Safety fears raised over plans for busy junction

A disability action group has appealed to East Dunbartonshire Council not to make road junction changes they say will put lives at risk.

Members of East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum say the controversial new ‘shared space’ planned for the Catherine Street junction, in Kirkintilloch, has only had a ‘token attempt’ at consultation, and they fear the move will be forced through.

Sandy Taylor, chairman, Margaret Hutchison, vice chairman, and Bob the assistance dog

Sandy Taylor, chairman, Margaret Hutchison, vice chairman, and Bob the assistance dog

Under the plans barriers, kerbs and traffic lights will be removed to allow vehicles and pedestrians to share the space.

Forum members say for people who are blind and/or deaf, the system is dangerous, and they claim a fatality happened in a similar scheme in England.

Sandy Taylor, chairman of East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum, said: “It was chaos when it was trialled last year. What’s coming from our members is that they are terrified of this junction.

“I have called it the ‘Russian Roulette’ of crossings. We are meant to rely on eye contact to see cars coming. And what about electric cars, we cannot hear them?

“They are taking away our independence.

“I accept traffic flow may be improved but at what expense? You cannot put a price on people’s safety. This is aesthetics before safety.”

Margaret Hutchison, forum vice-chair, who is registered blind and uses an assistance dog, said all the training she has done with her dog will be of no use.

She said: “My guide dog’s training points have all just been scrubbed. He is trained to use the kerb when crossing, or to respond to the bleeps. These will be lost.”

Mr Taylor added: “I wish to urge the residents of Kirkintilloch and the surrounding area to contact their local councillors demanding that this dangerous and unwanted project be stopped with immediate effect.

“With council elections taking place in 2017, councillors will be held to account for any unwanted and dangerous changes to our high street.”

East Dunbartonshire Council says concerns raised by EDVIP forum have been listened to and will help shape amendments to the Cowgate project.

Thomas Glen, director of development and regeneration at East Dunbartonshire Council, said: “A pilot exercise took place last August and September at Catherine Street which has helped to inform the plans.

“A series of awareness-raising events were held in Kirkintilloch in December, with local residents, traders and visitors given the opportunity to look at concept designs for the Cowgate area.

“There has also been engagement with consultees such as East Dunbartonshire Access Panel, Guide Dogs UK, East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum and Deafblind Scotland.

“All of the feedback has been recorded and helped to shape the new proposals, which will be discussed at a meeting of the development and regeneration committee on March 24.

“Therefore, it is untrue to say there has not been adequate consultation and untrue to say that concerns have been ignored.

“It is worth bearing in mind that although the scheme proposed for Cowgate is similar to others which have been implemented throughout the UK, it is not a ‘shared surface’ scheme.”

Mr Glen said a 60mm kerb and tactile materials would be used.

He continued: “The decision to include this particular kerb height emerged through consultation work with East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum.

“The Cowgate improvement scheme was discussed at a recent meeting of Kirkintilloch Champions Group - at which ED Visually Impaired People’s Forum and the Access Panel were represented.

“It is not accurate to say the pilot design trialled in August and September will be permanently installed. Options will be discussed at a meeting of the development and regeneration committee on March 24, with a preferred option put forward by officers reflecting the ‘shared space’ philosophies.

“The final design will be subject to a further road safety audit, an Equality Impact Assessment and will be Disability Discrimination Act Compliant. It will also be monitored and evaluated, just as the junction trial was monitored.”

The scheme covers the full Cowgate area, from West High Street to Barleybank, with work planned to take place from summer 2015 to winter 2016.

The option to retro-fit traditional crossings later if the scheme is not working will available.