News / ‘Exceptionally dangerous’: Voe resident angry over reduced pedestrian space on busy road

SIC road safety engineer says current standards for barriers require a specific minimum amount of room

Marshall Leask using an empty pram as an example this week. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

A VOE resident says it is now “exceptionally dangerous” to walk from his house towards the village shop after replacements to crash barriers on the main road left little space for pedestrians.

Marshall Leask also said the community was not consulted by Shetland Islands Council when the new barriers were being put in last summer.

The 69-year-old, who lives just north of the war memorial, said the road is historically a right of way for pedestrians and added that wheelchair users would now have to encroach onto the very busy road.

He and his wife also feel unable to safely take out their great grandchild in a pram from their house.

In response Shetland Islands Council’s traffic and road safety engineer Colin Gair said current standards for vehicle restraint barrier require a specific minimum amount of room in order to function properly in the event of an accident.

He added that where a barrier is provided along a road section the council would generally recommend against pedestrians using the verge area between the barrier and the road for walking, “even where that verge may be of a reasonable width”.


Shetland North councillor Tom Morton, who has taken up Leask’s case, said he felt the need for a protected pedestrian way is “obvious” – and he also called for a reduction in the speed limit there, which is currently 50mph.

The new crash barriers on the A970 near the memorial were installed following a serious road accident. They are supported by metal, rather than the wood used previously.

Whilst they are an improvement for drivers, Leask said the space left between the road and the barrier for walkers is now less than it used to be. At some space the crash barrier is more than a metre closer to the road leaving next to no space for pedestrians.

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He said it is now “very dangerous” for anyone walking between that area and towards the shop.

His house, built in the 2000s, is located off the main road there, leaving little option but to walk along the road if travelling by foot.

“Some bits of it [the roadside] are about 18 inches from the tar edge, so you have to go on the road with a wheelchair,” Leask said.

“It is a very dangerous situation we’re in. I can’t leave this house now and walk south or north along the road to the shop or anything without actually being on the hard edge of the tar.

“There’s three houses here that’s been isolated, and they [the SIC] don’t seem to be prepared to do anything about it.”

The Voe resident also highlighted there is a blind corner there, and suggested that many drivers were not sticking to the 50mph limit.


Leask said he has been in touch with the council about the situation, but remains frustrated with the responses he has received so far. He also engaged with Scotways, the charity which upholds and promotes public access rights.

He claims there could have been alternative solutions which may not have reduced the walking space, such as gabion baskets.

There is a path which runs up the hill towards the start of the pavement on the A970 there, known as the Sparl Steep, but Leask said the incline is around 45 degrees and is not a safe access route.

‘Why take away the freedom of pedestrians?’

Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

“They’re encouraging people to walk nowadays, they’re putting in cycle ways and all sorts of stuff,” he added.


“When they come to do a road improvement, the barrier would be an improvement for motorists, there’s no question – but why take away the freedom of the pedestrians?”

Morton said he has walked the route personally and “felt incredibly exposed to passing vehicles, which often travel at excessive speeds”.

“Safe pedestrian access has effectively been closed off between the shop and the B0971 road end, and there is ample evidence that this is a traditional right of way walked for many years,” he said.

The road as pictured on Google Maps from 2015, showing a slightly increased space for pedestrians next to the barrier. Image © Google 2022

“The crash barrier modifications, understandable though they were due to an accident, were undertaken without local consultation.


“I know there will be difficulties providing safe pedestrian access. But I believe it is the council’s duty to do so.

“Along with the imposition of a lower speed limit on this busy and dangerous stretch of the A970.”

In response Gair said the council recognised that the space between the road and barrier had been reduced.

But he said the space requirements on the stretch of road is greater than was used by the old barrier.

“The new vehicle restraint barrier along the A970 at Voe was installed as replacement of older barrier that had suffered significant damage from a vehicle impact and was no longer fit for purpose,” Gair said.

“The road corridor available for the A970 at this location is severely restricted by both the local topography and the proximity of properties to the road.

“This type of constraint is found in various locations across our road network and regularly results in compromises to both carriageway and verge widths, as is the case here.


“Current standards for vehicle restraint barrier require a specific minimum amount of room in order to function properly in the event of a vehicle impact. The space requirements for this location is greater than was used by the old barrier installation.

“While it is accepted that the new barrier installation at Voe has resulted in a slightly narrower verge space at some points than was previously available, that verge space was already quite narrow and notably limited in places.

“It is also relevant to note that where a vehicle restraint barrier is provided along a road section we would generally recommend against pedestrians using the verge area between the barrier and the road carriageway for walking, even where that verge may be of a reasonable width.

“This is because barriers are designed to contain an errant vehicle from leaving the road, which in practise means they are directed along the line of the barrier in the event of an accident. This poses an increased risk to any pedestrian walking along that verge.”

He said as a result pedestrians may be best advised to use the east verge of the A970.

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