Friday, 21 August 2015

Walk in my shoes

A good friend of mine has had problems with her eyes for some time. Recently she received the disappointing news from the eye surgeon that she's kind of stuck with it now. She's not blind but can no longer drive and she does now require a certain amount of assistance.

She went to the Royal Society for the Blind to get some equipment, including magnifying screens for her PC and iPad, a small telescope for looking at menus on walls at cafes along with other little things. So more than anything, it is just getting used to a new set of circumstances.

There are various things that can be done to make life a little easier for people like my friend. When we were chatting, I mentioned a European directive that requires the doors of suburban trains to be a clearly different colour from the rest of the train:

Borrowed from here.

My friend pointed out that that is one of those small things that costs nothing but brings not only comfort but also confidence. Instead of having to hope, guess or ask for help, the work is done with no effort.

Another easy thing to do is keep hedges and low hanging trees well pruned to avoid easily avodable scratches to the face.

It is walking around the city with someone who has a small difficulty that you notice how much easier life could be made for many people with just a little thought. I see my friend stop while she is crossing the road because she has to peer down to work out where the edge is on these camouflaged dropped kerbs:

Why do we even have them on minor intersections? Why not just continue the pavement over the road so the cars have to stop and cross that?

Just navigating pavements can itself be a problem. For example, this is a view along Market Street. The entrance to the Central Market is just behind the white van:

For those of us with good eye sight, those three poles are quite visible. Not for my friend. She notices getting close to them that something is there and has to put her hand up to stop her self bumping into it and then guide herself around. The streets are actually full of clutter like the poles. They are difficult to see because of their shape and their colour which allows them to blend in with the asphalt grey that is everywhere.

The poles serve no purpose other than to indicate how long you can store a car alongside them free of charge. Could we not achieve the same end with a single sign at the end of the street? This is a 2 hour parking area. Or better still, instead of leaving the street with silly narrow pavements, why don't we widen them to help the already struggling businesses? Narrow the street or even block it off. The cars can be parked in the car park above the market surely?

Another obstacle is crossing the road. If you happen to be going to the market, there is only one place that actually has a signalised crossing on all of Gouger Street. There are a couple of other designated crossing points but it is the people who have to wait. Good luck if you can't see very well. And good luck if you wish to cross a moat of asphalt like this:

This is fairly typical of the city. All roads almost without exception have a 50km/h speed limit. The only place where you will be offered any assistance to cross the road is at a signalised intersection. And they are there not to assist pedestrians but because they are needed to regulate motorised traffic.

Here's another example that is a nightmare for anyone who can't see very well or cannot move quickly:

I see people being beeped at all of the time when they mis-time their crossing. I make a habit of giving them the finger even if they don't see me.

I took the picture during a very quiet part of the day. It is worst during the rush hour. The white car you see has just come around the corner. Although there is a green bike lane, the bend does not have a tight radius and cars can come around there at a high speed. Crossing the road is an exercise in hope when you finally get a space in the traffic.

Vehicles also come from the two lanes to the left of the white car. And in the case of all traffic, despite a requirement to indicate, you can only guess as to whether they may be going left or right. Indicating seems to be optional.

Now imagine all of that during the evening rush hour when it is often dusk and even harder to see.

It is very easy to assume that everyone experiences the world in the same way you do. We all fall into that trap. But the danger is that we then fail to see the difficulties that others sometime face. A consequence of building streets and cities with cars at the forefront of our minds is that we risk ignoring the needs of people close to us. If nothing else, it makes us appear quite thoughtless.

Perhaps it's time we established a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian office.