Sidewalks impede blind

Almost three years have passed since the City of Athens completed the much-vaunted project of adding special lanes for the visually impaired to sidewalks and installing ramps for people with limited mobility. But instead of making life easier for those with disabilities, the changes have in many cases made it more difficult. Guide lanes with special ridges often lead directly to metal poles, trees, walls and dead ends, damaged pavement, and all sorts of obstacles, including parked cars, trash, a display of products from stores or kiosks, and sometimes even tractors. Without a sighted escort, the blind cannot move around at all in public spaces. The evidence comes from a team of medical students from Athens University who did a survey of pavements in the city. Their findings results are documented in an exhibition of photographs: «Guide Lanes for the Blind on Sidewalks: Eyes Wide Open» at 75 Micras Asias Street in Goudi. The students’ photos show that many of the new sidewalks were very poorly constructed and are not suitable for use by people who cannot see. Among the 395 city blocks investigated, the team found 501 encroachments and 119 places where the pavement was damaged or badly made. This means that walking downtown, where one might expect the pavement to be in better condition than elsewhere, a pedestrian will encounter, on average, 1.3 encroachments and 0.3 cases of damage or poorly made pavement per city block. The researchers split up into groups and walked the streets of the city at rush hour. For a month and a half they photographed anything that impeded the movement of visually impaired people as well as the most blatant cases of badly made or damaged guide lanes. They covered Tritis Septemvriou Street (from Omonia Square to Ithakis Street), Mesogeion Avenue from the Athens Tower to Katehaki, Pheidippidou (from Michalopoulou Street to Vassilissis Sofias Avenue), Acharnon Avenue (from Touda to Vathis Square), the full length of Stadiou and Solonos streets, the area around Omonia, Ioulianou Street, Patission Avenue and the area around Syntagma Square. After surveying the area and recording their findings, the students came to the conclusion that the «the guide lanes in general did not help the blind but were made for the sake of being made, and not to meet the needs for which they were designed. The blame lies both with the municipality for the poor construction (which does not meet specifications) and the failure to maintain them (which makes conditions worse), and the public for placing obstacles (of all kinds) on them.» The most dangerous roads, according to the survey, are Solonos, Pheidippidou, Ioulianou, Ippocratous and Patission, while the 10 worst city blocks in term of damage and encroachments are around Solonos, Ioulianou and Acharnon. «Another conclusion drawn from the research is that our society has the wrong goals. What is the point of creating lanes for the blind when they are made haphazardly or have serious construction faults? And why spend millions of euros when you can’t keep the lanes clear? It is strange that the city engineers who were responsible for the sidewalks accepted delivery of work with such blatant shortcomings,» said Professor Ioannis Papadopoulos, who directed the research. «Non-slippery pavement for the blind was installed on 450 streets in more than 750 square kilometers of new sidewalks, and 7,000 bars were installed throughout the city. After our on-site inspection, we wonder what has changed for visually impaired people,» he added.

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