A national charity has slated Boston’s newly-refurbished Market Place for being unsafe for people with visual impairments.
The Guide Dogs association raised issues with colour contrasts, safe crossing places, and vehicles parking across dropped kerbs, among other things.
It has said it would not recommend any of the people who use guide dogs to even attempt to cross the market place, as it presents a number of problems which could be dangerous for both dog and owner.
So last week, that is exactly what reporter Laura Hammond did, along with borough councillor Carol Taylor. Blindfolded, and with the aid of guide dog Cracker and his handler Richard Madsen, she set off on a trip across the busy space.
She said: “It was terrifying.
“I only walked from Claire’s Accessories to Seventh Heaven, but it felt like such a long way. I could hear traffic all over the place, but had no idea where it was coming from. At one point, a truck reversed right behind me, which made me very uncomfortable.
“Cracker was leading me towards the dropped kerb outside Holland and Barrett, but there were cars in the way. He just stopped, which was quite unnerving as I had no idea what had happened. It was only when Richard told him to ‘find a way’ that he managed to get navigate a path through the cars. I was terrified I was going to trip up the kerb or someone would reverse into me.
“I was so happy to remove the blindfold after my short trip.
“I find The Market Place a challenge with full sight and the ability to run away from approaching cars. The idea of doing it without those things is horrifying,”
Coun Taylor went further on her trip, heading across the cente of the Market Place and back along past Marks and Spencer.
“It was absolutely awful,” Coun Taylor said when she had finished. “It’s highlighted the issues even more so. You’ve got this great large walk across and you have no idea what’s coming from where.”
Coun Taylor experienced the issues of cars blocking the kerb first hand, when Cracker had to lead her down the side of a van which had pulled up right in front of the tactile paving.
Had Richard not been helping, the dog could have led her into the path of oncoming traffic as he guided her past the end of the vehicle.
Suzanne Allott, engagement officer for Guide Dogs, said: “It’s not so much the layout which is the problem, it’s that people don’t know how to use it.”
A lot off research has gone into the impact which ‘shared spaces’ such as Boston’s Market Place will have on the visually impaired, and experts have come to the conclusion they offer ‘inherent difficulties’ for those with sight problems. Members of Boston Disability Forum have also had issues with the area.
Guide Dogs has made a number of recommendations to Lincolnshire County Council covering how they think the layout of the Market Place could be improved to ease the problems.
Suggestions include increasing the amount of street furniture to indicate pedestrian areas and ‘funnel’ traffic, introducing traffic calming measures to slow down traffic, and replacing tactile paving with a higher contrasting colour.
A council spokesman said some work was underway to improve the Market Place for people with disabilities and sight problems.
Senior development officer Amanda Bond said: “We’re working hard to balance the different needs of the people using the Market Place. Although all aspects have been designed with consideration to national guidance, we’re in ongoing discussions with the Boston Disability Forum, and in the process of making changes as a result of their feedback. Hopefully, this will give their members greater confidence in using the area.”