COVENTRY’S controversial ‘shared space’ road junctions are being legally challenged on safety grounds.
A blind peer – Lord Holmes – is spearheading the dispute, while solicitors have written to Coventry and four other local authorities.
He commissioned a survey of 600 people which suggested two thirds of people rated their experience of shared spaces as poor.
The report also found more than a third of people avoided them, and an under-reporting of accidents.
He claims the junctions could breach the Equaly Act by discriminating against disabled and visually impaired people like him.
Solicitor Chris Fry from Unity Law is representing five visually impaired people suing their coouncils.
The debate about Coventry city centre’s red so-called ‘shared shace’ junctions – which removed traffic lights and pedestrian crossings – resurfaced last month when the new junction 6 of the ring road opened.
There are widespread public concerns the new junctions are more dangerous and cause confusion – especially for the elderly and disabled and others with mobility problems.
Coventry council leaders insist the national and international statistics demonstrate the new junctions and their reduced speed limits are safer – as pedestrians and motorists are forced to be more careful in navigating each other.
Council highways assistant director Colin Knight has said the early evidence on junction 6 was that the vast majority of motorists and pedestrians were using it properly and with good traffic flow – despite a crash in its first week.
He has long insisted the city’s new junctions are not pure “shared space” junctions, which go further than Coventry in removing signage and pavement kerbs.
But Lord Holmes of Richmond wants shared spaces to be put on hold, and claims there is a ‘prima facie’ case that existing ones breach the law.
He said: “An immediate moratorium on all shared space is absolutely essential. I hope that this survey will act as a wake-up call to all involved in these dangerous and costly planning follies.
“Town centres are being turned into dangerous third-world traffic free-for-alls.
“Shared space is not a safe place. Overzealous councils are risking public safety for aesthetics and the result is confusion, chaos, unnecessary cost and catastrophe.”
A Department For Transport spokesperson said: “It is for local authorities to assess the suitability of introducing a shared space scheme on their roads.
“As part of this we expect them to take into account the needs of the whole community, particularly disabled people.”
A Coventry City Council spokesperson said: “We would strongly defend a legal challenge.
“A full shared space sees no segregation between the pedestrian and the motorist. In Coventry we worked very closely with visually impaired groups and there was a desire to keep segregation between footpaths and roads.
“The ethos was to use innovative road layouts to design out speed and bring about a change in driver culture.
“To change the priority from drivers to pedestrians needs a change in environment so drivers approaching the junction are seeing something sufficiently different that then makes them drive with caution and keep their speed down.
“We have carried out regular monitoring and the schemes at Gosford Street and Hales Street have resulted in fewer recorded injury accidents.
“The council has carried out a programme of public realm works over the last few years, a number of works are ongoing, with a key objective to make the city centre a safer, more pedestrian-friendly place.”