Residents count the cost of city's crumbling pavements
Disabled people are finding it more difficult to navigate their way around Sheffield... mainly due to the poor standard of pedestrian walkways. So what is the solution to so many potholes and humps.
When did you last look at the pavements of your city? If you’re one of the 13 per cent of Sheffielders who has a significant disability, it will probably be every time you leave your house.
“I’ve got the patience, most of the time,” said Andrew Crooks of the circuitous route he uses to convey himself and his power chair to the local shop.
Andrew is an engagement worker for Disability Sheffield, who advocate and advise about independent living for Sheffielders with disabilities.
The point, said Andrew, is that if a disabled person was running late for work in the morning, for example, why should they miss their bus or not manage to get to the shops simply because they had to follow a different route to everyone else?
Andrew cites Sheldon Road in Nether Edge, which has narrow pavements, lots of parked cars, heavy traffic and several large plane and sycamore trees, whose roots have turned the surrounding Tarmac into mini mountain ranges for anyone trying to get past in a wheelchair or scooter.
“And if you have a sight impairment when crossing or walking down Sheldon Road, you don’t get the chance to feel for tactile pavements,” Andrew said.
Earlier this year, attempts were made to take down some of the trees on Sheldon Road due for replacement in order to carry out the pavement improvements, but the work was stopped by protesters.
Andrew has friends on all sides of the street tree debate, and says the protest groups include people with disabilities.
“People have an affection for nice-looking places, and that has to be respected,” he said.
But he also believes the Streets Ahead work in Sheffield is ‘long overdue’ for wheelchair users.
People with many types of disability are affected by a city’s pavements, he explains.
Wheelchair or scooter users can be blocked by sudden gradients, where a passable one in 10 might become an impossible 1 in 5 to traverse a hump.
Potholes in roads or footpaths can have significant dangers too.
“If you lose your front wheel in a hole, you can pretty easily come out onto the floor,” Andrew said.
And poor road surfaces are a problem to wheelchair users travelling in a car, who are often susceptible to back pain and other impairments.
Residents who walk with a disability like cerebral palsy or CMT can lose balance and fall on smaller bumps, and if they have to step into the road to avoid uneven pavements, they are in danger from drivers who might not understand why someone with an unsteady gait is walking across in front of them.
“Before I used my chair, if I’d fallen down I couldn’t actually get back up again,” said Andrew.
After road and pavement work is done, it makes a difference, Andrew said – although he would like contractors to watch out for steep gradients on dropped kerbs.
But he adds a word of caution: “We have no problem supporting the council and Amey for removing these kinds of obstacles, but we do have a problem with using disabled people as an excuse.”
For example, the point is sometimes made that retaining some of the condemned street trees would require work not covered by the Streets Ahead contract, and so might have to be paid for out of the council budgets for social care.
“The council have to be careful to tell people if the budget for social care would be impacted if they don’t get these works done as soon as possible. I think they have to be clearer.”
He says there have been arguments about street tree issues, with some colleagues becoming really upset about the Streets Ahead contract, and others who do not care too much.
“Personally I’ve gone this way and that way with the debate, because we know the council funding has been decimated,” he said.
“I’ve moved away from it now,” he added.
But the conflicts remain, along with plenty of roots, humps and holes still waiting to be negotiated.