Monday, 5 November 2012

Shared Space- Exhibition Road and a Tale of Two Museums

*** update 7/11/12

On 7th November 2012 I was photographed next to the shared space of Exhibition Road.  The timing of the picture was when no moving traffic was around in order that the paving layout could be shown in the photograph. 
Prof Whitestick by shared space on Exhibition Road
7 Novemeber 2012

Later, I had an opportunity to discuss this with someone from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) who was on an exhibition stand at Sight Village in Kensington Town Hall.  We exchanged views and I know that at least one other visually impaired person (another cane user) has complained of the diagonal pattern on the shared space paving. 

I find that when crossing the Exhibition Road, my peripheral vision is ‘confused’ with the diverging white lines which drift into the extreme limits of my field of view.  This really clouds out any ability to detect moving traffic.  I don’t think this was fully appreciated by whoever designed this pattern for Exhibition Road. 

The person from RBKC said drivers of cars were forced to realise that they were no longer in a normal road environment with the appearance the white diagonal grids. 

I’m personally not convinced by this as many experiments are done on motorways with road markings in an effort to cut speed.  Drivers still exceed 90 mph on a 70 mph motorway.  I have no idea how rigorously drivers who use Exhibition Road stick to the speed limit.

I had a Twitter exchange with Alastair Somerville (@acuity_design) on this and it’s copied below. 

@acuity_design RBKC had a stand in #sightvillage so had a chance to exchange views on #sharedspace in Exhibition Road

@ProfWhitestick anything about tactile info panel? We lost quite on 'urgent' work back in January

@acuity_design No mention but another VI person with cane had complained of peripheral vision confusion with diagonal markings

Alastair Somerville 
.@ProfWhitestick good research on how bad an idea strong geometrical shapes on floor are for ppl with visual impairments.

@acuity_design Apparently the patterns are to "confuse" the driver of car. a psychobabble experiment.

Alastair Somerville 
. @ProfWhitestick whole thing reminds me of Dazzle painting theory of ship camouflage. Which only worked if you didn't think about U Boats

@Acuity_Design @profwhitestick Call me old fashioned, with their history I'd say it seems a bit tasteless to have RBKC at #sightvillage.

@traceyproudlock @acuity_design I suppose they paid the exhibitor who paid the Town Hall "owner" Still they did ask me.

Alastair Somerville
@TraceyProudlock @profwhitestick well, it is their town hall but still ironic given the policy issues of Ex Rd.

*** end of upate

9 October 2012


Shared Space is a concept where all traffic - vehicular, bicycles and pedestrians - is allowed to interact in one common shared space.  An example of this is Exhibition Road in London, an area frequently visited for the many fine museums.  Access is from South Kensington Underground and its connecting tunnels.  

I have heard a lot about shared space and have made inputs through the usual channels, as well as sharing comments through Twitter with other twitter contacts.  I can often be found exchanging tweets with @Acuity_Design and with @Pellegrino5.  I have also been in touch with James White from GuideDogs and some links are on this post.   I have described the journey through the tunnel to the Victoria and Albert Museum (

My first experience of the shared space itself was when I walked along Exhibition Road and noted the corduroy tactile indicating the end of the pedestrian zone.  I walked so far up and passed the other V&A entrance and turned to face the road itself.  I could make out diagonal paving lines (presumably for decoration for those looking down from a ‘plane), which I found distracting and really did not know what to make of them at street level.  They could be misunderstood as a safe way to cross. 
View of shared space on Exhibition Road
South Kensington, London
7th Novemeber, 2012

Many of the pedestrians were too busy in groups and I waited for silence, relatively, from the road and stepped into the road.  I could make out cars, taxis and bikes travelling up and down.  I crossed the road, coming across parked cars and bike racks and walked back in the direction of South Kensington Tube Station.  I found the tunnel and passed a museum which I took to be the old geology museum and the corner of the Natural History Museum.  I had returned home by getting my bearings and sense of direction from the tunnel’s direction and then with the help of the London Underground.

After my visit to the V&A in October, I decided to explore Exhibition Road further and left the V&A in Cromwell Road and turned right, up Exhibition Road.  I noted the other entrance to the V&A and thought I could make out the courtyard where I had had a coffee.  I followed the pedestrian zone and felt a heavy studded tactile indicating a road at right angles.  I assumed this was a service road and crossed it, walking up Exhibition Road to where I thought the Science Museum was.  I crossed the road, took an obvious wrong turning (in retrospect and with hindsight- daft concepts for visually impaired!) and entered a building which was in fact Imperial College. 

They were kind enough to tell me where the Science Museum was and I crossed another service road, studded tactiles, and thought I could make out a tunnel entrance.  At this point a teacher leading a group of schoolchildren shouted to her charges “Careful, there is a blind man here!”  I  asked if she knew where the entrance was and she replied that I was at the Science Museum Staff Entrance and that the entrance was “round the corner”. Again, with hindsight, she really meant that the entrance for school groups was round the corner but I went past this and again ended up in another part of Imperial College.   

I was told to go back and turn right at a statue (“you can’t miss it”) and the entrance was further down the road.  Funnily enough my knowledge of a piece of Tony Cragge sculpture stood me in good stead and I found the entrance to the Science Museum. 

On entering, I asked a guard for assistance and was taken to the information desk.  I asked what there was for a visually impaired visitor like me and was not impressed by what happened next.  (Again, with hindsight perhaps I should have informed them that I was coming and asked if they had special events.)  I stood my ground and insisted on speaking to someone. 

Other people were being given instructions for the Watson and Crick model of DNA and they hadn’t booked in advance. After lots of phone calls someone from “Front of House” came down to speak to me. I was told that I ought to have made prior arrangements and that I was engaging with a Front of house Staff team who “had not been trained in dealing with visually impaired people”. I was determined that I was not going to go away empty handed and insisted being taken to the Watson and Crick model and a MRI scanner.  This was duly done but, I felt, grudgingly.  Again, I was told to contact Nicola Dee prose (who was out at lunch).

I saw the DNA model and the object label was read to me. The MRI scanner was also done.  In passing some displays beside a car I asked what it was and found, to my delight, that it was a display about Perkins discovery of the synthesis of alizarin and other pigments, dyes and the founding of the modern organic chemical industry.   By now I was engaged with someone “who had not been trained” and also saw the Ripley Manuscript on Alchemy (it is shorter than Jack Kerouac manuscript of On the Road in the British Library- that is another story.) 

I was helped to find the accessible facilities and had a coffee and a muffin in the coffee shop.  As I made my way out, I was surprised to pass several audio sets or audiovisual displays – and puzzled that no one had thought to mention them to me.  An opportunity to engage further that day or even in the future was lost and I felt some sadness that such a science institution should be so Neanderthal in “handling” disability.  

What a disappointing visit and rather a disgrace to the Science and Technology Sector.  I first visited this museum in 1969, but it seems that in 2012 there was no enlightenment, no science, no wonder and no encouragement.  I did get a few contact names written down on a piece of paper which I have just located.  (They were put in the back pocket of my trousers and thus absent for a while.) I am sure I left my name and email address, but to date have heard nothing. 

Natural History Museum


I walked down the road towards the Tube station and decided to risk another museum.  This entrance was through a maze and a security guard, thinking he was being helpful, kept barking turn left when he meant his left, i.e. my right.  Worthy of an Inspector Clouseau!

I asked for assistance at the main desk and the person stood up and called for a staff member.  I was invited to sit for a few minutes and Frances appeared shortly after with a friendly greeting of “How much time have you got?”  I had never been here before, so I had a short introduction and I found myself wanting to see the dinosaurs.  Why not? 

Frances took me through the geology section and after I explained I had studied one year of geology, read out a few labels which sounded interesting.  We passed through an area with many tactile models known as Final Impressions and there are many objects to touch, not only for the visually impaired.  There are fossils and I told Frances of my childhood visit to the Royal Scottish Museum with a selection of ammonites.  Frances duly found some. 

In reaching the Central Hall, cathedral like, of the museum I could appreciate it from the inside.  In the 1970s I had driven past it at night when it was floodlit.  In the dinosaur area I was able to walk around and Frances said if the object was not behind glass it could usually be touched.  We clambered up the equivalent of a tree tops walkway and passed the model of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

On the way back for the main exit I asked to see their early hominids and was taken upstairs.  I was helped in the shop and given the times of audio visual shows.  If I had wanted they could take me on after such a show.  This approach is not spoon feeding but making an obvious link by the institution. Frances took me out to the Cromwell Road exit and indicated by instruction a ramp to the tunnel entrance.



While I may have been hard on the Science Museum - it was lunchtime -it is still disappointing and I am not the only one to complain about it.  At a recent lecture in the Royal Society of Chemistry, Professor Colquhoun said that an original plant for low density polyethylene was in the Science Museum. Hmm.

With the Natural History Museum, I may have been lucky in the timing as it was around 3pm.  Since my visit I have heard that some complaints about access for visually impaired people had been made.

Regarding shared space:

The idea of crossing this road must put off many visually impaired visitors to some museums. An unintended consequence and what should all stake holders do?

James White of Guide Dogs has sent me links for the Exhibition Road and their campaign. 

More information on the Streets Ahead campaign can be found on:

With regards to Exhibition Road, this news article gives a good overview: