Our streets should be for everyone - providing safe and attractive places to travel, rest, play and spend time. They need to work for all of us, whatever our age, ability, gender, race or income.

However, some of us face barriers to walking (by walking, we include people walking with mobility aids, including wheelchairs) because of who we are or where we live.

Women, for example, may feel less safe after dark, and research into road traffic injuries shows that people from an ethnic minority (excluding non-white minorities) are 25% more likely to be a casualty than white pedestrians.

Cluttered pavements can present obstacles (and risk of injury) for blind and partially sighted people.

An inclusive approach to street design breaks down the barriers that exclude people and gives everyone a voice in the planning process.

Carer taking a disabled man for a walk in his wheelchair

The Equality Act 2010

A new Equality Act came into force in 2010 to protect individuals from unfair treatment and to promote a fair and more equal society.

The Equality Act sets out nine protected characteristics. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The Act also introduced a Public Sector Equality Duty - a duty of care on all public bodies to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity for all.

Local authorities have a duty to enable safe and independent access to streets and public spaces for people with protected characteristics.

 

The ability to access, and use the public realm—to do things as basic as using shops and meeting up with people outside your home—is vitally important to people’s ability to be, and to feel, active members of society

Building for Equality: Disability and the Built Environment, House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee (2017)

Newer aspects of street design - are they inclusive?

Our streets keep changing, and it's vital that newer features of our streets, designed to encourage walking, wheeling and cycling, are inclusive.

A wide shared space street with pedestrians and vehicles

Shared spaces

The introduction of ‘shared spaces’ in the late noughties brought attention to the specific needs of blind and partially sighted people.

This new infrastructure blurred the division between the carriageway and the footway, with minimal use of signs and other street furniture to manage traffic. The aim was to reduce the dominance of motor vehicles and increase the 'sense of place'. The idea was that this approach to street design would reduce speeds, with eye contact between pedestrians and drivers becoming the norm.

Of course, that did not work for people with little or no vision. As well as missing cues from drivers (or people cycling), Blind people could inadvertently give the wrong message to other road users.

Relying on visual communication may also prove challenging when children are present, or for people with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

This is why we're calling for consistent national walking design standards.

Continuous Footways

Continuous footways (or pavements) are designed to help us walk safely and easily alongside a main road, without having to stop to check for vehicles turning in to, or out of, side roads.

What is a continuous footway?

It's where the pavement of a major road continues across the entrance to a side street. This is the same principle as vehicles crossing the pavement to access private property.

Are they good for pedestrians?

If properly designed they can play a useful part in making our streets more pedestrian-friendly. We can see examples that work well outside the UK (e.g. in the Netherlands).

But when poorly designed, they can make crossing junctions difficult or dangerous for people who are less able to communicate visually. For example, a Blind pedestrian may face difficulties when exchanging signals with a driver who wants to cross the footway.

A continuous footway

What makes a good design for a continuous footway?

A good design will make it absolutely clear to drivers that they are entering a pedestrian space (the footway), and that pedestrians have priority. For example, this means having no change in colour or texture of the footway as it crosses the junction. The question for urban designers is how the presence of a continuous footway can be communicated to blind and partially sighted people.

The design of a continuous footway must force vehicles to slow down to a walking speed of 4mph. This ensures that even if there is a collision, there is a minimal risk of pedestrians being injured. This can be achieved by creating tight corners at the junction and installing steep ramps. Ideally, only one vehicle should be able to crossover at a time.

This is essential because pedestrians will continue to believe they are on a pavement, even at places where vehicles can cross.

 

 

Bus stop with bike lane passing between shelter and pavement

Bus stop bypasses

A bus stop bypass or floating bus stop is where a bike track passes between a bus stop and the pavement.

Are they good for pedestrians?

Some issues need to be addressed to ensure this is the case.

The aim of bus stop bypasses is to keep people cycling separate from other vehicles on the road, including buses as they are pulling into a bus stop. This is to protect cyclists and to create cycling conditions most people would consider safe for day to day journeys.

The trouble is that this brings people walking and cycling, travelling at different speeds, into contact with one another. While most people can see what is happening and negotiate that interaction safely, not every pedestrian can.

For example, wheelchair users may have difficulty crossing the cycle lane or reduced visibility when the space is crowded.

What does good design look like?

This is still an emerging area of research, but it’s clear to us that pedestrians must have priority at bus stop bypasses.

We need plenty of space to wait for buses and get on and off safely, with step-free access across the cycle track. Pedestrians need to be seen by the cyclists, and to feel confident of their safety.

Blind or partially sighted people should know they are walking into a cycling track, because of features such as kerbs that make this clear. They should feel confident that cyclists will stop. Sighted people need to be able to see cyclists approaching.

Bus stop bypasses should help cyclists feel relaxed without pressure over their own safety. They should be able to keep going at a sensible speed when there's no bus or waiting pedestrians, and to be able to see others easily so they can stop if they need to.

 

Find out more

Walking for Everyone

We're working with Arup and Sustrans to understand people's experiences of walking, and what affects different groups defined by factors like race, age and gender.

Read more

Everyday walking and wheeling for disabled people

In 2015, Public Health England funded us to investigate the barriers and opportunities for everyday walking for disabled people.

Read the report

RNIB - Seeing Streets Differently

According to RNIB, recent changes to the layouts of our towns and cities and the way we travel have impacted on the safety of people with sight loss to get around independently, and their confidence to do so.

They are calling on local authorities, transport operators, designers and the Department for Transport to ensure our streets are truly inclusive.

Read the report

Take Action

Cut the clutter

Street clutter like poorly placed bins and defunct phone boxes can clog up our pavements and make it hazardous for people to get around.

Help Cut The Clutter

Sign up for our walking summit

Our National Walking Summit will look at how we can create truly inclusive streets for all and how we ensure marginalised voices are brought into transport planning and design.

Join us in person or online in March 2022.

Find out more and register

We work with organisations, public sector bodies and companies to improve streets for walking. 

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