Shared Space Safety for the Blind

Chicago is in the utility work phase of constructing its first shared space on Argyle, east of Broadway. There’s one concern that comes to mind mimicking failed research when designing this type of infrastructure in the United Kingdom.

Shared spaces are intended for use on low traffic roadways allowing pedestrians and bikers, more or less, free reign use of the environment. Drivers remain restricted to defined pathways and to operate at much lower speeds. This is intended to improve non-driver safety and ensure success of the project.

As you remove defined infrastructure elements, these elements that intend to or indirectly create a safety barrier must be replaced. In this case, it is removing a curb that defines where the roadway ends and the sidewalk, or non-driving area, begins.

I would imagine this is of critical importance for a blind pedestrian.

From my review of Argyle’s design, there are no safety features, minus randomly placed planters and other physical features for the blind. There is no consistent definition of the roadway space besides pavers that are differentiated by… color. I have inquired with others familiar with this project and there’s no clear consensus that safety features for the blind are already incorporated.

Not long ago, a twitter user, @SeaofChangefilm, informed me of a video produced to show the impact of inadequate design of shared spaces. Sea of Change, Walking into Trouble is meant to inform and direct designers to incorporate the safety elements necessary for blind pedestrians. Multiple shared spaces were constructed in the UK only to be modified after completion, costing their government far more than necessary.

We have an opportunity to construct a safe environment for all visitors while saving already limited funds. Do it right the first time. It’s possible the UK could have prevented obstacles for their blind residents, but Chicago has the chance to learn from errors of others at no expense of our own.

Ultimately, I ask the City of Chicago, Chicago Department of Transportation, Alderperson Harry Osterman, members of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council to review the plan and ensure this concern is overcome.

After all, you may already have, it’s just not clear. If you haven’t, inquiring with blind residents may determine tactile pavers of the same color in the original design are sufficient to support a choice of independence.

To watch the Sea of Change, Walking into Trouble video:

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