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Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 12:53 UK
'Shared streets clearly not safe'

John Welsman
Guide dog owners like John Welsman rely on kerbs to avoid traffic

John Welsman of Guide Dogs for the Blind tells BBC London why he is protesting outside City Hall against the planned shared street scheme on Exhibition Road in Kensington.

The plan, which would remove kerbs and other street furniture along Exhibition Road, is estimated to cost £25m. London mayor Boris Johnson has pledged £13m towards the scheme.

Why are you protesting against the shared street scheme?

For a lot of guide dog owners, like myself, shared streets are a real problem in that there is not a lot of information around, things like kerbs, edges and pavement furniture to tell me where it is safe for me to walk and where I can avoid traffic.

Guide dogs certainly wouldn't know at what point in the road it is safe to cross.

Is the location significant as well because Exhibition Road provides access to all those great museums?

It would make it very difficult to visit them by yourself. I might be with my wife and that would make it really easy because she can see what she is doing and she can guide me around. But if I am reliant on my dog to do that, then the dog is trained to use pavements and things like that and if there is no pavement then the dog will be really confused. It would make me very vulnerable.

But would drivers be more alert to you because they will need to concentrate more?

I'd say no because they will be more careful but after a while people get blasé and they start relaxing and they don't take much notice of things. You'll have white van man driving through; you'll have the pressures of getting to work, or needing to make a delivery. They'll be the people who cause an accident.

Is there anything that can be done to make this scheme safer?


Yes, let's have shared streets but let's make sure they are an environment which is safe for everybody

John Welsman

There's lot of things that can be done, but we at Guide Dogs for the Blind have not found the answers yet.

What I would say is, yes, let's have shared streets but let's make sure they are an environment which is safe for everybody.

At the moment, the plans and the implementation of shared streets is clearly not safe for blind and partially-sighted people, like myself.

Do you believe the mayor when he says he wants to make the capital's streets accessible for all Londoners? Or does he just want them to look pretty and attract visitors?

There is an element of that, of making it look attractive. I understand that even though I am totally blind and can't see it for myself. I understand why they want to do that. But I think we need to make sure they are safe before we make them pleasant.

There has got to be a balance there. Otherwise you will find that guide dog owners like me will be stuck at home and afraid to go out. Remember that the majority of vision-impaired people are older people, less likely to go out because they are scared in the first place and if the streets they are trying to access are difficult to walk through for various reasons that will stop them from doing it.

Protest outside City Hall
Boris Johnson has pledged 13m towards the 25m scheme

How difficult is it anyway for guide dog owners trying to walk around London?

I came up here at 7am and of course relatively that is supposed to be quiet and it is still quite busy. There's lots of traffic, lots of noise, lots of activity, shops opening up, people doing things, street cleaners on the pavements.

It is very difficult sometimes, even in the Tube stations for example to tell what's going on around you. It's a very 'echoey' environment and there are not many cues to help me.

So you either get an excessive amount of noise and it is just a confusing mass. But taking away all the street furniture will make it more confusing because there will be less cues for the dog and myself to follow. It would make it a nightmare to get around.




SEE ALSO
Mayor faces 'naked road' protest
17 Jun 09 |  London


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