People Friendly Streets will help wheelchair user enormously

Simon Izod meets Steven Powell to listen to his experiences of travelling the streets of Islington by wheelchair and what he thinks about the council's People Friendly Streets initiative.

People Friendly Streets will help wheelchair user enormously

Steven moved to Arundel Square 22 years ago. Six years ago, due to health issues, he became dependent on a power chair. He was classified as high priority for relocation by the council, as he lived on the third floor of an old Georgian building that was unable to meet his needs. He subsequently moved to Highbury Station Road – nearby enough to keep in contact with his close friends. The road had just become a "People Friendly Street" when it was closed to through traffic as part of the Highbury Corner improvements; "it was wonderful and made a huge difference to my quality of life", he says.

Steven uses his powerchair along the pavements in Islington - it's currently too dangerous for him to use the roads as motorists don't expect to see wheelchairs. However, practicing social distancing is challenging with larger numbers of people on the pavements. Out of their sight line in his wheelchair, many people don't spot him until it's too late – so he is pleased at the relocation of the Taxi rank at the Sainsbury’s on Liverpool Road which has removed a pinch point, making collisions there far less likely for him.

The major issue Steven mentioned in our conversation is the quality of dropped curbs or lack of them on certain streets in Islington. The dropped curbs are sometimes angled too steeply, which could result in his chair toppling over. He often visits the Canonbury Tavern, but reaching his favourite pint of Youngs is fraught with danger: a too-steep curb at a crossing forcing him on to the road on busy Canonbury Place.

He is really impressed with the People Friendly Streets in Canonbury East and St Peter's, saying that these changes will help him enormously as it will be safer for him to travel along the roads. He appreciated that the council has severe financial limitations and therefore fixing all the dropped curbs would be extremely costly, so providing more space on roads for him to travel along will be a massive help.

Regarding the recent furore on the part of some regarding the People Friendly Streets, he has seen this before. "People were all against the bus lanes and congestion charges when Livingstone first proposed them, but we all reap the benefits now."

Steven uses a Freedom card to travel on the Overground, Underground and buses. He doesn't own a car, partly due to the cost, but also because he wants to do what he can to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels, deeply caring about both human health and environmental impact. He commented that when he did have a car, he used to drive down cut throughs and now appreciates the negative impact it had on those living there. He doesn't use taxis as he is invisible to taxi drivers when he attempts to hail them from the street, also finding them cramped and difficult to reverse in. For him public transport provides more manoeuvrability. However, he strongly believes that taxis rather than private cars should be integral to the future transport mix and has seen this work in Germany where public transport and taxis connect extremely well with each other.

He said that it can be frustrating when people talk about people with disabilities as a large homogenous group and "take disabled people's name in vain". The needs people have vary greatly and are not all visible such as the blind, deaf and those who are neural atypical. This is something we should all bear in mind and one of the main reasons why I wanted to speak to Steven. I believe it's important that we should listen to different voices and understand that this group of people will have different perspectives like anyone else.

Steven believes everyone's health is suffering from the large volumes of traffic on our roads and is worried about the impact our dependency on fossil powered vehicles is having on the planet’s climate. He believes the People Friendly Streets are a good step in addressing these concerns.  At the end of our conversation we talked about how as a child Steven used to play on the streets in London and how wonderful it would be if the People Friendly Streets led to a big increase in children doing this in the future. Yes indeed.


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