Despite claims that a lot of the road work being done on the island is ‘to improve accessibility,’ some disabled residents and pram users say much more needs to be done and that some of the enhancements have even made the situation worse.
Gef has spoken to people in the west of the island who want to see improvements made to the road network and pavements to ensure they can be accessed and used by everybody.
Juan Greggor, a blind resident and guide dog user in Peel, said the DoI using the phrase uncontrolled junctions ‘strikes fear into his heart.’ He said: ‘In my experience, flattening out surfaces just makes it easier for motorists to abuse pedestrian areas by stopping over them and means me and my guide dog can’t tell where the pavement ends and the road starts, there’s nothing wrong with the usual provisions like tactile paving.’
‘On the occasions I’ve reported incidents to the police, they have sent officers round but that doesn’t help me in the moment. What might seem like leaving your car for a few minutes can actually mean it takes me 10, 15, 20 minutes longer to find suitable roads to continue where I’m going.’
Juan told Gef that whilst the issue seems so obvious for him, he feels that many motorists don’t appreciate the pedestrian’s right of way. He said: ‘I think it needs to be really hammered in when people are learning to drive especially, make a point of it in driving lessons and tests, put it in all the rules of the road handbooks.’
Other pedestrians have said that it’s not just motorists that make our walkways harder to use, with Stephen Underwood, a wheelchair user from Foxdale, saying that the pavements themselves are not fit for purpose. He said: ‘Pavement conditions around the island are pretty atrocious, there are not enough dropped kerbs and a lot of them that are there are too often blocked. Even outside of my own house I sometimes get blocked in so I can’t actually leave easily.’
Although there is no exact data for the Isle of Man, according to the NHS there are around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, or around 1.8% of the population, which would equate to just over 1,000 people on the island using a wheelchair at least part of the time.
Stephen has raised the issue to Patrick commissioners, MHKs and the DoI but he says: ‘The response I got was always just “we’ll look into it,” “I’ll pass it on,” or “everything will be up to code,” well how is it up to code if I can’t get around properly? A lot of the new pavements don’t account for wheelchair users as well, a lot of the access points are only accessible from the road and are especially hard to get to when buses are stopped there. When they re-did the main road in Foxdale they put in dropped kerbs but the incline is so steep on some of them that I’ve actually fallen back before and could have easily hit my head on the floor.’
He continued: ‘If they spent a day in a wheelchair they’d see what life is really like for us, I’d be happy to take them round so they can understand. It probably won’t ever be perfect and I don’t expect the world to be made for me but it should be a lot easier than it is now.’
Whilst Stephen echoed Juan’s statement that the police do deal with incidents when alerted to them, he said: ‘I think people are aware that it is an issue but the attitude of a lot of them is that most people can deal with it so the rest of us should just get on with it.’
A gov spokesman told Gef: ‘The DoI undertakes Equality Impact Assessments on all its major projects before they commence. This involves taking into account visual impairment, mobility, age, sex, sexual orientation and ability to read English. Consultation also takes place with specific groups, including residents, local authorities and charities representing people with particular disabilities.’
Another access issue faced by pedestrians is the placement of paraphernalia, including roadwork signs and tables, on pavements. Kirk Michael resident Erin Bonett, who has a young family, described an incident she experienced recently. Erin said: ‘There was a sign on the pavement with sandbags and other signage on the street which meant I had to go out onto the road with a pram and a toddler due to the poor placement. I was halfway out to the white line to get around, cars did give way which was nice but not ideal.’ Erin also criticised the pavements in the village, she said: ‘I avoid the main road whenever possible as the pavement is too thin by the commissioners office, I have to balance the pram on two wheels.’
The spokesman for the gov said: ‘The placement of temporary signs should allow for disabled access in accordance with the Traffic Signs Manual, and site inspections are regularly undertaken to make sure this is the case.
‘The improvements currently being made in Kirk Michael are in the interests of pedestrians, including those with disabilities. This focus was highlighted at community consultation events held in advance of the project getting under way and will lead to wider pavements where possible and drivers giving more consideration to pavement users. The aim is that the changes, when completed, will provide a greater feeling of safety for the elderly, disabled and those with small children in particular, and encourage more journeys on foot.
‘The DoI is always open and willing to engage with the community on all matters surrounding highway safety. Anyone who wishes to raise a concern can do so in a range of ways – logging it online at reportaproblem.im, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 850000. Officers also regularly engage with local authorities which provide a valuable connection to concerns raised within their communities.’