Liverpool City Council, as part of a pilot scheme to improve road safety in the city centre, have installed vibrant coloured and distinctively designed crossings commissioned by behavioural science company So-Mo. Liverpool has the highest rate of adult deaths for pedestrian collisions, so the colourful crossings are hoped to encourage people to make minor changes to their behaviour.
CEO Nicola Wass, who is behind the designs on Hanover Street, has said that “Liverpool should be proud of the fact they are taking an intelligent approach to road safety. These crossings have been informed by the science, but are designed with a deeper understanding of the people who use them and the problems they face”. At the same time however, many residents took to Twitter to share their concerns about the crossings, with many pointing out that the vibrant colours may cause accessibility issues for disabled people.
For many disabled people, crossing the road safely is an essential part of accessing the wider community. But the rise of art-on-road crossings can pose a risk to their safety and their life. Transport for All, along with 7 other disability organisations took action against the installation of colourful crossings in London, which pose several risks to the most vulnerable in society. In a letter to the London Mayor, Transport for All detailed the impact that colours and patterns will have on a person with a disability. For someone with a visual impairment, a dark shape could easily look like a hole, blue paint could be confused as water and changes in contrast could be perceived as an uneven floor, which can cause hesitation to cross and ultimately could lead to a person attempting to cross the road where it is not safe to do so.
In response to the installation of the crossings in Liverpool, residents were quick to point out on Twitter that guide dogs and the partially blind will not be able to cross the road safely due to the inconsistency of the design, impacting dogs’ willingness to move, posing a greater risk to life than before they were put in place.
Transport for All has voiced concern that the rise of colourful crossings and their accessibility implications will lead to disabled people being cut off from their communities and being isolated, as a result of avoiding public spaces. Yet, it is not surprising that Liverpool City Council and So-Mo have neglected to consider the importance of accessibility for disabled people and their lives, as the most vulnerable in society are often rendered invisible under capitalism.
The link between capitalism and the oppression of disabled people is intrinsic. Going back to the birth of capitalism in the Industrial Revolution, people with impairments have often faced brutal treatment due to being either perceived as or actually unable to fulfil labour requirements for profit-making. As such, disabled people have frequently been outcast and ‘othered’. As has been seen with austerity, or in the Tories’ Covid outbreak response, disabled people are often penalised or ignored by government policy, leading to them disproportionately experiencing premature death, economic harm and social exclusion.
As Engels and Marx explained, the “ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas”. When capitalism suggests people’s ‘worth’ can be defined by evaluating their level of productivity and contribution to the market, it becomes clear that justice and the implementation of equality for disabled persons will not be considered within this system.
Liverpool City Council and the company that was commissioned for the pilot scheme of colourful crossings have both failed to consider the impact of disabled people and are likely going to continue doing so under capitalism.
Another criticism raised by the public on Twitter regarding the crossings is the normalisation of catcalling. Despite sexual harassment awareness being prominent in the minds of women because of the tragic murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa due to male violence, it is extremely out of touch with the current discourse surrounding women’s safety that crossings with slogans such as ‘wit-woo’ and ‘ooh-la-la’ were greenlighted by the council. The words added to concerns crossings might help to contribute to the normalisation of sexual harassment. A study conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee found that 85% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 years old have already experienced harassment. Co-founder of Reclaim these Streets, a campaign for women’s safety, commented on the commissioned crossings also introduced in Hull and asked how it is that these slogans promote helping people to cross the road.
Liverpool City Council should now reverse this decision in favour of disability-appropriate alternatives. But this should not have happened in the first place. Key decisions about city planning and development must be taken with the full democratic involvement of working-class people, including through trade unions; BAME, women’s and community groups; and via disabled people’s organisations.