Accessible Environments - The foolishness of copying
There will be justice in Athens when those that are not injured are as outraged as those who are. ~Thucydides
I am so lucky to live in a warm place like Durban. We’re being branded by our Tourism department as ‘The warmest place to be’ and this works on several levels. Most of the people in Durban hate the mid summer when it is warmest! Personally, I love the warm weather, and live out West where we are a few degrees cooler than the city, but also have hardly any wind, so it’s perfect.
At the end of April I went to Copenhagen to attend a meeting of a group of European architects called Architecture for All (AfA) prior to the World Congress of Architects which was held in Durban at the beginning of August. I was eventually there only for 2 nights. The Meeting was held at the Danish Architecture Centre. As I am involved with several transport projects at present, I was immediately aware of their systems, and the ramifications of a completely different culture. Knowing that the Danes are bicycle oriented still does not prepare one for the barrage of bicycles, and the need for each of the pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles to respect each other, which is the basis for the system working so well. I am fascinated to know how this all works in the winter?
In South Africa we are trying to incentivize people to use bicycles, public transport, in the interest of economy and best environmental practice. Being an ordinary pedestrian, and public transport user there was an education. Part of the time there I also was a person with luggage, which is one of the categories which falls under Universal access. When I arrived, with my suitcase, one of the train stops which I had planned to use was out of action, so I had to walk about 2 kms to the next stop: the pavements and roads are charmingly paved with cobbles, mostly very neatly finished with shallow cross channels every 5 meters or so, on the pavements, to discharge the melting snow in the winter into the gutter. This was no fun. Also when one has to cross the road one has to be very aware of the bicycle lane which is adjacent to the motor vehicle lane. The bicycle lane is usually not crossed by these neat channels, so it is easier to use if one has a suitcase, but it’s not worth the temptation, as the cyclists will shout you out of the way!
The train stations are also extremely useful, for getting around. There are lifts at most of them, and facilities for the cyclists. There are large parts of every train set aside for cyclists, with housing for their bikes; and these areas double up for the use of ordinary pedestrians, and all beautifully integrated. There are monster staircases up to the platforms as they are usually above the street level. The cyclists use these too. I have a picture of a neat track on the side of the staircases for this purpose.
In fact in the pavements outside places like Tivoli Gardens there are rows and rows of racks for parking of bicycles, which at present occupy three quarters of the pavement widths, and definitely take precedence over ordinary pedestrians. As with most ancient cities in Europe, there are also wide open piazzas where pedestrians are king, and many have tactile ground surface indicators for assistance to blind people. They are metal and are completely different to those used in Britain or South Africa.
As an aside, we are trying to work out a standard that is more universally understood by blind people in South Africa, in terms of external circulation routes, and even in my narrow experience of this, it is a complication that must add to the predicament of being blind, and urgently needs attention.
Standardization does sound like the answer, but I doubt if it is as simple as that. It requires vigorous research as to what the basic principles of way finding in external circulation routes for blind people is all about. It will assist a much broader range of people than just blind people, as seeing people depend on light in order to see.
What I’m really trying to say is that what’s underfoot is important for all sectors of society and many uncomfortable finishes perpetuate, because they look quaint, or are hardy and won’t go away, but it seems ridiculous to copy systems for those reasons alone and not consider the broadest range of users.