Street Clutter

The best thing about using a cane is that it helps me find stuff before I bump into it. However, when I’m travelling around London, there is a lot of stuff to avoid bumping into! One of my biggest problems is street clutter.

What is street clutter? Well it’s different to street furniture like lamp posts, railings, bollards and bins. They tend to stay where they’ve been put. Admittedly, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with lamp posts and tumbles over bollards, but the important point is I can learn where these things are. Agreed, it’s easier to remember where something is if you’ve walked smack bang into it! I keep a record of street furniture to avoid in my mind map of my routes. Street clutter on the other hand is an unknown factor, a constant variable and therefore a real hazard.

So what are my top offenders?

Offender number one: A boards and advertising signs

A street view, shop fronts on the right, the way ahead is full of A boards and signs
Photo courtesy of @blindseyeview aka my pal Charlotte

A boards or A frames, signs and outdoor shelves are a real hazard for visually impaired people. This quick snap of a street view shows what kind of obstacle courses we have to navigate on a daily basis. Imagine having to find each individual sign and then work around it with a cane. It takes AGES.

Now I have some residual vision so I can see the colours and up close I can sometimes even read these signs (when I’m right on top of them). However, if I’m focusing on my route, or it’s very crowded, I’m tired or there is bright sunshine, my cane bumps right into these. Sometimes these kind of boards and signs take up the whole pathway and I’ve been forced to navigate along the edge of a pavement, next to a road, because it’s easier than getting around the clutter. This kind of advertising pavement hogging also forces crowds and pedestrians into narrower paths, meaning that people walk into me as they’ve not seen my cane.

So what’s the solution? Ask your local shop owners to keep the A boards as close to the buildings as possible and not to block the thoroughfare. If you see a board really blocking the pavement, ask the business if you can just move it back or turn it so it’s taking up less space. Or for repeat offenders report the issue to your local council.

Offender number two: bikes

two bright yellow bikes block the pavement

Bikes on pavements are hazards. I’ll just duck whilst the cyclists throw things at me. Bikes are great, I like bikes. Other Half rides a bike to work, I rode a bike when I was a kid. OH and I want to be confident on a tandem so I can enjoy bikes again! However, bikes parked up on pavements are really problematic. Especially these new app bike schemes that let people ride and then dump the bikes wherever they like!

The biggest problem with bikes is they are a very narrow object at the bottom with all sorts of angles and shapes that can catch you or injure you. If a bike is not in my central field of vision, I can sweep my cane right by the wheels and get a handlebar in the stomach. Although I can see objects, I can’t always see the detail of the object, so many time with bikes I think I’ve walked around it but then I trip on a back wheel or get a basket in the bum.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a good example.

a row of orange and white rental bikes on the right hand side of the pavement. Behind the bikes further down the street other bike racks are just visible.

Please park your bikes against other items of street furniture or next to bike racks. This means cane users are already avoiding that area, it’s not in the middle of the pavement, it’s a fixed point and we’ve probably mapped ourselves around it. Here is a good example of a shared bike scheme parked out of the main thoroughfare, next to an existing bike rack and street furniture.

Offender number 3: road works

A sunny day. Cones and road signs block tactile paving at a street crossing

I know these kind of signs and cones are necessary to indicate that road or building works are happening. This is a particularly shocking example that I had to complain about to the local council. Instead of placing the signs and cones in the road they’ve laid them across the tactile paving. As you can see this was a bright sunny day, so I didn’t see these signs, my cane swept underneath the legs of the sign and I caught myself on the sharp metal edge.

Road or building works can dramatically change the landscape for a visually impaired person. Familiar routes and crossings are blocked or changed. It can throw a real curve ball to your day and be really disorientating.

So what’s the solution?

If you see bad practice like the photo above, please report it to your local council. Where possible clear paths should be maintained, especially around crossings and tactile paving. They are obliged where possible to ensure pedestrian safety.

If you notice a visually impaired person looking disorientated or worried near some road works or a construction site, maybe their guide dog can’t work out a way round or they’ve got muddled in some signs, just go and offer some help. Ask if they need assistance and how best you can offer some support!

Other culprits

Bin bags and wheelie bins. Although I usually get the usual olfactory sensory information that it’s bin day, bin bags and wheelie bins present a bit of a challenge. On our local bin day I try to schedule it so Other Half walks me to the station. I know wheelie bins need to go out in front of houses, but businesses that leave their bin bags out on the street are a real pet hate. Firstly, in my local area the foxes get into them and spread the litter everywhere. My cane has to wade through loads of gross rubbish, and I have to disentangle it from fried chicken boxes and nappy bags, then I have wash it. No one likes commercial waste being left on the street, so let’s all report it!

Cafe furniture. I love to sit outside and sip a latte as much as the next person. I don’t like getting totally tangled in a flimsy metal chair and accidentally swiping an old lady having her morning brew! It’s great when cafes or bars put some kind of barrier or screen between their furniture and the pavement, it’s a bit more solid and means I can remember to avoid it as they are usually erected in the same place each day. So, if you’ve enjoyed an al fresco refreshment, please remember to tuck in your chairs so the next person like me who needs to walk past has plenty of room.

It’s worth remembering that street clutter affects lots of people, including disabled people who use mobility aids like walkers, wheelchairs or scooters. As well as parents with prams.

If you want to help reduce street clutter in your area why not use the RNIB resources from the ‘Who put that there!’ campaign. It has lots of information and advice about how you can help make pavements clear and safe for everyone!

Also check out a recent blog post about Bhavani’s experience of street clutter from East London Vision

Follow my #CaneAdventures on Twitter and learn more about how I navigate life as a visually impaired person


5 thoughts on “Street Clutter”

  1. I really love this blog because it’s a subject that I myself am and have been navigating for years. Here in Australia, there have been bylaws put in where shop owners have had to start putting their street furniture along with their a frames and displays away from the windows of their shops and towards the road way as I’m not sure how things are done in the UK when it comes to orientation and mobility but here we are taught to use the building line as much as possible as it’s the safest way. there is one pizza shop here in the town I live which has a barrier with tables and chairs sitting within it but the problem with that is that the barrier sticks out so much that I have to walk towards the road to get around it. It is in our council’s bylaws but not all shop keepers comply and there are some who don’t comply because they have very little room inside plus they don’t always own the stores and they are renting them from the council. I feel like going into the shops that have their stuff on the window side and letting them know to move them away from the windows but I’m fearful of some attitude particularly if not all the shops are owned by council although I could ring council if I am confronted on a recent walk in the main street here I was testing out something called the buzz clip which is something similar to the mini guide or the mowett sensor which as you approach an obstical the stronger the vibration gets which comes in very handy when some obsticals are often at head hight.


  2. I really love this post. Here in Seattle Washington we have very cluttered sidewalks down by the waterfront, making it tricky to navigate around littered bikes, huge bike racks, billboards, you name it. Following the building line isn’t always the safest because you have people and billboards there as well. But you are more likely to get assistance if you stay near the buildings. Thankfully there aren’t too many really bright days in Washington so I can use whatever eyesight I have along with my cane to weave this way and that through the maze of obsticals I find in my path.


  3. Oh what a brilliant post.

    I was trying to cross a busy road by some roadworks and couldn’t work out from my side of the road if the area I wanted to cross to was clear of obstacles one of the workmen saw me hesitating and cane across to tell me it was safe to cross and walked with me to help me through the cones and signs.


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