Episode 5: Blindsight


It’s something I ponder most days; how different my city looks and feels depending on how I get around in it.

As a cyclist, it’s often a mini-battle zone. As a motorist, an exercise in frustration. Travel is something urban public transport users appear to endure, rather than enjoy. Then there’s the look of resignation on the pedestrian’s face, as they wait for another red light runner to pass in front of their “cross now” signal.

But Thomas Bryan had a perspective entirely foreign to me. After hearing Episode 1 of The Traffic Jam, on Wellington’s new bus network, he invited me to view his  neighbourhood through his eyes; eyes which can’t see.

Thomas, who works with The Blind Foundation and hosts a disability show on Wellington Access Radio , calls Newtown home.

We met at a bus stop on a wet and blustery day. Walked a few pavements, hopped a few buses. I learnt a lot. Of course, quite a few things Thomas uses to navigate a busy urban environment were right under my nose. The pads of yellow plastic by every pedestrian crossing, the hazards of sandwich boards and other things, blocking the footpath.

I came away from our meeting realising even my stationary bike can be a hazard, depending on where it’s tethered. I also came away with more of an appreciation for the value of noise; the dangers of silent e-vehicles, or of crossing signals drowned out by the roar of traffic – or the Wellington wind.

As Ellen Blake argued in Episode 3, the footpath is not quite the pedestrian sanctuary it should be. I have mixed feelings about opening up paths to other wheeled users (on top of those who already have the right to be there).  I do feel, whatever happens, the sidewalk should be a place where pedestrians come first, and pedestrians should be able to put their trust it that being the case.

Newtown struck me as a noisy place. A lively one too, and Newtown’s environment is all the more relevant given this is coming up .  It’s a microcosm of Wellington’s dual geographical blessing and curse. A blessing in that its geography has funneled three major suburban routes into one compact easy-to-get-around valley. A curse because when you overlay that valley with demand to squeeze a growing number of motor vehicles through it, things get messy.

I’m going to devote Episode 7 to Newtown’s potential make over. In the meantime, I invite you (in true Traffic Jamm’n style) to walk a talk in Thomas’s shoes.








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