How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

People crossing the street in New York City after pushing the button for the WALK signal

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

Actuating audible pedestrian pushbuttons is the first step to crossing the street safely. They provide blind and visually impaired users audible information about the WALK and DON’T WALK signals. According to the signal, pedestrians know when it’s their turn to cross and when they need to wait.

Pushbutton-integrated accessible pedestrian signals are very common in the U.S. but how do audible pedestrian pushbuttons work exactly? What are the requirements for such a system? Does it properly meet the needs of the visually impaired? Is it really the best accessible solution for them?

Let’s unveil everything there is to know about audible pedestrian pushbuttons to make your city truly accessible and safe!

What are the benefits and disadvantages of audible pedestrian pushbuttons?

We’ve composed a list to help you comprehend what audible pedestrian pushbuttons do for blind and visually impaired pedestrians and the city itself.

Benefits

Disadvantages

Presence of a locator tone to indicate the beginning of the crosswalk.

Not all pushbuttons are equipped with one.

For those that are, this means continual noise pollution in the neighborhood.

Speakers integrated in the pushbutton: the sound information goes directly where users are standing.

It’s more an issue that may rise than a disadvantage but the volume of the speakers needs to be adjusted according to the ambient sound.

The pushbutton can be easily activated for people with mobility impairments. And its required height makes it easier for blind and visually impaired people to locate it on the pole. 

In times of COVID-19, touching surfaces may contribute to the spreading of the virus. At the peak of the pandemic, many cities had to deactivate the pushbuttons of their APS.

The pushbutton simultaneously serves 2 purposes when actuated: 

It signalizes that pedestrians want to cross the street.

It provides audio information about the WALK/DON’T WALK signal for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

There must be a high number of times when the pushbutton is activated by regular pedestrians who probably don’t need the audible information associated with it. Thus creating unnecessary noise pollution.

As you can see, audible pedestrian pushbuttons have their pros and their cons. Does the system work? Yes, it does: it helps blind and visually impaired users cross the street. 

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

But is there room for improvement regarding accessibility? Again, the answer is yes. Because you may have perceived it: one of the most challenging aspects of audible pedestrian pushbuttons is locating the crosswalk in the first place.

For people with vision disabilities, finding the beginning of the crosswalk can be difficult. Especially at intersections they’re not familiar with. How can you find the crosswalk and the pole where the pushbutton is installed when you can’t see? Yet, this step is necessary to activate the accessible pedestrian signals.

Seeing that the locator tones may not be found at all intersections, blind and visually impaired pedestrians may need extra help. Or another system. 

That’s where aBeacon steps in. It’s a third generation accessible pedestrian signal which means it can be used with or without being connected to pushbuttons. As cities and all categories of pedestrians are used to push the button to actuate the APS, it doesn’t affect their everyday lives. 

However, with aBeacon, users can activate it remotely with a remote control or a smartphone app. This enables them to rely on sound information to locate the beginning of the crosswalk.

Plus, the smartphone activation helps them find their bearings as they can select which crossing to activate in the destination menu. No risk of ending up on the wrong side of the avenue! After all, 89% of people with vision disabilities use a smartphone.

Such innovation can be a real asset for cities that want to be more connected. And that’s exactly what New York City has been experiencing. A Brooklyn intersection is currently testing aBeacon and the first user feedback is positive.

The aBeacon devices from both sides of the crossing are simultaneously activated to create a guiding sound corridor. It helps pedestrians with vision disabilities to cross without going off course. It works as a beacon for them.

Its high quality of sound and easy activation have been appreciated by blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

Why is aBeacon a Game Changer Regarding Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

An activation on demand dramatically reduces noise pollution for the neighborhoods as the residents living close by the equipped intersection in Brooklyn have been experiencing it. aBeacon is activated only by pedestrians who need it to cross. 

For all cities, these benefits are priceless. And this makes their crossings safe, accessible and as pleasant as they can be for all users. 

In addition, aBeacon can also collect data on the number of times it has been activated to let blind and visually impaired pedestrians cross the street. This can help cities better understand the needs of their visually impaired citizens when they’re getting around.

How do audible pedestrian pushbuttons work?

You already know that the point of accessible pedestrian signals is to dub the visual information related to traffic lights and their WALK / DON’T WALK signs. 

They provide audio information to let pedestrians with vision disabilities know when they can safely cross the street and when they need to wait. 

Locator tone

As mentioned above, locator tones don’t equip all intersections. They enable the visually impaired to know the pole location. 

Their volume isn’t high but their sound is continuous. Actually, their intensity depends on the ambient sound. 

According to the MUTCD, locator tones have a duration of 0.15 seconds or less, and shall repeat at 1-second intervals.

Vibrotactile arrow

Once blind and visually impaired pedestrians have reached the source of the sound emitted by the locator tone, they just need to locate the vibrotactile arrow on the pushbutton.

This tactile arrow points in the direction of travel on the crosswalk to guide pedestrians. To better serve its purpose, it needs to be installed within the width of the crosswalk or very near it and near the curb line. 

It also vibrates during the WALK signal in addition to the sound information emitted by the accessible pedestrian signals. This is particularly helpful for deafblind pedestrians as they rely on their sense of touch.

Pushbutton 

In the United States, many cities use pushbutton-integrated accessible pedestrian signals. This means that by pushing the button on the pole, visually impaired pedestrians actuate the APS. And other pedestrians signal their presence at the crossing.

In order to distinguish between both uses, to trigger the audible pedestrian pushbutton, blind and visually impaired people need to push the button for more than one second. If they press it a second time, they can hear the sound information again.

They have information on the signalization of the traffic lights but also on the street name they’re about to cross. 

When the button is pushed, traffic lights control is aware that a pedestrian is waiting to cross the street. It allows them to have long enough time to safely get across.

Pushbuttons actually serve two different purposes.

Speakers

With audible pedestrian pushbuttons, the speakers are integrated into them so that the sound information is broadcasted directly to where the pedestrians are waiting.

To conceive accessible intersections for blind and visually impaired people, you need to know everything that composes accessible pedestrian signals, including pushbuttons.

What are the requirements for audible pedestrian pushbuttons?

Three different laws and regulations run the requirements and guidelines of audible pedestrian pushbuttons:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): this law aims at preventing any type of discrimination agains people with disabilities. Here, it requires accessible pedestrian signals to convey audio information to blind and visually impaired people. The emphasis is put on providing them with the same information as other pedestrians so that they can cross the street safely and with complete autonomy.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD): manual created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It concerns the installation and use of accessible pedestrian signals and what interests here: audible pedestrian pushbuttons.

The Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way (PROWAG): as the name indicates, they are guidelines reviewed by an independent federal agency, the Access Board. Their goal is to enforce accessibility laws and provide technical assistance about APS.

Here are the main requirements for the location of audible pedestrian pushbuttons you need to know:

Within easy reach and easily activated (including for wheelchair users),

Located at a mountain height of approximately 3.5 feet above the sidewalk (but no more than 4 feet),

Located near each end of the crosswalks,

Positioned between 1.5 and 6 feet from the edge of the curb or pavement but no further than 10 feet from the edge of the curb.

Positioned with their face parallel to the crosswalk to be used,

Obvious regarding the crosswalk they’re associated with.

Please note that if the pushbuttons on a corner can’t be separated by at least 10 feet, they can be installed on the same pole. But they both need vibrotactile arrows to each indicate the direction of travel and have a speech message for the WALK signal.

What’s essential in this situation is to avoid any sort of confusion for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. They need to know which audible pedestrian pushbutton to actuate in order to reach their destination.

But again, this may still be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with this type of intersection. That’s the reason why this situation is an exception and not the standard. It’s best to avoid it if possible as pedestrians may encounter difficulties on how to apprehend the intersection. 

They may feel like they’re not safe. If it happens to be the case, a lot of vulnerable pedestrians tend to find a different route in order to avoid a difficult and stressful intersection. How would you feel if you had to walk longer just to be safe?

You now have a glimpse into audible pedestrian pushbuttons, their use and their requirements to be accessible for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. As you can see, pushbuttons work since they activate APS but locating them and the poles they’re on remain one of the most challenging issues for users with vision disabilities. 

You need to ask yourself how accessible pushbuttons are and what can you do to improve this system. It may be the perfect time to try an innovation like New York City has done.

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

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

Pedestrian Safety: Are Your Crossings Safe for Visually Impaired and Blind People? 

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Published on May 6th, 2022

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An audible pedestrian signal with "push button, wait for walk signal" written on it

For people with vision disabilities, finding the beginning of the crosswalk can be difficult. Especially at intersections they’re not familiar with. How can you find the crosswalk and the pole where the pushbutton is installed when you can’t see?

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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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.

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

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

A pedestrian crossing in New York City

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

 

A guiding sound corridor brings more safety to blind and visually impaired pedestrians. They rely on accessible pedestrian signals at crossings to get around in the city with complete autonomy. Thanks to them, they know when it’s their turn to cross the street. 

But a guiding sound corridor enables them to reach the other side more easily. And that’s just as useful for them as it is for you whether you’re a city planner or an urban designer.

Let’s see how this works exactly and why this technology can change the face of your city!

What’s a guiding sound corridor?

As the name suggests, a guiding sound corridor provides blind and visually impaired users audio information all along their crossing to guide them. This system is directly integrated into accessible pedestrian signals.

Users with a visual impairment can better focus on the sound it provides. It’s particularly helpful at complex intersections that have multiple traffic lanes or at very large intersections. Blind and visually impaired people can feel overwhelmed and need to rely on clear audio indicators to find their bearings.

As soon as they activate the accessible pedestrian signals, the guiding sound corridor emitted at both ends of the crossing wraps up the users. They just have to follow the sound to cross the street.

Plus it helps them walk straight all along. No risk for them to go off course and bump into another pedestrian. 

Why should you implement it?

As a city planner or urban designer, you know how important it is to implement useful and lasting solutions that truly meet the needs of users.

A guiding sound corridor at your crossings reassures blind and visually impaired pedestrians and has indeed many benefits. At your level, you can enhance their mobility.

Provide pedestrians with a better understanding of the environment

People with a visual impairment count on audio elements to comprehend their surroundings. A guiding sound corridor helps them have a mental representation of the crossing. They can “see” how it is shaped.

Offer them more safety and less confusion

The high-quality broadcast helps pedestrians better focus on it. The guiding sound corridor works as a beacon they follow to get to the other side of the crossing. They’re less distracted by the sound environment of the crossing with its traffic, other pedestrians, cyclists…

Stay at the forefront of innovation regarding APS

You can offer blind and visually impaired people a more efficient system. Ever since the invention of the first acoustic traffic signal in 1914, accessible pedestrian signals have never ceased to evolve.

But it’s not improvement for improvement’s sake. It has always served a higher purpose: helping visually impaired pedestrians cross the street gaining more safety and autonomy. 

By implementing a guiding sound corridor, you do improve their mobility using what technology has best to offer.

How does a guiding sound corridor work?

A guiding sound corridor needs to have 3 elements to be perfectly efficient:

The poles with the accessible pedestrian signals need to be located face to face, on the same side of the crossing and at the outside side of the intersection,

The broadcast emitted by the audible pedestrian signals need to be led towards the crossing,

The activation of the APS from the same crossing needs to be simultaneous, meaning that APS on both sides of the crossing are synchronized and paired up.

The third generation accessible pedestrian signal aBeacon, developed by Okeenea, is one of the APS that uses a guiding sound corridor. What’s groundbreaking with aBeacon is that pedestrians can activate it remotely using either a remote control or a smartphone app. A contactless activation means less difficulties for users to locate the crossing which is one of their main issues when they get around.

Plus with the MyMoveo app, blind and visually impaired pedestrians can select more precisely their crossing, a very useful tool when they need to navigate a complex intersection they’re not familiar with.

But of course, push buttons serving as the standard activation device in the U.S (among other uses), they too can work with aBeacon.

A guiding sound corridor inside an accessible pedestrian signal like aBeacon is really easy to set up: it can either be done beforehand at the workshop or at the intersection while installing the APS.

As you can see, implementing a guiding sound corridor at your crossings can make the getting around of blind and visually impaired users easier. You provide them with additional security while enhancing the inclusive mobility of your city. Are you ready for your city to be more innovative and safe for ALL your pedestrians?

Want to know more about accessible pedestrian signals? Dive into these articles:

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

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

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

Published on March 4th, 2022

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The accessible pedestrian aBeacon fixed at pole in New York City uses a guiding sound corridor

The guiding sound corridor works as a beacon they follow to get to the other side of the crossing. They’re less distracted by the sound environment of the crossing with its traffic, other pedestrians, cyclists…

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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.

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

The beginning of a mobility chain as users are entering a train station

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

Whether you are a subway network operator, an architect, a roadway manager or a museum director, guaranteeing a seamless mobility chain to your users isn’t the conundrum you’d expect.

Having an accessible and uninterrupted mobility chain enables people with disabilities to remain autonomous during their trips. A visually impaired person needs to be able, among other things, to find the subway station, go to the platform and make their connection by themself. The same applies to a wheelchair user. The curbs need to be lowered so that they can enjoy the city without any difficulties.

There’s a whole range of solutions that can guarantee people with disabilities, regardless of their profile, a real autonomy.

In this article, we’ll explain to you all the links that constitute the mobility chain so that you can set up easy devices for the benefit of your users!

 

A continuous mobility chain: a major issue

For people with disabilities, getting around can prove to be a major challenge. Any obstacles or barriers on their way can prevent them from getting around in a spontaneous way and therefore damages their autonomy, ruining, to a certain extent, their everyday lives. That’s where the mobility chain takes place.

The mobility chain can be summed up through these various stages:

1. Preparing your trip;

2. Using sidewalks and pedestrian crossings;

3. Using public transportation;

4. Coming up to the building and locating the main entrance;

5. Locating the adapted path to reach the chosen service;

6. Using horizontal and vertical circulations;

7. Reaching the chosen service, communicating with the staff;

8. Locating the adapted path to leave and exit the building.

We can see that the mobility chain forms part of accessibility. It truly is essential for people with disabilities since a continuous mobility chain enables them to move around more freely. Not having to ask someone for help when there are existing solutions so that they can manage by themselves turns out to be primordial for them.

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C. Consequently, point B needs to be able to link A and C together. There can be many possible combinations in just one place. This is particularly striking with multimodal transit hubs such as a bus station with access to bus platforms, train platforms, information desk, city public transport… All the possible destinations need to be taken into account in order for the mobility chain to be covered in full. Every link has a role to play and if there’s one that’s broken, it’s the whole mobility chain that’s paralyzed.

On a larger scale, an optimal mobility chain helps build an inclusive and supportive city. A true challenge for a Smart City that has to welcome everybody including people with disabilities. But cities all over the world keep innovating to provide their citizens with safe and efficient mobility options. This happens to be the case with MaaS, a Finnish mobility transport platform, that facilitates the lives of both users and urban designers.

 

What are the solutions to implement for a seamless mobility chain?

Being a hotel or shop manager, nothing is more rewarding than a satisfied customer. Because obviously, a customer who had a good experience in your establishment is likely to come back and tell others about it. Whatever your establishment may be, public or private, taking into account the needs of your customers or visitors with disabilities will be beneficial for your activity. 

The same applies to cities which are committed in providing their inhabitants and tourists with the best possible experience. Roadways and public transportation have a key role in the image they send back to their users.

The first step consists in checking on the continuity of horizontal and vertical circulations:

⊗ Large doors and pathways;

⊗ Removing steps or offsets;

⊗ Removing upright obstacles;

⊗ Visual and tactile contrasting elements to limit traffic zones;

⊗ Securing stairs;

⊗ Creating alternatives to stairs: ramps or slopes, elevators or escalators.

Here is now a summary of different devices or solutions of equivalent effect that you need to implement to guarantee your users a seamless mobility chain:

For roadways: 

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) such as aBeacon designed by French company Okeenea;

⊗ Tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI);

⊗ Guiding paths;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment;

⊗ Lowered curbs for wheelchair users.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals, also known as audible signals, still remain the safest way for blind or visually impaired people to cross the road. They can easily be activated on demand with a remote control or a smartphone thanks to MyMoveo app (available on both Android and iOS).

For public transportation (subway, bus, bus and train stations): 

⊗ Audio beacons like NAVIGUEO+ HIFI;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Guide paths;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment; 

⊗ Removable access ramps on buses;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: New York City subway chose Okeenea’s app for a test in real conditions. 

To activate audio beacons on demand, people with a visual impairment use the same devices than those used for Accessible Pedestrian Signals. Quite convenient! 

For public venues:

⊗ Parking spaces for people with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users;

⊗ Audio beacons;

⊗ Amplification systems or induction loop systems;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Elevators or escalators;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: Luma Foundation in Arles, France chose Evelity for its visitors.

In a building such as a museum, metres and metres of guide paths can distort the architecture and the design of a place. An innovative solution like Evelity is particularly relevant! It fits in all types of places and buildings and provides a tailor-made experience to its users, whatever their profile may be.

No matter what activity you’re in, the training of your staff happens to be a true asset regarding the satisfaction of people with disabilities’ needs. They could thus benefit from a good experience and would be more likely to come back to your place or use public transport again. 

Setting up these devices, you’ll guarantee your users with disabilities a continuous mobility chain. Being able to get around in a spontaneous, safe and autonomous way makes a difference for people with disabilities!

 

Would you like to know more about accessibility? Find out more articles to learn all the good practices that other cities have already implemented:

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

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?

Public Transport Information Accessibility: 5 Solutions for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Users

 

 

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People getting around in a subway platform in New York City

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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share our article!

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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.

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society Through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society Through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society Through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

 

Inclusive design has a major role in enhancing accessibility. Though both concepts don’t exactly encompass the same ideas, they are undeniably linked together because of their complementarity. Accessibility consists in removing the present obstacles whereas inclusive design consists in creating solutions that from the beginning are perfectly tailored to the needs of several profiles of people: a person with reduced mobility for whom it’ll be easier to use an elevator in a shopping mall or a person with a visual impairment who needs a contrasted signage in a subway station for their getting around in complete autonomy for example.

Therefore accessibility can be achieved through an inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Putting people first and focusing on their needs permits to respond adequately and to favor their inclusion in society.

What’s better than a society which caters to the needs of all its citizens? Inclusive design offers a wide range of possibilities for cities to help them create an accessible and barrier-free society in several areas whether it concerns the services they provide such as public transportation but also in their architecture with buildings and parks. In addition, culture happens to be one of the first fields to have considered inclusive design and is showing the way to others. 

The sky’s the limit as the following examples of accessibility achieved through inclusive design will demonstrate!

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

In order to perfectly comprehend what inclusive design embraces, let’s focus at first on its definition and those of universal design and accessibility since the three are often intertwined together.

⊗ Inclusive design: making a product or service easily accessible to several categories of users. It strongly focuses on the user experience to make sure the needs of the targeted categories are met and consequently acknowledges the diversity of the population. Meaning that for different groups of users, inclusive design explores different solutions. It also takes into account different cultures so that solutions can also apply to foreign tourists who don’t speak the language of the country they’re visiting. 

⊗ Universal design or Design for all: it consists in providing one solution to tailor the needs of everybody. Universal design thus focuses on the entire population rather than just a few groups of people to make accessible products. But usually, universal design only accomplishes to meet the needs of the majority so there are still a few people whose needs aren’t answered. 

⊗ Accessibility: removing obstacles and adapting solutions or equipment so that users with disabilities can have the same experience as any user such as screen readers for people with a visual impairment. Accessibility is all about accommodations. 

As you can see, there are slight differences to know concerning these concepts. However, when dealing with inclusive design, it’s obvious that it has to be linked with accessibility. One goes with the other. After all, they share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody. 

Consequently, a simple thing like a wide building entrance constitutes a perfect combination of inclusive design and accessibility! It can prove to be extremely useful for wheelchair users and is the first step to make a place accessible for them. 

This type of equipment can be found in different places such as city halls, universities and colleges or even airports. For shopping malls for example, in addition to a wide entrance with automatic doors, you can find elevators, escalators and ramps so that people with reduced mobility can easily get around and do their shopping. Although elevators may seem to be the obvious choice for easy access for people with reduced mobility, stairs are still relevant since they can help the elderly exercise without them realizing it. Plus people with a visual impairment don’t have to worry about finding the right button on the elevator. They all can simply use accessible stairs equipped with continuous handrails and visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings: an easy equipment to implement!

Inclusive design and accessibility truly are complementary since they serve the same purpose. 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

People with disabilities are at the heart of inclusive design since it focuses on meeting their needs in the best possible way. Thinking of installing a wide building entrance for wheelchair users is just the beginning for architects and designers. To make a place accessible, it needs to be well thought out with the different profiles in mind. And for that, it means working closely with groups of people with disabilities.

Their participation and involvement is key to make sure architects, city planners, engineers create the perfect environment for their needs. Human-centered design, used in ISO standards, consists at first in researching what the problem is, analyzing the data and then in conceptualizing it in order to implement the appropriate solution. Various stages take place:

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

⊗ Fixing the potential problems of the solution raised by the user groups until it’s perfected. Thus, there can be several back-and-forths between the groups and the designers.

Throughout this whole process of analyzing the issue of user groups, empathy remains key. After all, architects, city planners and engineers design for humans. They need to put themselves in the shoes of those who are usually unseen and unheard: people with disabilities. 

The Institute of Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston focuses on both inclusive and universal design in order to foster projects that meet the needs of a wide range of people comprising the elderly who may have difficulties to get around or to use their hands due to arthritis, people with learning and attention disabilities, people on the autistic spectrum or any profile of disabilities. Indeed, the IHCD provides their expertise in accessibility from the start of a design project (cities, parks, public transit systems) to ensure all categories of people can have access to a barrier-free society applying a philosophy where people are listened to and valued. People with disabilities as other types of profiles can thus regain some self-esteem. They properly feel they’re part of society. 

Moreover, what’s useful for one group can also be for another one. For example, using simple and clear pictograms to give basic information such as the location of the elevators or the bathroom to people with a cognitive impairment is also efficient for the elderly or children. After all, the goal is to convene universal information through a signage system. 

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London represents a huge success in terms of inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Created specially for the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012, it had the ambition to be home to “the most accessible Games ever” by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). It definitely was the case at the time and today it’s still being put to use to welcome the general public. The LLDC issued last year its updated inclusive design standards describing the implementations that took place within the Park, its venues and its surrounding areas. From accessible toilets for wheelchair users to guide paths for the orientation of people with a visual impairment, shared spaces that are easy to navigate and comfort zones for pedestrians but also facilities for assistance dogs, the Park provides a safe and attractive place for a wide range of people of all ages. A sense of community and belonging is thus reinforced. Let’s just hope that the Park inspires others to implement the same inclusive design standards!

On a larger scale, London keeps considering inclusive design as the city is planning to make the Square Mile, the financial district, an accessible environment for its citizens with disabilities and its elderly. London is set on removing all the barriers to create an inclusive society! As we’ve previously explained in our article Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City, accessibility and inclusion represent a challenge to face for all cities that want to be able to claim they’re Smart Cities.  

Innovating while focusing on a human-centered approach can result in surprising creations. The whole world has had to adapt to the ongoing pandemic and wearing masks happens to be essential for all of us to protect ourselves and others. However, this has isolated a lot of people including deaf and hard of hearing people who have been struggling to communicate with others. Seeing that their conversation partner has to wear a mask to cover their face, deaf or hard of hearing people can’t read on their lips anymore or see their facial expressions to help them understand them and the situation. Thankfully, companies or just regular citizens stood up to make transparent masks. A simple inclusive solution that enables deaf people to lip-read and communicate!

Another example of innovation that meets the needs of groups of people is the creation of sensory rooms: a dedicated space for people with cognitive disabilities, autism or even dementia. They can find there a quiet and safe environment away from any potential stressful situations. Once again, the city of London is a fine example of inclusion with the sensory room at the Heathrow airport. Researchers established a guideline showing the therapeutic benefits of a sensory room on patients with dementia with the use of gentle stimulation through senses. Sensory rooms can also provide a sound-protected environment for people on the autistic spectrum who can be sensitive to noise and need a calm place to relax. This happens to be the case at the one in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as previously seen in our article The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience. Designing a room with low lighting, different types of spaces to provide calm for people or even fun with the use of soft toys demands a perfect analysis of the categories of people that are to be welcomed there. 

Focusing on the needs of several groups of people is a huge part of inclusive design. It helps improve solutions to create a barrier-free environment for all whatever this environment may be, that’s the beauty of inclusive design! 

Resolving the challenge of mobility: an inclusive society one foot at a time 

Mobility represents an important challenge to face for people with disabilities in their everyday lives. In our article How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?, we had already focused on the importance of the mobility of people with a visual impairment. 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) remain the best solution for them to safely cross the road. However, COVID-19 has highlighted their limitations: the use of the pushbutton in the United States and in other countries can endanger the lives of its blind citizens. Indeed, they need to touch the pushbutton to activate the APS and then cross the street but unfortunately it has been proven that the virus could also be found on surfaces making it difficult and unsafe for blind or visually impaired people to easily get around. Our article How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become COVID-19 Responsive? had greatly focused on this issue and had introduced the connected device aBeacon as an adequate solution.  

This innovative APS can be activated on demand with a remote control or with a smartphone which means that the user doesn’t have to touch the pole. The device aBeacon, designed by Okeenea, can easily be installed on traffic lights to provide audible information creating a sound corridor to guide the user. A perfect example of inclusive design at the service of  groups of people! An inclusive society leaves no one behind! 

And French company Okeenea keeps innovating to make sure people with a visual impairment can locate a building or a subway entrance thanks to its audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI. When activated, their message enables people to find their way to the exact location of the point of interest. Same as aBeacon, these audio beacons also are on demand activated with a remote control or a smartphone so that the users have the same devices for two different solutions. Two well thought solutions focusing on the needs of their users to make their lives easier!

Of course, finding a building entrance is the first step but accessibility within is also important. We’ve seen earlier that buildings like shopping malls can have different types of equipment but usually, people with disabilities need to apprehend their trips beforehand and prepare them as best as they can so that to avoid any possible difficulties. What can be done to enable them to get around spontaneously and explore a new venue? There’s a simple yet original solution with Evelity: an indoor wayfinding app specifically designed for people with disabilities. More and more apps are created for people with physical disabilities, blind or visually impaired people or deaf or hard of hearing people…, to help them in their everyday lives. 

Evelity truly is an ingenious app that can help people with a visual impairment to find their bearings thanks to audio instructions with VoiceOver or TalkBack or people with a physical impairment with optimized routes. It’s up to the user to set up the app according to their profile. Evelity can guide users at any sorts of locations: shopping malls, universities and colleges, hospitals, transport networks such as subways and train stations, offices, museums and much more. 

In order to have a solution that was perfectly tailored to the needs of its different users, Evelity’s design team worked closely with test groups since its beginning according to the stages previously explained. It has always been one of the major principles of the team as service designer Marie-Charlotte Moret explained in her interview: Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services. Then empathy represents an important value when it comes to designing a solution for the mobility of people with disabilities. 

The undeniable commitment of the cultural world for the development of inclusive design

If there’s one field that has always questioned the issue of accessibility and the comfort of its visitors it’s the cultural world. How can blind or visually impaired visitors apprehend the paintings in a museum? Can visitors with wheelchairs have easy access to the galleries?

Tactile Studio, an agency specializing in inclusive design for the promotion of the arts to everyone, creates adapted and innovative solutions that both serve the aesthetics of the place and the needs of its visitors. World famous cultural institutions employ this agency to ensure all types of visitors can enjoy culture and arts such as the Orsay Museum in Paris that set up a tactile and multi-sensory exploration of L’Atelier du peintre, a painting by Gustave Courbet. Tactile Studio created a special design of the painting so that visitors with a visual impairment could touch the highlighted layers of the painting. They also had an audio description of the painting so that emotions could be convened through different canals and senses. A complete immersion to easily understand and appreciate an artwork!

Relief and tactile experience are not the only solutions put in place by the design agency. Indeed, technology can be used to help visitors exploit paintings or photographs. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum opted for a digital solution for its “Photographs: An Early Album Of The World 1842-1896” exhibition to explain the relevance of these photographs on both technical and cultural aspects. Tactile Studio created interactive animations, graphical interfaces and a narration for digital non-tactile supports. A fun way to approach art!

The Guggenheim in New York represents a very good example of accessibility through inclusive design since it addresses different profiles thanks to adapted solutions. Even its cylindrical building proves to be easily accessible: visitors start their trip at the top and gradually go down with its slightly tilted rotunda ramp to access the exhibitions. A simple way for visitors with wheelchairs to get around in the museum if they don’t want to use the elevators. 

However, the Guggenheim and its rotunda provide more solutions that meet the needs of different profiles:

Wheelchair visitorsComplimentary standard wheelchairs
Accessible seating places
Visitors with a visual impairmentVerbal descriptions by professionals 
Visitors with a hearing impairmentAmerican Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
Assistive-listening devices
Visitors with sensory processing disordersA social narrative guide to know what to expect during the visit
Quiet places

Thanks to inclusive design, access to culture is indeed possible and can take many forms. Visitors with disabilities benefit from endless innovations to share the same experience as any visitor. Therefore, a constant renewal is necessary to ensure everybody can enjoy culture. Research proves to be an essential part of inclusive design which is why Access Smithsonian, the Institute for Human Centered Design and MuseWeb collaborated to establish a guide on Inclusive Digital Interactives: Best Practices + Research

This guide is a must-read for anyone involved in inclusive design and its implementation in the cultural world. It provides detailed examples of case studies with a goal to constantly rethink and reconsider what is done at the present moment to foster innovation. 

As we can see, creating an accessible and barrier-free society through inclusive design can happen for many different fields. The challenges to raise only but increase the necessary constant renewal to think and rethink the solutions. Accessibility can be achieved thanks to innovative solutions! Together, let’s build an inclusive world! 

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Inclusive design and accessibility both share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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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.

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

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.

 

If you liked this article, you’ll also like other articles focused on Accessible Pedestrian Signals:

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS): a Century of Change

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

 

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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 (…) the winner of the Call for Innovations of the New York City Department of Transportation.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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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.

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

 

Promoting active mobility and encouraging public transport in our cities of the 21st century often involves removing traffic lights. A change that’s not welcome for all pedestrians, especially the most vulnerable. Locating pedestrian crossings, knowing when to start without running any risk, finding your way in shared space, avoiding bicycles and scooters… are all new difficulties to be overcome for blind or visually impaired pedestrians, but also the elderly or children. How can we ensure that challenging the over dominant position of cars will benefit all pedestrians? Getting rid of traffic lights must be accompanied by measures for the safety and comfort of all. Let’s see what they are!

 

Removing traffic lights for more attentive motorists

The European Union’s Mobility and Transport organization includes the promotion of walking and cycling among its strategies to enable more sustainable transportation in Europe. Local governments are now implementing policies aimed at promoting the practice of active mobility and public transport services and have adopted a Vision Zero approach. In this context, the place of traffic lights at intersections is questioned. Generally perceived as safety features, these traffic signals have however proven over time that they do not prevent accidents. In 2016, 5.320 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in the European Union. Despite all road safety measures, pedestrian fatalities decrease more slowly than road fatalities in general. In the United States as well, about 14% of fatal crashes occur at signals and the large majority of them involve pedestrians. 

According to European studies, removing traffic signals would have many benefits:

⊗ Reducing bad driving practices (e.g. running red lights, accelerating through a yellow light, etc.);

⊗ Reducing vehicle speed;

⊗ Avoiding motorized traffic congestion;

⊗ Decreasing noise and pollution;

⊗ Lowering operating costs. 

So that removing traffic lights brings real benefits in terms of safety, it must of course be accompanied with measures limiting vehicle speed: setting the speed limit at a maximum of 30km/h (20mph), new geometric design, roundabouts, speed-warning signs, shared spaces. 

Seattle is one of the first cities in the United States to study how reducing speed limits and increasing speed limit sign frequency improves safety for everyone. Early results show a decrease in vehicular speeds and a reduction of up to 39% in crashes.

The same applies in Europe. The number of people seriously injured in road accidents dropped by 72% in the German city of Münster when a 30km/h limit was introduced.  

Removing the traffic lights would encourage road users to pay closer attention towards each other. Instead of focusing on the color of the traffic light, they would be more attentive to their environment and to the different movements of pedestrians, cyclists or other motorists.

 

A sense of insecurity for nearly 20% of pedestrians

Despite the speed limit measures associated with the removal of traffic lights, many pedestrians do not feel the benefits and feel unsafe when crossing streets. Moreover, even in the presence of traffic lights, observations show that, if most of the pedestrians, the most mobile and abled, do not respect the pedestrian red phase and start crossing as soon as the way is clear, about 20% do not dare to walk until the signal has turned green. These are the elderly, children, parents with strollers, disabled people, those who carry heavy loads, in short, all pedestrians with reduced mobility. And so these are the same people who suffer from the removal of traffic lights. Even though their safety is theoretically ensured by reducing speed, their sense of insecurity is real.

In 2016, a new mobility strategy was implemented in Amsterdam to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians while limiting space for vehicles. In this context, traffic lights were removed from a busy junction. When cyclists were asked whether the traffic lights were necessary, the majority was undecided because they had never thought about this question. But about a third said “absolutely yes”. The proportion is approximately the same among pedestrians as show the results of an experiment led in Paris.

According to most road regulations in the world, motorists have to reduce their speed when they approach an intersection and get ready to stop when someone is waiting to cross the street. Failing to comply with this rule is punished with severe fines and other penalties (e.g. driving license suspension or revocation).

Despite these very deterrent measures, you just have to stand for a few minutes near a pedestrian crossing and observe to realize that the rule is not followed by the majority of motorists. Therefore, pedestrians do not cross for fear of being struck by a vehicle and motorists do not stop for fear of being struck by the vehicle behind them.

 

Impossible eye contact for blind or visually impaired pedestrians

Showing your intention to cross the street and communicating with cyclists or motorists require eye contact, gestures and expressions, a language that is inaccessible to blind or visually impaired people. They can only rely on auditory clues.

And they are not the only ones suffering from this situation! Judging by the growing number of pedestrians who are focused on their smartphones, visual communication between road users is increasingly compromised.

Smombies: the New Safety Challenge for Cities in the 21st Century 

Some cities in Japan, China or Australia have already taken measures to solve this new safety issue: dedicated sidewalks, warning signs or flashing lights on pavements at dangerous intersections, etc. 

In France, the RATP group has teamed up with Okeenea to alert smartphone addicts using the app AMY connected to aBeacon, an audible pedestrian signal primarily designed for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

 

The importance of making spaces legible and understandable

To meet the diverse needs of road users, reducing speed alone is not enough to create a sense of safety. What causes the most difficulties for the blind or visually impaired, but also for the elderly or anyone with a deficit in cognitive or intellectual abilities, is the lack of legibility of spaces. The non-regulation of flows by traffic lights and the creation of shared spaces generate disorganized or erratic movements. However, people with visual impairments learn to listen to traffic flows by ear to find their way around. No longer possible under these conditions.

Remember that the proportion of people over 75 in the population is expected to double within 40 years and that the risk of developing a visual impairment increases with age. At the same time, the ability to assess danger, distances and traffic speeds decreases. The multiplication of modes of travel (bicycles, scooters, etc.) and the appearance of silent vehicles further increase the difficulty. It is therefore essential that the most vulnerable pedestrians can move in spaces where they feel safe.

 

Visual, tactile and auditory cues

To meet the need for legibility of space expressed by the most vulnerable pedestrians, town planners must ensure that they maintain visual, tactile and auditory cues in cities.

Even in the absence of pedestrian signals, it is recommended to maintain audible markings at street intersections so that blind or visually impaired people can identify places where they can cross. After having removed traffic lights on intersections, the French city of Rouen has installed audio beacons, which can be activated on demand with a remote control or smartphone app, and can be combined with flashing lights to alert motorists of the presence of vulnerable pedestrians.

Reducing speed and creating traffic-calmed areas means removing any device that might suggest the right-of-way of motorists over pedestrians, such as the traditional white strips of zebra crossings. However, to feel safe, the most vulnerable pedestrians do need dedicated spaces. This is the principle of the “comfort space” introduced by the British Department for Transport, in its Local Transport Note about shared spaces published in 2011. Comfort space is an area of the street predominantly for pedestrian use where motor vehicles are unlikely to be present. In a level surface street, comfort space can be provided by a tonal contrast and tactile delineator strips. It must be clearly identified by most vulnerable people.

At each intersection, the pedestrian right-of-way must be clearly indicated to motorists. Pedestrians must also be able to easily identify the conflict zone so as to increase their vigilance there. This is all the more crucial for blind or visually impaired pedestrians, who generally rely on the number of intersections to memorize their route.

 

Safety awareness, training and education for road users and urban designers

Considering the extent of the failure to respect the right-of-way given to pedestrians by other road users, it seems crucial to increase awareness campaigns.

Changing the attitudes and behavior of drivers and pedestrians is a complex, long-term undertaking that requires a variety of interventions to be implemented: 

⊗ Road safety programs,

⊗ Mass media campaigns,

⊗ Introducing radar speed signs along hazardous sections, etc.

Changes in public road safety policy and urban design require that decision makers and practitioners are continually trained and educated to implement them. The World Health Organization gives valuable advice in its road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners.

 

In any case, presence or absence of traffic lights, let us never forget that the street belongs to everyone and not only to the 80% of the most able-bodied people! Everyone’s participation in society is at stake, this “inclusive society” that we strive to build together.

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So that removing traffic lights brings real benefits in terms of safety, it must of course be accompanied with measures limiting vehicle speed: setting the speed limit at a maximum of 30km/h (20mph), new geometric design, roundabouts, speed-warning signs, shared spaces. 

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.