At What Intersections Should You Install Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

At What Intersections Should You Install Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

Two intersections where accessible pedestrian signals are installed busy with pedestrians

At What Intersections Should You Install Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

 

When you install accessible pedestrian signals, you first need to ask yourself where exactly they are needed. Are there any intersections blind and visually impaired pedestrians particularly use? Where should accessible pedestrian signals be located?

The second question you need to consider is whether your APS meets the proper regulations. For this, you need to turn to the ADA and the requirements your state and/or city follows.

We’ll tell you what you need to pay attention to in order for your accessible pedestrian signals to be safe and useful for pedestrians with visual impairments.

Where to install accessible pedestrian signals?

This question is essential to make sure you install accessible pedestrian signals at the appropriate intersections: where they matter and where they are needed to ensure blind and visually impaired can get around.

There are 4 situations where accessible pedestrian signals need to be installed:

You’ll find more APS at large cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco…

The reason why is simple: these cities and their metropolitan areas are more likely to be accessible to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired people. 

Consequently, it makes sense people with vision disabilities favor cities where accessibility is better deployed instead of small cities or rural communities that would deprive them of their autonomy.

Blind and visually impaired people can request the installation of an accessible pedestrian signal.

If pedestrians with vision disabilities happen to frequently use the same route to get around, they can request the installation of an accessible pedestrian signal.

But it can be complicated as they first need to know who’s in charge of the intersection in question. As you know, it can be the department of traffic engineering, the county or the Department of Transportation…

In order to do that, they usually call the department of traffic engineering or public works of their city. Once they know who to specifically contact regarding traffic signals for the selected intersection, they can directly speak to this person.

If you happen to be this person on the line, make sure you’re familiar with the intersections you run. They’ll ask you about the policy you apply for your APS. For you, this means you need to explain to them clearly what it is in layman’s terms.

Maintaining good communication with blind and visually impaired people is key to ensure a trustworthy and open relationship. Make sure you listen to them so that they listen to you as well.

It’s even better if pedestrians have access to the APS policy directly on your website. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency chose to upload theirs for full transparency.

Accessible pedestrian signals are needed near organizations and schools for blind and visually impaired people.

Once again, APS are to be installed where they are useful for pedestrians with visual impairments. If there are areas where they’re more likely to be because of organizations or schools, they need to be able to know when they can safely cross the street.

This means activating the accessible pedestrian signals around their work or school.

You need to install accessible pedestrian signals at intersections where there are not enough non-visual indicators that enable pedestrians with vision disabilities to cross.

Blind and visually impaired people rely on tactile and auditory cues to apprehend their surroundings such as tactile paving with a visual contrast at the beginning of the crosswalk, the ambient sound of the traffic and accessible pedestrian signals in a best case scenario.

Find out more on the steps the visually impaired undertake to cross the street:

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

Blind and Visually Impaired People: What Are Their Difficulties When Crossing the Street?

Obviously, when intersections are very busy with vehicles, blind and visually impaired people are reassured when APS are installed.

But the same holds true for intersections with slow or rare traffic. Calm neighborhoods can actually pose a threat for their safety. 

After all, are they sure they can cross when they can’t hear a vehicle? What if there’s an electric car that’s just more silent than regular ones? What if there’s a distracted cyclist?

When traffic is busy, they can hear engines starting and tires squelching. When there’s absolutely no traffic noise, it can be deafening. It raises the alarm: is the intersection safe for them to cross?

With accessible pedestrian signals, they’re sure they can rely on the audible system. And cross the street when they have the right-of-way. 

Check out what cities have implemented to install APS at the perfect locations:

New York City Accessibility: Are Pedestrian Crossings Safe for Blind People?

How Accessible Pedestrian Signals Can Help Chicago Be the ‘Most Inclusive City in the Nation’?

We Need to Talk About the Pedestrian Crossings of San Francisco and Their Accessibility 

Is the intersection newly constructed or existing?

These cases share similarities but also differences. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do in both situations.

Installing APS at newly constructed intersections

This is what you need to implement as required by the PROWAG and the MUTCD:

The accessible pedestrian signals are actuated with pushbuttons,

The WALK signal needs to provide audible and vibrotactile indications,

The WALK signal is emitted by tone or speech message,

When there’s a pedestrian pushbutton, you need to install a pushbutton locator tone,

The tactile arrow needs to indicate the direction of travel on the crossing.

Installing APS at existing intersections

Each existing intersection has its own particularities. We will not develop here every little action you need to undertake but just the general ones to remain vigilant.

You need to assess the typology of the intersection that needs to be retrofitted and the technical issues you may encounter. 

Does the intersection already have poles for the installation of accessible pedestrian signals? Do you need to add poles?

At first, you need to follow the new construction guidelines recommended by the ADA to make sure you implement useful and safe accessible pedestrian signals.

If it’s not technically possible, your role is to minimize any ambiguity there may be for blind and visually impaired pedestrians to have access to the appropriate audio information.

What to pay attention to when you install accessible pedestrian signals?

You need to focus on one thing: avoiding ambiguity for blind and visually impaired people. Unambiguous information could put them in danger and lead to accidents. 

This concerns several key points you need to pay attention to. Here are some of the important ones:

Pushbutton: its location needs to be accessible for blind and visually impaired pedestrians and wheelchair users.

WALK signal: the information needs to be clear, that is to say the audio information dubbing the visual WALK signal needs to signal the appropriate crossing.

Sound in the environment: make sure sound serves a purpose. Otherwise it’s just noise pollution for the residents and for pedestrians with visual impairments.

Volume of the accessible pedestrian signals: the point is for blind and visually impaired pedestrians to properly hear them. But they can’t be heard over the traffic sounds. Their volume needs to be set to a minimum of about 30 dB and a maximum of about 90 dB.

Of course, it depends on the intersection you’re installing APS at and its ambient sound. As you’re aware, some intersections are louder than others.

Every piece of equipment that enables signalized intersections to have accessible pedestrian signals needs to be studied and designed to meet the needs of the visually impaired.

Keep in mind that accessible pedestrian signals are key to ensure pedestrians with visual impairments a seamless mobility chain. This is what enables them to get around in the city.

The dubbing of traffic lights serves as audio signage to guide them from one point of the crossing to another. 

When you install accessible pedestrian signals, you’re not only following accessibility guidelines for vulnerable pedestrians, you provide them with more autonomy and safety. Thanks to APS, they can go to work or go shopping by themselves.

Want to know more about accessible pedestrian signals? Check out these articles:

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

Why Should Your Accessible Pedestrian Signals Have a Guiding Sound Corridor?

Published on June 17th, 2022

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An accessible pedestrian signal installed with a pushbutton. The sign on the pole says: "Don’t push the button. Pedestrian crossing now automated. Wait for WALK signal before crossing".

When you install accessible pedestrian signals, you’re not only following accessibility guidelines for vulnerable pedestrians, you provide them with more autonomy and safety.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Blind and Visually Impaired Pedestrians: What Are Their Difficulties When Crossing the Street?

Blind and Visually Impaired Pedestrians: What Are Their Difficulties When Crossing the Street?

Several pedestrians waiting for the WALK signal at a crossing in Chicago

Blind and Visually Impaired Pedestrians: What Are Their Difficulties When Crossing the Street?

 

Blind and visually impaired pedestrians can face many obstacles and challenges when they navigate the streets, especially for crossing them. 

Abled pedestrians cross the street in an automatic way without even thinking about it. They simply check out the color of the traffic lights and start walking as soon as the green man appears.

They “just” have to be careful when crossing the street by checking if a car is coming. For blind and visually impaired pedestrians, being careful is a state of mind. It never leaves them.

Because as soon as they step foot outside, the world can easily become inhospitable. But if you become aware of their struggles and issues, you’ll be able to make sure they can safely cross the streets of your city.

There are solutions that enable blind and visually impaired pedestrians to feel less anxious when crossing the street. First, let’s see what actions they need to take to safely cross the street.

1. Locate the beginning of the crossing

This actually represents the most challenging action for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. 

They more or less know where they stand on the intersection. Other pedestrians rely on visual cues to spot the desired crossing and go towards it. But how can they know where the crossing begins?

They can rely on a locator tone that constantly emits sound.

The locator tone is used as an audio signage: it helps blind and visually impaired pedestrians find the beginning of the crossing.

Unfortunately, not all intersections are equipped with one. So what can they do when there’s no locator tone?

Either people with visual impairments are already familiar with the intersection and they know where the crossing begins. They may have tips like counting steps. 

Or they can focus on the ambient sound: traffic with cars coming and going, people talking while waiting their turn to cross…

They can also ask another pedestrian to tell them where the crossing is.

2. Press the pushbutton 

People with vision disabilities have now found the beginning of the crossing. But to know when they have the right-of-way, they need to actuate the accessible pedestrian signals.

This means finding the pushbutton on the pole. Pushbutton-integrated APS are indeed very common in the U.S. 

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

If the pushbutton is equipped with a locator tone then that’s easy. But if there’s no locator tone, they can just feel around to know where exactly it’s located on the pole. There’s no other specific beacon that can help blind and visually impaired pedestrians. 

A vibrotactile arrow pointing in the direction of travel on the crosswalk is required on all APS. It’s directly installed on the pushbutton. But be aware that the alignment information isn’t accurate enough for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

When the WALK sign is on, the arrow vibrates to dub the audio information from the accessible pedestrian signals. This is particularly helpful for deafblind pedestrians.

However in times of COVID-19, touching surfaces that may be contaminated can be dangerous for all pedestrians. 

How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become Responsive to COVID-19?

3. Rely on the accessible pedestrian signals

The accessible pedestrian signals are now activated. They provide audio information when the WALK signal is on. 

Since they dub the warning traffic lights, their role is key. For them to properly work, they need to provide:

High-quality sound,

Clear information with the street name of the intersection,

Minimum volume of about 30 dB and a maximum volume of about 90 dB.

It’s to be noted that accessible pedestrian signals can’t be 5 dB louder than ambient sound.

When installers set up accessible pedestrian signals, they need to take into account the ambient sound when traffic is busy to make sure it perfectly matches real conditions.

Consequently, their volume depends on the intersections and their traffic.

The point is for blind and visually impaired people to properly hear the audio information provided without covering ambient sound. 

Ambient sound actually helps them understand how the intersection is (if it’s long, busy with fellow pedestrians or cyclists…).

The ultimate guide to accessible pedestrian signals. I want it!

4. Get to the other side of the crossing

The WALK sign is on and the accessible pedestrian signal is dubbing it to let blind and visually impaired pedestrians know they can cross the street.

At this point, the goal is to walk straight without going off course. Two elements explain this:

The need to avoid bumping into other pedestrians,

The need to easily get across the street and arrive safely at the other side of the crossing.

One way to help them cross the street more easily is to set up a guiding sound corridor directly integrated in the accessible pedestrian signals.

With such a system, both APS from both sides of the crossing simultaneously broadcast audio information while blind and visually impaired pedestrians are crossing the street.

The guiding sound corridor wraps up them. They just have to follow the sound to easily reach the other side. It truly helps them walk straight. 

Why Should Your Accessible Pedestrian Signals Have a Guiding Sound Corridor?

5. Rely on auditory cues

What happens when there’s no audible pedestrian signal? That’s actually more and more frequent as many cities decide to promote active mobility and encourage public transit.

One of their actions in doing so is to remove traffic lights. For blind and visually impaired pedestrians, this puts them at risk as accessible pedestrian signals are removed as well.

Consequently, cities need to guarantee their safety. It’s not because there’s no APS that they can’t remain autonomous and fully enjoy the city. 

There are other auditory cues that can help people with vision disabilities cross the street. In Rouen, France, the city has installed audio beacons on poles at an intersection with a bus rapid transit system (BRT). 

Blind and visually impaired pedestrians activate on demand the audio beacons with a remote control or a smartphone app so that they know where the crossing is located. 

This system, created by French leading accessibility company Okeenea, uses flashing lights on top of the poles to alert motorists of the presence of vulnerable pedestrians.

Removing Traffic Lights on Bus Rapid Transit Intersections: Installation of Audio Beacons for Pedestrians with a Visual Impairment

Thanks to this innovative system, people with vision disabilities can still navigate this intersection despite the removal of traffic lights. Unfortunately, if there’s no audible markings, blind and visually impaired pedestrians tend to avoid this type of place.

6. Navigate their way among active mobility as blind and visually impaired pedestrians 

We’ve just mentioned active mobility and there’s another situation that can be difficult to apprehend for blind and visually impaired pedestrians: shared streets.

Areas with different means of transport and active mobility: cyclists, scooters, motorists, streetcars… 

How to Make Shared Streets Truly Shared by All?

In this situation where traffic lights and accessible pedestrian signals are missing, pedestrians with visual impairments need to be able to navigate in a “comfort zone”.

It consists in creating an obstacle-free pedestrian route. The goal is to enable all pedestrians to move around safely. In a comfort zone, pedestrians don’t run the risk of colliding with other users.

You now know 6 situations that can potentially be difficult for blind and visually impaired pedestrians while crossing the street. And you also have accessibility guidelines to make their mobility easier. 

Want to know more about accessible pedestrian signals? Check out these articles:

Everything You Need to Know About Accessible Pedestrian Signals Regulation in New York City

How Cities in America Communicate Efficiently About Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

Published on June 3rd, 2022

media

An audible pedestrian pushbutton with "push button, wait for WALK signal" written on it for blind and visually impaired pedestrians

The point is for blind and visually impaired people to properly hear the audio information provided by the APS without covering ambient sound.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

share our article!

more articles

How to Foster Inclusive Mobility at Public Transit?

How to Foster Inclusive Mobility at Public Transit?

How to Foster Inclusive Mobility at Public Transit?You probably have heard of inclusive mobility but do you know what it actually means? For public transit all over the world, this notion gets more and more important. And more realistic to implement as many...

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals  Table of contents What are accessible pedestrian signals?Why do cities have accessible pedestrian signals?Who are APS for?How do audible traffic signals work exactly?What is pedestrian detection?Why are...

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

Sign up now for our newsletter.

Unsubscribe in one click. The information collected is confidential and kept safe.

powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.