Changes to city roads make it difficult for blind or visually impaired people to get around
- Credit: Archant
'We need our crossings back' - that is the message from those who are blind and partially sighted, as they struggle to navigate Norwich city centre after recent changes to road layouts.
Volunteers with the Royal National Institute Of Blind People (RNIB) in the city said changes as part of a £315m roads shake up has stunted their independence and made many anxious to venture out.
Michael Wordingham, regional assistant campaigner for the RNIB, has a condition called cone dystrophy, which he has had since he was a toddler.
The 43-year-old, who lives in Caernarvon Road, said: 'It means the cones in my eyes are damaged particularly in the macular section right in the middle so my vision is very poor.'
Mr Wordingham used to be confident to take trips out to the city centre but things have changed since areas such as Westlegate, All Saints Green and Finkelgate have been redeveloped and some crossing removed, while other areas had been turned into shared space.
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'I've found it much less comfortable going through the city because I need the crossings and my guide dog Mac uses the kerbs to orientate himself and know when to stop. I've noticed when we're in the city in wide open spaces where there are no kerbs he gets a bit disorientated and it's a bit difficult for him to know which direction to go. It makes me very anxious to go in the city, it's very hard to find routes around the city where there's any safe place to cross at all. It means people become more isolated and really deeply affects their quality of life.'
By 2025, some £315m will have been spent on the Transport for Norwich project, which has seen months of roadworks around the city centre.
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While a large chunk will go on the Norwich Northern Distributor Road, there have been shake-ups to many city centre roads.
Drivers have accused the changes of being anti-car, though Norfolk County Council says it will benefit drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike in the long-run.
Proposals currently in their infancy include the closure Prince of Wales Road and work to make it two-way, a £700,000 shake-up for traffic in parts of Eaton and Cringleford and changes to the Newmarket Road and Daniels Road areas.
A consultation is also to be launched into a proposed £900,000 new crossing over St Crispin's Road, near Anglia Square, from St George's to Botolph Street.
In response, volunteers with the RNIB have made videos demonstrating how difficult it is to get around.
University of East Anglia student Ruby Blyth-Smith, 21, said she also struggled with getting around the city.
Miss Blyth-Smith has a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative condition which she got when she was 13. She's lost 85pc of her vision.
'I rely solely on the help of Ziggy, my guide dog,' she said. 'I wouldn't be able to come into the city without her but since the crossings have been taken away I've found it much harder than it already was. I feel like it's a real shame because before I had Ziggy I had very little mobility and very little independence. All the changes have drastically reduced the independence she gave me.'
She added: 'With the new shared space scheme there's no indication where the kerbs are, where the paths are, where the roads are, so cars and bikes will be where you're walking, so it's hard to indicate to her what side of the road to be on. It's really unclear where to walk.'
A spokesperson for Transport for Norwich said: 'Recent changes to the city centre have been designed to balance the needs of a wide range of people and road users, including those who are blind and visually impaired. We have worked closely with the Norfolk and Norwich Association for The Blind (NNAB) and other groups to find the best solutions possible. A number of measures including tactile paving, well-placed signalled crossings and raised kerbs have been used to help those who are blind or visually impaired to navigate the area more easily.'