Blind and visually impaired people rely on audible pedestrian pushbuttons to know when to safely cross the street. How accessible are they?
How Cities in North America Communicate Efficiently about Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow
How Cities in North America Communicate Efficiently About Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow
You’ve invested thousands of dollars in the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS). It’s now time to make it known to those primarily concerned: blind and visually impaired people who are eagerly waiting for APS to gain more autonomy in their trips. How can you do it? What type of information is it necessary to transmit? Which channels can you use? In this article, you’ll find the methods chosen by cities in the United States and Canada which have answered the issue head on.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals (also known as audible pedestrian signals) favor the mobility and the autonomy of blind or visually impaired pedestrians. Indeed, thanks to audible and vibrotactile indications, they know exactly when they can safely cross the road enabling them to get around in the city in a spontaneous way. As well as anybody else, blind or visually impaired people aspire to fully enjoy their city. No matter what their size is, cities have to make their public roads accessible implementing APS for pedestrians with a visual impairment. It’s an obligation defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for the US and the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1985 for its neighbor.
Let’s take a glance at solutions undertaken by cities which have already positively apprehended the issue!
Public road accessibility: efficiently informing pedestrians with a visual impairment
For blind or visually impaired people, getting around means doing some research beforehand in order to correctly apprehend a place or a route. Where exactly is the building entrance located? Where is the nearest subway station? Besides, is it an accessible subway station? This process requires preparation to find on the Internet all the necessary information so that they can have a safe and serene trip.
The commitment of cities towards their blind or visually impaired citizens
The Internet has demystified information thanks to a digital accessibility that’s more and more innovative. Thus it’s easy for people with a visual impairment to surf online. They can know the number of APS implemented in their city plus their exact location. New York City, the largest city in the U.S., provides information on Accessible Pedestrian Signals directly on its Department of Transportation website. Any concerned citizen can download the list of intersections equipped with APS and the 2019 report on the status of the APS program. With just a few clicks, blind or visually impaired pedestrians can know which parts of the five boroughs they can freely explore.
At the end of 2018, New York City had equipped 371 intersections with Accessible Pedestrian Signals. This amount was possible by implementing APS on 75 intersections each year but for 2019 and 2020, it was decided to increase their number to 150. Meaning that the installations of APS at intersections have doubled and their cost too. Thus in 2019, the city spent $9,675,000 to equip 150 intersections according to different criteria established by laws and regulations and implemented by city engineers. These data are in open access for the public and involved city planners in an annual report of the state of accessibility in New York City. In our article Everything You Need to Know about Accessible Pedestrian Signals Regulation in New York City, we had already explained which guidelines city engineers follow regarding the features of APS and their installation.
The Big Apple doesn’t limit itself to the use of regular APS with pushbuttons but also focuses on innovative technology with aBeacon developed by Okeenea Tech. Indeed, aBeacon was the winner of the Call for Innovations of the New York City Department of Transportation: it’s a connected APS with on demand activation. Blind or visually impaired pedestrians just have to use a remote control or the app MyMoveo to activate a sound message telling them when to cross the street safely. In a world where COVID-19 can be spread everywhere, including on surfaces, having a perfectly contactless APS enables pedestrians to be safe. This type of APS is responsive to COVID-19. In this particular context, pushbuttons, which can sometimes be difficult to find on a pole for users with a visual impairment, do have their limits… The device aBeacon is currently in test in a junction in the city. Not only does New York City favors inclusive mobility but also innovates using a technology that can make crossing the street safe for all pedestrians during a pandemic.
Although no specific information or list can be found on the Department of Transportation for the city of Los Angeles, it’s not the case for San Francisco: their Municipal Transportation Agency website provides an updated list of the 305 intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals that also contains the 80 intersections that will be equipped with APS in a near future. A complete and transparent communication that benefits all citizens with a visual impairment who want to know exactly what their city is doing to improve their mobility! Pedestrian accessibility in the Fog City can only but improve as previously demonstrated in our article We Need to Talk about Pedestrian’s Crossing Accessibility of San Francisco.
Another major U.S. city that bets on rising its number of APS installed on intersections is Chicago. In 2019, the Windy City had only equipped 11 signalized intersections with APS, a very low number considering around 258,900 inhabitants of Illinois have a visual impairment. Consequently, last year Mayor Lighfoot announced the installation of 100 new Accessible Pedestrian Signals in the following two years. Chicago is ready to make an effort and introduces its whole program to install new APS on the city website with the proposed locations listed and in open access to any concerned citizen. For this pilot project, the city worked closely with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and the Chicago Department of Transportation and displayed at the public meeting open house photographs of the APS that will be installed. Proof that Chicago is set on improving pedestrian accessibility.
APS in Canada are similar to those in the United States since they are activated with a pushbutton. Following the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005 (AODA), Accessible Pedestrian Signals in the state of Ontario need to be complied to certain regulations. Toronto provides the list of the 999 intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals. We had already focused on the city’s accessibility for blind or visually impaired pedestrians in our article How Do Blind People of Toronto Cross the Street Safely?
The 176 intersections of Ottawa equipped with APS are also available online and listed by the city but the need for more APS is crucial to improve the mobility of its 50,000 blind citizens as shown in our infographic.
The cities of Canada make a point in providing its citizens with a visual impairment all the necessary information so that they know which parts of their city they can explore. Accessible Pedestrian Signals enable blind or visually impaired to gain more autonomy and a freedom of movement!
Open data resources: a new opportunity for cities
Information regarding the locations of Accessible Pedestrian Signals can also be deployed through open data. Indeed, open data represents a great opportunity for cities to gather all types of updated information for all parties concerned in city planning whether they are engineers, designers, operators, public or private service providers or just regular citizens who want to be involved in their city.
When Canadian cities have understood and mastered this type of resources to list APS as Toronto and Montreal do, American cities unfortunately don’t gather information on their open data websites failing to see that locating APS in their city is essential for the mobility of blind or visually impaired pedestrians.
Using open data resources enables Internet users to have access to regularly updated information with just a few clicks!
Organizations: efficient intermediaries in the field
Organizations play a central role in providing the right information to people with a visual impairment who may not know how to access it. This happens to be the case for the blind or visually impaired inhabitants of Montreal thanks to the RAAMM organization (Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Montréal métropolitain) that lists the 209 intersections that are equipped with APS.
For New York City, the organization PASS (Pedestrians for Accessible and Safe Streets) is a major actor that has its say concerning the installation of APS. Not only does it contain the link to the list of the locations of APS provided by the NYCDOT but it also works closely with the city’s legislators and officials including the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to identify intersections where the implementation of APS would be best suited for blind or visually impaired pedestrians.
Citizens can thus directly be involved in their city planning. In North America, people can request online the installation of APS in an intersection they use. Their request will then be studied by city engineers and put on the list if the need is valid. Different criteria need to be matched in order for an APS to be installed. In the United States, the request is done through the city’s Department of Transportation: users can write to the commissioner via an online form. It’s really easy for citizens to actively participate in their city life!
The Vision Zero plan: another way for cities to be more inclusive
The Vision Zero approach aims at improving road safety and reducing the number of accidents by focusing on the responsibility of road designers and not its users’. Therefore, it’s up to road designers to create a safe environment for all users (cyclists, pedestrians, car drivers). All the major cities of North America we mentioned implement this plan at various degrees according to their needs and their infrastructures.
Vision Zero measures consist in:
⊗ Reducing speed limit for cars;
⊗ Creating safe bike lanes where they are necessary;
⊗ Improving lighting;
⊗ Installing Accessible Pedestrian Signals on traffic lights;
⊗ Increasing the duration of the crossing for people with reduced mobility…
Every profile is scrutinized and considered so that road safety affects every one of them.
New York City has implemented a Vision Zero action plan for 6 years now and has issued a report showing the efficiency of their actions: last year was the second safest year since pedestrian deaths reduced by 33%. Vision Zero has become a priority for the Big Apple which is already reaping the benefits of its actions!
For Toronto, reducing pedestrian injuries means focusing on installing more Accessible Pedestrian Signals for blind or visually impaired people. This year, the city has already equipped 46 intersections as its target is to reach 66 intersections. Their Vision Zero initiative prioritizes pedestrians with a visual impairment, an approach we can all but salute!
Pedestrian accessibility represents an important issue for cities. Indeed, making sure that everybody can cross the street safely favors inclusivity. The Smart City keeps evolving to improve the mobility of blind or visually impaired pedestrians and this goes through the implementation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals. It’s up to cities to provide accurate information to their citizens.
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