Uimhir Thagarta Uathúil: 
Irish Wheelchair Association

12. Movement and Mobility

Shared spaces

Shared spaces in theory is a good concept but in practice does not work for people with disabilities for many reasons. Shared Space, Shared Surfaces as an urban design concept is generally not supported by people with a disability and is not recommended by IWA as a safe and inclusive design approach to the design of urban streetscapes. There are several very specific elements of the Shared Space, Shared Surfaces design approach that cause anxiety for people with disabilities and other vulnerable streetscape users, namely:

• The removal of signal-controlled crossings

• Courtesy crossings, which are not signalled, depend on the ability of the pedestrian to negotiate a roadway crossing through eye contact with the motorist/cyclist which is a complicated and uncertain process.

• The concern that the person will not have sufficient time to cross the road or will have incorrectly understood the giving of permission from the motorist/cyclist to cross the road.

• The removal of kerbs is particularly problematic for people who have a visual impairment as kerbs provide a way-finding function.

• Pedestrian interaction with cyclists is of particular concern to vulnerable streetscape users where cyclists are not required to dismount when passing through a shared area or where cycle lanes with no kerb demarcation are routed through a shared space environment. Various UK reports , having studied and consulted regarding this design approach, have recorded that people with disabilities experience concern about the uncertainty created within these types of ‘shared’ environments and have consequently recommended the provision of ‘Comfort Zones’ within the Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces design, ie designated pedestrian routes, kerbs between pedestrian and vehicle/cycle traffic and designated crossing points; effectively a return to the more usual and traditional streetscape design. Where a space is badly designed or located so that people feel uncertain of their ability to safely negotiate a crossing, then people with disabilities and other vulnerable road and street users may avoid the area completely, leading to greater social isolation and disconnected communities. Clearly, the inclusion of a ‘Shared Space, Shared Surfaces’ approach in an urban design project requires careful, collaborative and real consultation with people with disabilities and their representative organisations to ensure that the environment is safely and confidently usable by everyone. This consultative process should commence at the design and planning phase and should be cyclical in nature during the life of the project eg. regular feedback from users which can be incorporated into each phase of the design process.


Below is an example of the reality of shared spaces at uncontrolled traffic lights for a person with a disability. A person with a mobility issue may feel that they cannot judge the timing of traffic to enable them to cross safely, and a person with a visual impairment will be unable to know when it is safe to cross as they will not be able to see on-coming traffic which includes cyclists.

Cyclist using a Toucan Crossing cycling across the pedestrian section


Bus Island

These islands are known as “suicide islands” as people with disabilities feel they are taking their lives in to their own hands.  Again, they are being pitched against the cycling community but as a pedestrian they are more at risk from any type of vehicle traveling at speed. To suggest that a cyclist will slow down when coming to these shared spaces is not a reality.  Experience of people with a visual impairment already is that they have been knocked over and/or abused for stepping out when a cyclist is approaching them.  This is not a satisfactory or safe way for anyone to negotiate their way through the bus connects system. There is nothing in theses designs that force cyclists to slow down/stop/dismount which leaves the pedestrian in a very vulnerable position.     

Where a pedestrian must cross a cycle lane by an uncontrolled crossing to get to the bus stop.

These are where the cyclist crosses the front of the bus stop which means the pedestrian must cross a cycle lane. The plans do not show speed reduction methods being used here.

A cycle lane which makes the cyclists go in front ogf the pedestrian as the try and enter the bus



Cycle Behind Bus Stop

Very similar to a bus island except the entire space behind the bus stop is shared space.