much as I don’t like to toot my own horn, I could be on to something.