Helping Yorkshire Coast Sight Support group cross the road safely

Crossing the road safely is something most of us take for granted several times a day.

So when members of the Yorkshire Coast Sight Support group said there was one area in particular where visually impaired people were struggling to cross, it became a team effort to get something sorted.

That team, made up of officers from North Yorkshire County Council and the Sight Support Centre, made the Zebra crossing happen.

The Yorkshire Coast Sight Support Centre is on Dean Road, Scarborough, which was where the difficulty crossing the road arose. That part of Dean Road has heavy, constant traffic.

Manager of the centre Colin Eastwood said: “All our members are visually impaired, with many coming to our resource centre by bus or, particularly in summer, walking from the town centre.

“Traffic took no notice of someone wearing a hi-vis vest, dark glasses, with a white cane and often a guide dog trying to cross the road.

“In most cases, a team member from the centre had to go out to escort our visually impaired visitors across the road.”

Mandy Pepworth, the County Council’s Road Safety and Travel Awareness Officer for Scarborough at the time, went to see Colin to discuss the problem.

She said: “I went personally to see Colin to discuss the issues the service users faced attending the centre.

“He told me was that there are over 4,000 people registered blind or partially sighted in Scarborough and YCSS has over 80 people attending the centre each week.

“Due to the amount of traffic on the road, the service users struggled crossing the road safely and could be waiting a rather long time or taking chances when they felt there was a gap in the traffic.”

Mandy used a data logger to measure the traffic, and found that although there wasn’t any issues with speeding, there was a constant flow of traffic.

Darren Griffiths, a senior engineer within Highways, was working on a roundabout further down the road. He met Yorkshire Coast Sight Support Centre member Anna Messruther.

Anna and her guide dog crossing the road

Anna, who has no sight, struggled to cross the road, like many of the members at Yorkshire Coast Sight Support.

She now feels safer doing so, but also is pleased that the crossing leads directly to the Yorkshire Coast Sight Support Centre, because she hopes it will make more drivers aware of visually impaired people in the area.

She said: “I need to say a massive thank you to Highways for doing this.

“The road is very busy and cars go quite fast, meaning it’s very hard for a visually impaired person to cross.

“When you’re blind and trying to cross the road you are relying entirely on sound, so if it’s windy or rainy it’s very hard to tell if traffic is coming.

“A lot of our members use public transport to get to the centre and a lot of people used to have to phone the centre and ask for help to get across the road from the bus.

“Independence is a big thing, however, so to have the crossing there to enable us to cross more safely is important.”

Anna added that many people take for granted being able to cross a road safely, but for those without sight it’s something they must take very seriously every day.

Although guide dogs and aids can help, those who are blind or have a visual impairment must meticulously plan their journeys to keep safe.

She added: “A lot of our members are elderly, too, and cannot just dash across the road. And the same goes for at night. Just knowing there’s a crossing makes it safer.

“As the crossing leads directly to the centre as well I hope it alerts more drivers to blind and visually impaired people crossing the road.

“Sometimes drivers may see a guide dog or a cane but not make the connection.”

After Anna and Darren met, Darren put in an application for funding for the crossing.

Darren said: “It is a very busy road and there wasn’t anywhere for the members to get across, so they suggested a formal crossing just outside of the centre.

“I identified the best location, arranged surveys and then prepared a detailed design before applying for funding through the accessibility budget, which is available for things like this, putting in drop kerbs etc.

“Eventually, we were granted funding for a crossing. The whole process didn’t happen immediately; I first met the members on site in 2018 and colleagues took the scheme forward.”

Now the crossing is in place, everyone is feeling the benefit.

Colin added: “The crossing has already been well-used despite lower visitor numbers due to Covid-19.

“Our members have commented on its benefits, but we’ve also had members of the public call in to thank us for our persistent efforts in getting it installed.

Cllr Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “This is a really good example of how teamwork within the county council has led to this much-needed facility for local residents with impaired vision.”