Selfish Belfast drivers turn life into assault course for visually-impaired Gerald
A visually-impaired Belfast man believes lives are at risk because of issues with a pedestrian crossing and vehicles parking on pavements near his home.
Dunluce Avenue resident Gerald Totton (57), who is registered blind and suffers from a number of health conditions including epilepsy, fibromyalgia and diabetes, says he has experienced a number of "near misses" with traffic on a four-lane Lisburn Road crossing.
On a tour of the streets surrounding Mr Totton's home yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph witnessed the traffic lights at the pedestrian crossing beside Methodist College change to green before he had finished crossing the road.
And on several occasions during a walk along Dunluce Avenue, Ulsterville Drive and Ulsterville Avenue, the white cane user was forced to walk on the street due to vehicles blocking the pavements.
"I have lived on this street for 54 years and this situation with parking on the pavements has been going on for several years," Mr Totton said.
"A couple of weeks ago there was a lorry parked on the pavement with pipes sticking out and hanging down.
"I thought I was small enough to go under it, but I couldn't and I hit my head.
"The next day there were three vehicles parked so far over that they were touching a hedge, so I couldn't get by.
"Someone with a guide dog or in an electric wheelchair or scooter wouldn't be able to get by, nor could anyone with young children, or the elderly.
"As well as the cars, there are wheelie bins, trees and skips on the pavements.
"It is scary. There are medical centres near where I live, and it is also near the City Hospital.
"But instead of paying for car parking they park outside the houses.
"I have a home help, but she can't always come because she can't find a place to park her car."
Mr Totton also disclosed that he has suffered frightening encounters at the nearby pedestrian crossing.
"I have been stuck in the middle of four lanes of traffic at least half-a-dozen times," he said.
"Once, a bus driver let me carry on, but there was a Ferrari in the last lane and he revved and drove straight through - if I had been in his lane I would have been killed.
"I do worry about it, it could be a matter of life or death."
Mr Totton said the site where the incidents occurred was a puffin crossing, which he claimed offered less time for pedestrians to cross than a pelican crossing would.
"Puffin crossings have sensors on them, and are supposed to detect when someone is still on the road and stop the lights from changing - obviously they have changed in my case," he continued.
"There are schools in that area, and there is a centre for people who are elderly and disabled. I would like to see puffin crossings replaced with pelican crossings in Northern Ireland."
PSNI Inspector Rosemary Leech (above, with Mr Totton) said police had been trying to raise awareness through its Pavements are for People campaign, and that parking on the pavement where there are no double yellow lines is not illegal, unless an obstruction is caused.
She said the PSNI advises that a minimum of 1.5 metres of space be left to enable a guide dog or wheelchair user to pass.
Those who infringe this could face a £30 fixed penalty fine.
"What we are doing by this, when we are selfishly parking and not leaving sufficient space, is putting the most vulnerable in our society out onto the carriageway," she said.
"You are putting vulnerable road users and cars in conflict, which is never a good mix."
She said that the PSNI is "completely supportive of residents' parking schemes", and advised anyone experiencing issues with cars parking on pavements to call the police on 101.
Guide Dogs Northern Ireland's Andrew Murdock said that vehicles on footpaths were not only dangerous, but could lead to visually impaired people becoming "isolated" by losing the confidence to go out.
South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said he thought the residents-only parking scheme piloted in the Holyland area last year should be extended, but believed that a minister would need to be in place to sign off on this. He also said he wanted to see a study examining whether double yellow lines could be put along one side of Dunluce Avenue.
Green Party Botanic representative Aine Groogan also backed extending the residents' parking scheme in the Holyland to other areas.
"It has been an overwhelming success, that area has completely transformed, but we need that to be rolled out across south Belfast, and this area in our mind is key," she said.
Commenting on the Lisburn Road pedestrian crossing, the Department for Infrastructure said: "The department will arrange to have the timings of the signals at this crossing inspected."