Thanks, Winnie, for raising some interesting points to reflect on shared spaces. I agree with you on that shared spaces don’t have the usual elements people expect to see to help them orientate and navigate through public spaces. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that these “shared spaces are bad for visually impaired people (VIPs)”. One of the main characteristics of shared streets is that they encourage on us a behaviour that is socially responsible, which means that places without the usual engineering measures you mention, such as kerbs and pedestrian crossings, lead all street users to pay more attention to their surroundings, starting to notice other road users and having “to negotiate passage through the space via eye contact and person to person negotiation” (PPS, 2009) & (PPS, 2017). As a person travelling through these shared spaces on a motorised vehicle will be more aware of the things going on outside, he or she will immediately identify a VIP trying to cross the street and will give way to him/her.
Nevertheless, as VIPs cannot engage in eye contact with other road users, there are different elements (new and traditional ones) that can be combined and incorporated on the designing of a shared street, that would “make the environment accessible for blind and partially sighted people” (Havik & Melis-Dankers, 2012). And that is one of our challenges as urban designers, to integrate on these shared spaces enough recognizable elements that can tell all users what to expect and how to travel safely through them. For example, the use of the raised line pattern “Tenji block” I mentioned on my last post, along the vehicle lane would guide them to reach a crossing point where there is a traffic signal that would tell them when it is safe to cross. And also, although on shared streets there is no distinction between sidewalks and vehicle lanes in terms of height difference, the different “pavement textures used and physical structures, like seating, play equipment, trees, planters and parking spots” (PPS, 2008), can also serve as guidance elements to VIPs.
Image 1: Elements that can help visually impaired people to safely navigate through shared spaces. Source: The Planner
I think the idea of shared spaces is to “humanise” the roads, and the basic principle they are using is interaction between users, with the main philosophy that motorised vehicles are just visitors, and the priority is given to pedestrians. It already is a challenge for VIPs to safely navigate their city, but with shared spaces, the challenge and responsibility are on all of us together.
-Project for Public Spaces (PPS) (2008). Streets as Places: Using streets to rebuild communities. (Booklet)
-Project for Public Space (PPS) (2009). Where the sidewalk doesn’t end: what shared space has to share [online]. 16 August. Available at: https://www.pps.org/article/shared-space (Accessed: 5 April 2019)
-Project for Public Space (PPS) (2009). What is Shared Space? [online]. 5 October. Available at: https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-shared-space (Accessed: 5 April 2019)
-Havik, E. & Melis-Dankers, B. (2012). Shared spaces for blind and partially sighted people: a challenge for designers. [online] Available at: http://www.eccolo.nl/shared-space/english/#/home/ (Accessed: 5 April 2019)