Practical Solutions for Real Problems: Keys to Success in Planning for Accessibility
C Cleary, C Upfold, London Underground Ltd., UK; N Smith, Centre for Accessible Environments, UK
The paper describes an integrated approach that London Underground Limited is pursuing to enhance its network and achieve success in planning and implementing accessibility improvements. Examples of large and small scale solutions are provided.
London Underground Limited (LU) has made a commitment to "unlock London" by enhancing its existing infrastructure over time, where reasonably practical, to provide a network accessible to all. Each year over 30 million journeys are made by passengers who are disabled, including those with dexterity, sensory and cognitive impairments. Indeed, most of the network was designed and built over 150 years when accessibility was not an important issue in design or construction. The question is, how can the oldest metropolitan railway system in the world, constrained by its limited space and structure, and the potential costs of redesign and reconstruction, achieve success in making accessibility improvements?
The commitment to making accessibility improvements is further complicated by LU's recent adoption of a unique and unprecedented Public Private Partnership (PPP). After many years of under investing, the PPP was created to generate the necessary investment in LU's infrastructure. Within this PPP framework, it is essential that our mutual understanding of accessibility is clear from the start to ensure we work together on a scope of improvements that meet our objectives and legal obligations.
LU's legal obligation for making accessibility improvements comes from the 1995 UK legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Within this legal framework, LU must make reasonable adjustments to its network and services to comply with accessibility requirements. For this reason, the PPP Contracts are clear on what our suppliers must provide in terms of structural improvements (particularly step-free access). In other areas, the PPP Contracts leave it to suppliers to decide the methods used to improve accessibility, thus encouraging innovative, economic and efficient solutions.
This paper describes an integrated approach that LU is pursuing to confront these challenges and achieve practical solutions in planning and implementing accessibility improvements successfully. The paper features the research findings which led to this approach and presents actual experience in applying the approach. Recent successes in improving designs and making physical improvements at particular stations are explained to demonstrate practical solutions to real problems.
Last year in 2004, LU commissioned the Centre for Accessible Environments to recommend how the delivery of works undertaken in the PPP contracts could be ensured to achieve appropriate accessibility improvements. What lessons could be learnt from past works to influence the upcoming programme of station modernisation and refurbishments and avoid missed opportunities for improving access?
A study of 14 stations in various stages of design and construction showed that often the solutions to improvement of accessibility are not necessarily the most expensive ones. In addition to station specific recommendations for improving access, two key best-practice methods were identified and recommended as an approach for delivering improvements in future works.
A key best-practice recommendation is that the current environment be initially assessed, thus leading to the identification of reasonably practical accessibility improvements. This part of the process is referred to as an "access audit". Prior to works entering the design phase, suppliers carry out a high level survey on the station to define variances from standards and these surveys are used to inform the scope of the project. With a focus on relevant UK and LU standards, these access audits provide a current picture of the station prior to the works getting underway. This is a useful starting point to assess the current state of accessibility, and the usability of existing premises and its surroundings.
But assessing the current state of the physical environment against standards is not enough to ensure access improvements are carried out in station works. Another key best-practice recommendation is the development of an integrated access strategy for each station. This part of the process is referred to as an "integrated access statement". The information and recommendations gathered from an access audit are used to develop a strategy for improving access at a particular station. This is a plan that takes a long term view to identify opportunities for change both at routine maintenance and major upgrade of the premises. The "integrated access statement" should include policies, procedures, practices and management; provision of equipment and auxiliary aids; as well as the physical environment.
This paper presents the findings coming from further work commissioned with the Centre of Accessibility Environments in 2005 to put these initial recommendations into practice. Answers to the following questions are discussed:
1. How well have lessons learnt from the first study been taken on-board? A revisit of the Wembley Park station plans shows the implementation of successful accessibility improvements recommended from an access audit and the initial review of the design plans.
2. What is the value of an "integrated access statement" in planning for an inclusive customer environment? This paper describes the content of an integrated access statement using an existing station in the LU network, and how it can be used to approach potential compromises necessary when faced with constraints such as historical buildings, financial implications and limitations of space.
3. What practical solutions have come from the works undertaken so far? This paper provides evidence of successful large and small scale practical accessibility improvements made in recently completed projects, such as enhancements to Earl's Court, a station in a historically-listed building.
In conclusion, the paper offers these two best-practice methods of assessing the current environment (access audit) and creating a site specific strategy for improving access (an integrated access statement) as a model approach for the successful planning and delivery of accessibility improvements.
Association for European Transport