On Wednesday 8 June, London Vision was back at the hub in the Clockhouse Community Centre to hold the first Greenwich Transport forum. A key part of London Vision’s new engagement strategy in the Royal London Borough of Greenwich involves gaining a better understanding of blind and partially sighted residents’ experiences of public transport and infrastructure in the borough. This initial meeting, attended by Greenwich Council’s Head of Highways Andrew Burton and Transport for London’s Local Community and Partnerships Lead – City Planning, Rob Varney, was primarily focussed on buses, and public transport infrastructure in Greenwich.
We were joined by local residents – including representatives from the social group Blind in Greenwich – and other stakeholders, to discuss experiences of travel in the borough.
Experiences of travelling on buses in the area
The forum was divided into two, with the first half focussed specifically on bus travel, and the second examining transport infrastructure and elements of the built environment such as dropped kerbs and tactile paving.
Attendees were invited to put their concerns to Andrew Burton and Rob Varney. Some of the specific issues raised were:
Audible announcements on the buses – several attendees complained that frequently these are not loud enough, and it was asked whether the volume of these announcements can be controlled by the driver in the cab. Mention was made of an incorrect audio announcement on some buses: while attendees welcomed announcements advising that, upon alighting, pedestrians would be entering a cycle lane, attendees noted that on occasion these announcements were made at the wrong stops.
Bus diversions – when buses are on diversion, not enough audible information is given to blind or partially sighted passengers. When diverted buses stop in unfamiliar places, blind and partially sighted passengers sometimes struggle to continue their onward journeys or make connections.
Driver training – according to the Red Book, upon seeing passengers waiting at a bus stop with a cane or a guide dog, drivers should always stop and announce the bus number. This does not always happen. Additionally, some of the pandemic safety controls – such as plastic barrier screens around the driver’s cab – mean that it can be difficult to ask drivers questions, or hear drivers’ responses. It was also pointed out that often bus drivers nod their heads in assent – clearly blind and partially sighted passengers would struggle with this kind of communication. However, it was noted that drivers are much more helpful than they have been in the past, and this is due to TfL’s training.
Road and bus infrastructure
The second half of the meeting focussed on infrastructure and the impact of the built environment on ease of travel.
Bus stops – many bus stops in Greenwich utilise the bus countdown display, however, this is largely inaccessible for blind and partially sighted travellers. Attendees requested that audible bus countdown announcements be incorporated to help blind and partially sighted travellers know when and which next bus will be arriving.
Traffic lights – attendees highlighted some controlled crossings in the area which are perceived as particularly dangerous for disabled pedestrians. One controlled crossing – Beresford Road, outside Woolwich station – was highlighted as posing particular problems and causing confusion for some blind and partially sighted pedestrians. While the green person signal is lit for 18 seconds – three times the length of a normal signal – crossing four lanes of traffic can be difficult for some pedestrians.
Furthermore, a perceived ‘refuge’ between the four lanes has been a source of confusion because there is no kerb or traffic light button. According to Andrew Burton, it is not an actual pedestrian refuge because pedestrians are supposed to cross all four lanes in one crossing. It has no kerbs or button for this reason. This style of crossing is now preferred to the former style – wherein a pedestrian would cross four lanes in two stages, waiting at a refuge in between – which makes pedestrians subservient to traffic.
Crossing four lanes of traffic also brings up the issue of veering off course, something that can happen easily for blind and partially sighted pedestrians when there is a lack of audio or tactile information. This is particularly acute on longer distances, and when a crossing is silent (such as the one at Beresford Road). Attendees requested that TfL and Greenwich look into making the controlled crossing audible to help blind and partially sighted pedestrians navigate from one side to the other. Audible cues could also help pedestrians know when the lights were likely to change.
Tactile paving – attendees noted that there was on occasion a lack of appropriate or enough tactile and blister paving in areas of the borough. In some cases, dropped kerbs are missing tactile paving, meaning that blind and partially sighted pedestrians are not provided with enough information about potentially stepping from a footway into a carriageway.
Tactile paving (or lack thereof) was also highlighted around shared spaces, and particularly cycle paths. More tactile paving would help blind and partially sighted pedestrians recognise and avoid walking into some cycle paths, for example.
Issues were raised and actions agreed by both TfL and Greenwich Council’s representatives at the meeting. One key takeaway is that Rob Varney and Andrew Burton now have a primary contact in the Greenwich area, through which information about ongoing work and consultations will be communicated. This was the inaugural forum, and there is a tentative agreement to hold these meetings quarterly going forward, or when a major consultation or programme of work is about to be initiated.
Would you like to attend the next forum? Get in touch with Bhavini Makwana on firstname.lastname@example.org.