Pointless Grooveways

All over Europe, well-meaning grooved lanes, designed to help guide the canes of blind people, slice through sidewalks. But invariably, these paths are blocked by bollards, public art, giant potted plants, café tables, parked cars, dumpsters, and all manner of other barriers — making them pointless. And in all of my travels, I’ve never actually seen anyone using these grooved lanes.

Bollard in middle of sidewalk grooveways

Accessibility is an important dimension of a caring society. But breaking up a sidewalk for a grooved path no one will use seems to me a feel-good token measure with no honest interest in actually helping those who can’t see. I’ve observed this across Europe, but it bothers me the most in drab urban zones like Athens, Glasgow, Naples, and here in Cardiff — where a stretch of nice, clean, uninterrupted sidewalk would be a calming visual relief.

How is it that towns in painful need of visual charm cut up their sidewalks at great expense, lay down these grooveways, and then — realizing no one is using them anyway — ignore them? What drives this waste of public funds? Can someone give me the backstory on these? Have you ever seen anyone actually using these grooves? Or please set me straight if I just don’t understand how these are really helpful. Thoughts?


7 Replies to “Pointless Grooveways”

  1. I always thought they were for the blind. Guessing from your pic if you’re blind you’re going to do some damage in that bath!

  2. Could these gooveways possibly have something to do with controlling rain water, perhaps channeling it away from business’s? If not in today’s world then may be way back when they were originally designed?

    Just a thought. And they do look kind of picturesque don’t they? I do my best to never ever miss a single show. You have taught me so much about Europe and it’s culture and history. My late mom and I toured Europe in 1995, I made a promise ti my wife to take her to Rome when we were married in 2008. Sadly, our economy has not been good. I am not sure if we will ever be able to see Rome together, I am simply thankful that i did see Rome in 1995 with my late mother.

    as you say, “Keep On Traveling”

    Bill Howard

    (should you ever see this email personally my email is anbhow1@yahoo.com Perhaps we could exchange a letter or two now and again)

  3. Oh, now I get them when I take a closer look at the picture. there is a plaque on the side with a Knight on his horse. Perhaps in the really olden days the Knights hitched their horses to these posts and the grooved street way was to help channel the animal waste materials down the street! Just perhaps!!!!
    William Howard

  4. From the FHA website it says that grooves are common and inexpensive to install, but there is little evidence that they can be detected or used by people with visual disabilities. It also says they are ineffective because they can become full of debris, snow, ice, leaves. There are other options they discuss which seem more effective. Very interesting reading. It talks about many European cities implementing some of the other options also.

  5. They are designed to indicate an edge or change of surface for people crossing them, much like the raised buttons on the edge of a train platform or at a pedestrian crossing. They are not to be followed but detected underfoot so that the person knows what is about to happen.

  6. Nigel is right. In the picture you have posted I can see retractable bollards. Therefore at times the street is used by traffic. The grooves indicate to a blind or partially sighted person that they are entering as area where traffic may be present, so they act like a curb rather than as a route be followed.

  7. I saw a visually-impaired person use these along the Champs-Elysees last Sunday, 9 August 2015, on the way toward the Arc de Triomphe.

    To add to the challenge, it was extremely crowded.

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