Blind Low Vision NZ says colourful dots in $400,000 Takapuna road improvements trial dangerous

An advocacy group for blind Kiwis is criticising colourful artwork installed as part of a $400,000 road improvements trial in Takapuna. 

The trial is aimed at improving Huron and Northcroft streets which the Auckland Council says are windy, unsafe, and unpleasant for people. 

The changes were introduced in June and July and include speed bumps, decorative planter boxes and colourful dots painted on the road and pavement. 

The biggest changes are on Northcroft Street which gets a new traffic island, median strip and two mobility parks. There are also changes for Huron street which gets wind and rain shelters and rearranged car parks. There is also a new pedestrian island and crossing on Lake Road. 

A document on the Auckland Transport website shows the improvements will cost $400,000. Of that, $100,000 was spent on road markings. 

But Blind Low Vision NZ chief executive John Mulka told Newshub the colourful dots are dangerous for blind Kiwis 

"Blind Low Vision NZ does not support the use of coloured footpath and roadway art as it can potentially create confusion and or disorientation for travellers with low vision." 

Mulka said people with low vision could see coloured markings as obstacles such as holes in the ground. 

"This is an added barrier for people with low vision in travelling safely and independently.

"There is a risk of causing distress, disorientation and potential injury as a result."

He said the colourful art should be removed from pedestrian crossings to make roads more accessible. 

"We strongly advocate that there be no coloured art on pedestrian crossings. The continuous accessible path of travel must be kept completely clear of coloured artworks at all times." 

Mulka said Blind Low Vision NZ was not consulted on the changes. 

"[We] welcome the opportunity to consult and collaborate with agencies like Waka Kotahi and Eke Panuku Development Auckland on such matters at the design stage of these projects.

"The opportunity to provide such assistance will help us ensure that the built environment is accessible for people who are blind or have low vision." 

It comes after residents hit out at Auckland Council over the cost of the markings on a community Facebook page earlier in the week. 

"You couldn't make this stuff up. Can we have a partial refund on our rates? This is a bad joke," one person commented. 

"It's like someone with a fixation on the game Twister was let loose to lead the design team - money no object. Ridiculous!" another said. 

"I was shocked when I saw this mess, improving Takapuna I'm all for but this is an eyesore, we are not in kindergarten," someone else said. 

"Just horrible and ugly and not environmentally friendly," another claimed. 

Takapuna residents have expressed their displeasure over the new art.
Takapuna residents have expressed their displeasure over the new art. Photo credit: Facebook

The trial is a joint project between Eke Panuku Development Auckland and Auckland Transport. It is 90 percent funded by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency. 

Eke Panuku north priority location director Kate Cumberpatch told Newshub the paintings are part of the trial and they would love feedback from the community, including Blind Low Vision NZ. 

"It's great that Blind Low Vision NZ are interested in providing feedback on the project. 

"During the trial period the community is invited to provide feedback via the project page.

Cumberpatch said the pattern follows Waka Kotahi guidelines and went through an Auckland Transport approval process.

"That includes specialists with knowledge of these guidelines who review the design for its suitability for people with visual impairments. As a result, the Huron and Northcroft design went through two different versions of roadway pattern before arriving at this one.

"We'd welcome the opportunity to work with Blind Low Vision NZ on the design process, including things we can do or change to alleviate their concerns with the current road and footpath painting." 

Waka Kotahi urban mobility manager Kathryn King said they work with Blind Low Vision NZ to create general guidelines for road art. 

"Blind Low Vision NZ and Waka Kotahi will continue to work together to refine the design standards following our programme evaluation.  

"It is important we don't cause unnecessary distress for low or vision impaired people and we are committed to developing guidelines for coloured footpath and roadway art that work for all."

But she said because the Takapuna trial is council-led, Waka Kotahi doesn't have oversight over who is consulted. 

"The Takapuna Innovating Streets project is a council led so we don’t have oversight as to the key stakeholders they engage with, although we ask each individual council to follow our informed design standards for road art, which were produced in conjunction with an external accessibility consultant. 

"We also ask councils to seek feedback from a wide cross-section of the community, including those with access needs, in order to help adapt designs based on the experience of people using the street and data collected."