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Accessibility must be a priority in the changing urban environment

Accessibility must be a priority in the changing urban environment
10th November 2019 Ian Streets

Multi-million pound modernisation programmes are changing the face of Britain’s town and city centres – and presenting a great opportunity to take an inclusive approach and make urban areas more accessible.

Whether designers and developers will make the most of that remains to be seen but, as ever, the process needs to start at the design stage and continue all the way through to completion.

That means working – and consulting – to identify any accessibility failings in the existing facility and to ensure they are remedied in whatever is built to replace it. But it also means making sure the temporary provision is accessible.

It’s no surprise that so many bus and railway stations have been redeveloped and even relocated in recent years, condensing two bus stations into one in some places.

The changes have been driven by various factors – advances in transport technology, the huge increase in car use and therefore in demand for an environment which can accommodate it, the growth of rail transport and the move towards pedestrianisation.

Some facilities are so old it’s likely that the first significant development to take place     was the addition of accessible facilities to ageing structures as awareness increased of the need for inclusivity. More recently the trend has been towards incorporating commercial outlets to help with funding the development, from coffee shops and book stores on a railway station concourse to huge shopping centres bolted next to, or even on top of, public transport interchanges. Accessibility is essential for all these projects.

We’ve been looking at one development which involves a local authority investing to bring its existing bus station up to date. The current facility will close, temporary provision will be made elsewhere and the original bus station will reopen again once the work has been completed.

However it was not until the local authority started doing some public consultation that a disability group flagged up the need to look at the accessibility of the temporary bus station. Until that point the local authority wasn’t going to do that. It was an oversight and it demonstrates how these things can be easily forgotten.

You would hope and expect that the work to create a new, improved bus station will include making it more accessible, but logically the temporary bus station also needs to be able to cater for the needs of all the travellers who want to use it. That means undertaking an access audit of what is being proposed.

Accessible loos are the first things many people think of, and of course they are extremely important. It may be that the project will not provide accessible loos at the temporary location but another building nearby will provide suitable facilities, in which case you must also look at where that building is and how people get to it.

Hopefully the temporary service will not be very far from the existing bus station, but there might be constraints within the town centre which necessitate it being some distance away or even nearby but separated by busy roads or other obstacles.

Either way you need to widen the scope of the area you are auditing because the temporary location has to be reasonable and practical.

The starting point is to consider how people get to and move round the new area. There may be a need for works outside the temporary station to make sure all approach routes are accessible, and you also have to think about what people require when they arrive.

Drop kerbs and tactile paving must be considered and good signage is also essential in a new, unfamiliar environment. You need to take into account factors including height, glare and reflection and whether the location is suitable – signs shouldn’t be hidden away but nor should the only viewing point be a bustling walkway.

Thought must also be applied to the siting of customer information points. Research among disabled people and their representatives repeatedly shows that for all the visual displays and audio announcements, true peace of mind comes from having access to real people who can provide accurate and up to date information about bus stands, departure times and destinations.

Relocation of railway stations is less common but many main line stations have been transformed in recent years and suburban sites have been upgraded to accommodate growing numbers of passengers. It’s fair to ask, particularly when looking at relatively isolated locations, whether adequate consideration has been given to the needs of disabled passengers who arrive or depart at these stations by bus or car and who might have to spend a long time waiting for their train.

The vast majority of stations in the country are run by a train operating company and not by Network Rail, who are keen to improve accessibility.

At a major station consideration needs to be given to the needs of disabled people during and after a programme of modernising loos and waiting rooms and installing new ticket barriers. Inevitably it will require an increase in staff assistants being readily available because people will no longer be familiar with the new environment.

But at many town and village stations, and certainly at rural rail halts, the only issue arising with these facilities is that they don’t exist at all!

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