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. 

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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 Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become Responsive to COVID-19?

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

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

 

In a world where COVID is still part of our lives, great cities face new challenges: maintaining services to citizens while limiting the spread of the pandemic. Among the population, blind and visually impaired persons are particularly vulnerable. More than other people, they need to touch things to find their bearings. They need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals every day to know when to cross streets safely. And these surfaces are potentially contaminated. How to protect them? Contactless accessible pedestrian signals (APS) are perfectly COVID-19 responsive! We are going to review the solutions that already work in the world.

 

COVID-19 poses new challenges for the blind community

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons who are blind or have low vision face new risks and challenges. Visual impairment alone does not increase the risk to contract the disease. However, lifestyle requirements from being blind or visually impaired potentially increase exposure to the virus. 

First, they need to frequently touch surfaces to identify things, orient themselves and locate Controls for door openings, elevators, etc. Although they are essential for their safety, pushbuttons at accessible pedestrian signals also potentially transmit the disease. 

Because they cannot drive themselves, they frequently need to use public transportation which are crowded, or ride-sharing such as Uber or Lyft where sanitary practices are uncertain. While wearing a mask is okay for people with vision loss, other health measures are more difficult to follow, especially locating hand sanitizer stations in public venues or keeping physical distance from others. Moreover, they often need to be guided by holding someone’s elbow (elbows now used for sneezing and coughing).

It is important to mention that the biggest causes of blindness are old age, diabetes or other health conditions that make people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

 

COVID-19 responsive solutions with contactless accessible pedestrian signals

As you can see, coronavirus poses serious threats to people who live with a visual impairment. If you work for a public road authority, you will certainly be interested in technologies that allow you to activate accessible pedestrian signals (APS) touchless from a distance, without potentially spreading infections like COVID-19: 

In some European countries, such as France, Austria or the Czech Republic, there are remote control activation systems for accessible pedestrian signals. They consist in a handheld pushbutton which emits a radiofrequency to control the audible tone. The first advantage of this device is that pedestrians who are blind or have low vision can trigger the audible signal as they approach the intersection, without having to travel to the pushbutton location. It is particularly advantageous in unfamiliar places when they don’t know where the pushbutton is. They don’t have to deviate from their travel path, reducing the risk to lose their bearings.

In a world still affectd by COVID, remote activation is even more interesting for cities. Radio frequency is the most widely used technology for this purpose today. However, it requires regulatory compliance certifications which vary from a country to another. Since it became popular in smartphones around the world, Bluetooth is now considered the best technology to activate accessible pedestrian signals. The use of Bluetooth allows companies to develop smartphone applications to replace or complement low-tech remote controls.

In Scotland, a former guide dog instructor created Neatebox as he realized how difficult it was for people with visual impairments to find and reach the pushbutton on the pole. It consists in a smartphone app that triggers the audible tone. A similar device begins to be tested in Canada with the company Key2Access.

But one of the most promising solutions come from the France-based company Okeenea. The manufacturer has more than 25 years of experience in accessible pedestrian systems with touchless on demand activation with the use of a remote control or the MyMoveo smartphone app. With their new connected Accessible Pedestrian Signal aBeacon, Okeenea was the winner of the New York City’s Transportation Department’s Call for Innovation in 2018. This new generation of APS is installed in New York City and in testing now.

Automation of traffic signals to prevent COVID-19

Several municipalities have already made temporary changes to the way their pedestrian crossings work, reducing the need to touch the push-to-walk button at traffic lights. In normal conditions, pedestrians need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals to tell the signals they are waiting to cross the road. Pedestrian buttons have been deactivated to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The traffic signals at these intersections have been reprogrammed to make pedestrian signals automatic. These measures taken in an exceptional context could prove the uselessness of these pushbuttons. 

However, many of them remain essential as they emit audible information about the status of the pedestrian signal when pressed. Audible indications cannot be automated because of noise pollution. If remote activation made sense before the pandemic, it makes even more sense now, when touching surfaces has been proven to transmit the coronavirus. Like other countries, bet on contactless accessible pedestrian signals to make blind people safe!

Want to know more on audible pedestrian signals? These articles are made for you:

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

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

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Among the population, blind and visually impaired persons are particularly vulnerable. They need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals every day to know when to cross streets safely. And these surfaces are potentially contaminated.

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.

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

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

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

 

Never heard of smombies before? And yet you see them every day. Blending smartphone and zombie, this word describes a person who’s watching their phone while walking in the streets. The field of attention of a smartphone user being estimated at only 5% of a regular pedestrian’s, it’s easy to comprehend its dangers: falls, collisions with other pedestrians or vehicles can lead to potentially fatal accidents. In a world where 3.5 billion people own a smartphone, finding innovative solutions to solve this century’s challenge is now a priority for cities all over the world. Let’s have a look at this new issue! 

Smombies: a worrying phenomenon for road safety

Although smartphones are seen as helpful and useful by a lot of people including people with disabilities thanks to apps specifically designed to help them find their way such as Evelity, they can also cause damage for others such as smombies. Combining smartphone with zombie gives the perfect analogy to explain what smombies are. In this case, smartphones drain users of all their abilities and intelligence to turn them into brainless and potential living dead. Instead of being obsessed with eating brains like a proper zombie, smombies are obsessed with their phones. The digital era has impacted all of us and anybody can turn into a smombie. Walking in slow motion like a zombie set to attack his prey, the smombie keeps his head down to focus only on his smartphone. Other pedestrians or fellow smombies, impatient drivers, cyclists who keep weaving in and out of the traffic, excited dogs on a leash… don’t exist anymore and are not even included in their peripheral vision. Smombies only acknowledge what their smartphones tell them to. 

It’s a new form of self destruction that takes place, one that sets smombies in their own digital world and leaves them on the sides of the road (for those who are lucky enough to have survived crossing the road). 

Accidents due to smombies have become so frequent that some cities have decided to fine the trespassers. The city of Honolulu in Hawaii has drawn a fine of 35$ for first offenders and of 99$ for repeat offenders. 

Saving smombies

Cities work hard to make sure that pedestrians have a good and safe experience of their city but they constantly need to reinvent themselves in order to meet any problematic situation. Following the Vision Zero approach that focuses on reducing to nil the number of accidents and fatalities on the road, cities are rethinking road safety.

The city of Yamato in Japan has taken the radical decision to ban smombies. Pedestrians are not allowed to use their phones while walking. Even though no penalty is put in place, the city encourages people to use their common sense and to stop walking when they need to use their phones. 

Fortunately, solutions exist that enable to save smombies from themselves and let them be addicted to their phones at the same time. A few cities have decided to change the urban landscape accordingly implementing visible measures:

⊗ Chongqing and Hong Kong in China and Antwerp in Belgium introduced a sidewalk dedicated to phone users. Smombies have now their own special lane that separates them from regular pedestrians.

⊗ Seoul in South Korea installed warning signs on the pavement at dangerous intersections to prevent accidents.

⊗ Ilsan in South Korea used laser beams and flickering lights at crossings to make people look up before crossing.

⊗ Augsburg, Bodegraven and Cologne in Germany set up ground-level traffic lights directly embedded in the pavement to be seen by any distracted pedestrian.

Digital solutions are also being exploited and new patents are being filed. Innovative apps can detect obstacles and warn smombies of an immediate danger thanks to different types of alerts:

⊗ A screen that turns transparent.

⊗ A colored border on the screen.

⊗ A pop-up message.

⊗ Vibration.

⊗ Sound.

The app AMY created by French group RATP (the public transport company responsible for the Parisian region) can be downloaded on both Google Play and the Apple Store: thanks to a box installed at a crossing, an ultrasound is emitted that’s recognized by AMY. The app then alerts the pedestrian of a dangerous situation through vibration, sound and visual notification. The goal of these alerts is to make the phone user look up when there’s a potential danger. However, vibration and sound can function whether the user is looking at his phone or not and can alert any distracted pedestrian. It turns out that the device that endangers smombies is also the one that can save them. An ironic situation. 

The city of Mantes-la-Jolie in France (located to the west of Paris) combines the connected device aBeacon, developed by Okeenea Tech, and the app AMY to warn careless pedestrians before they cross the street. All the details of the solution can be found in this full article. A great approach of a city that guarantees the safety of all!

Smombies aren’t just for science fiction anymore

If smombies are now part of our century and our popular culture, there’s one person who has predicted their arrival as soon as the 1950s. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury actually exploited the idea that technology could be misused in order to turn people into empty vessels and make them obedient  in his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Nowadays, the issue of smombies has become more and more important and pressing as it concerns every major city. Apps are currently being developed but will soon be used in smombies everyday lives. Whether cities implement solutions that change their urban landscape or invest in digital ones, smombies are now part of our society and our popular culture.

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The field of attention of a smartphone user being estimated at only 5% of a regular pedestrian’s, it’s easy to comprehend its dangers: falls, collisions with other pedestrians or vehicles can lead to potentially fatal accidents.

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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.

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

 

After World War II, cars’ supremacy started to shape Northern American cities. Consequently men started to be more and more dependent on their personal vehicle to move around and roads were designed to the detriment of sidewalks, mass transit and bike trails. 

It was not until the early 1970s that some states like Oregon began to design the urban space with all users in mind to make transportation network safer and more efficient. This is how Complete Streets-like policy was born. Many jurisdictions have followed over the years.

Today, no less than 1,200 agencies at local, regional and state levels have adopted Complete Street policies in the United States. Depending on the jurisdiction, Complete Streets can be a non-binding resolution, incorporated into local transportation plans or a fully bidding law.

Meanwhile accessibility has never been such a strong challenge. According to recent studies, 1 adult in 4 lives with a disability which amounts to 61 million Americans (cdc.gov).

So what are Complete Streets policies and above all why do they matter for disabled people?

Complete Streets design elements

Streets are more and more congested. It can be hard for everyone to find their place, especially in city centers where pedestrians, bikes and motorized vehicles coexist. 

Complete Streets policies precisely aim at enabling safe use and support mobility for all users using various street design elements such as:

⊗ Pedestrian infrastructure: sidewalks, crosswalks, median crossing islands, curb extensions, pinchpoint, Accessible pedestrian Signals for visually impaired people, pedestrian wayfinding, greenery, and street furniture.

⊗ Traffic calming measures to lower speeds of vehicles: speed humps, speed tables, speed cushions, signage, and traffic lights.

⊗ Bicycle accommodations: protected or dedicated bicycle lanes, repair stations, and bicycle parking.

⊗ Public transit equipment: Bus Rapid Transit, bus pullouts, transit signal priority, bus shelters, and dedicated bus lanes.

Incomplete streets obstacles for disabled people

Cars’ supremacy left a legacy in Northern American cities. 

Car-centric roadways lead to uneven access to urban services. And it is all the more true for disabled people who most often cannot use cars. Cities that don’t offer Complete Streets measures in their busiest areas force citizens and especially disabled people to face huge challenges when getting around.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of what is causing difficulties to pedestrians with disabilities in “incomplete streets”-like designs:

⊗ Unpaved, broken, or disconnected surfaces

⊗ Lack of curb cuts and ramp

⊗ Ponding of stormwater and runoff streams near intersections

⊗ Lack of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at signalized intersections. This article goes into more details about this specific point.

⊗ Inadequate sidewalks or intersections design

⊗ Wide intersections with limited crossing time

⊗ Lack of escalators, elevators or ramps to overcome steps

⊗ Inaccessible bus stops

⊗ Large spaces without landmarks

⊗ Routes going nowhere

⊗ Inappropriate sidewalk obstacles

⊗ and the list goes on…

What benefits for disabled people?

Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently. This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users. 

Ontario was the first Canadian state to adopt a Complete Streets policy to help disabled citizens navigate streets more efficiently. In 2017, Ontario’s Growth Plan encouraged equity by incorporating strong directives in order to build streets that meet the needs of all road users.

“In the design, refurbishment, or reconstruction of the existing and planned street network, a complete streets approach will be adopted that ensures the needs and safety of all road users are considered and appropriately accommodated.”

Moreover statistics show that pedestrian street activity increases support of local businesses and expands employment opportunities.

Streets are complete and accessible using mainly:

⊗ Tactile walking indicators;

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals;

⊗ Push buttons accessible to wheelchair users;

⊗ Ramps and curb cuts

However, the legacy of years of valuing cars in Northern American society and the difficulty to change attitudes towards the most fragile people show that there is a lot of work to be done. 

Considering that major american cities have less than 1% of signalized intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals, it leaves a lot of room for improvement!

Wondering which Accessible Pedestrian Signal to choose? Use the new APS comparator!

Find out more about this policy.

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Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently.

This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users.

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Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

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.

[INFOGRAPHIC] How the City of Ottawa Can Improve its Accessibility with APS?

[INFOGRAPHIC] How the City of Ottawa Can Improve its Accessibility with APS?

[INFOGRAPHIC]

How the City of Ottawa Can Improve its Accessibility with APS?

 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) are Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliant signals that help the blind and visually impaired cross the street safely relying on audio cues. They provide valuable assistance at complex or noisy pedestrian crossings when only relying on the traffic flow can prove to be at risk.

Their installation is an integral part of accessibility policies of major American and Canadian cities. Ottawa is one of those cities that put people first.

In a city where around 50,000 blind people have difficulties getting around, Ottawa accessibility design standards have been developed to encourage diversity, remove physical barriers and provide solutions embracing the principles of “universal design”.

These standards require APS to be provided where new pedestrian signals are being installed or where pedestrian signals are being replaced. However a fair amount of locations still remain unequipped and the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities highly dissuades blind people from crossing streets.

This infographic intents to highlight the importance of implementing more APS units in Ottawa.

For more information about Toronto APS policy, read this article:

How Do Blind People of Toronto Cross the Street Safely?

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In a city where around 50,000 blind people have difficulties getting around, Ottawa accessibility design standards have been developed to encourage diversity, remove physical barriers and provide solutions embracing the principles of “universal design”.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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

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

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

 

Chicago is the third most populated city in the United States ranking after New York and Los Angeles. To facilitate the movement of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists and thus prevent the city from plunging into chaos, 3,000 signalized traffic intersections have been set up throughout the city.

But have you ever wondered how do blind and partially sighted people know when it is safe to cross the street? 258,900 people have reported to live with visual disability in Illinois in 2019 yet only 11 intersections were equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) in that same year representing less than 1% of all signalized intersections.

What commitments the city has made to improve the mobility of thousands of people and thus make the city accessible to people of all abilities? And how can APS help the city global accessibility plan to go one step further?

 

Accessible Pedestrian Signal in Chicago: state of play

You might have noticed yellow housings with a raised arrow fixed on the pole of a few pedestrian crossings in Chicago. They are quite rare but yet of great help for visually impaired people. What are they exactly? They are called Accessible Pedestrian Signals. They provide information about the status of the pedestrian signal.

APS are composed of three main elements:

⊗ the pushbutton that emits a constant beeping sound in order to locate it

⊗ a tactile raised arrow that is lined up with the direction of travel on the crosswalk

⊗ audible walk indications according to national standard such an a rapid ticking sound when the WALK sign is on but it can be a speech message stating the street name etc.

For more details about APS definition and characteristics please read this article: Pedestrian Safety Are your Pedestrian Crossings Safe for Visually-Impaired and Blind People?

In compliance with the American with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) federal standards, these new devices must equip all newly constructed intersections equipped with pedestrian signals or pedestrian facilities undergoing construction activity.

But the City of Chicago does not set as an example in terms of pedestrian safety law abiding. In 2019 only 11 APS were found amongst the 3,000 signalized intersections of the city. A class-action lawsuit has even been filled in 2019 by the American Council of The Blind of Metropolitan Chicago and three blind Chicago-area residents for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Collectively,” the complaint states, “these obstacles severely compromise blind pedestrians’ ability to move about the City like their sighted counterparts do: safely, independently, expeditiously, and without fear.”

In response, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced a few months later that Chicago will be adding up to 100 new Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at locations across the city in the next two years rising to around 3% the city equipement rate. As a comparison, New York City has a 2% APS equipment rate at the time of writing.

Since this declaration, no statistics on the number of APS have been published but there should already be around fifty of these new units in central Chicago according to 2019’s Mayor commitments.

Please refer to the map of the proposed APS location issued in July 2019.

Understand difficulties faced by blind people in Chicago

The installation of traffic lights in cities starting in 1923 in Chicago has enabled visually impaired people to finally leave their homes. At least to cross the street independently by listening to the traffic flow. However, recent urban development of large cities like Chicago makes it more and more difficult to rely only on traffic audio cues.

Here are some of the challenges that blind and partially sighted Chicagoans face on a daily basis when trying to get to the other side of the sidewalk:

⊗ cars don’t always stop behind the crosswalk

⊗ crossing time is different depending on the time of day

⊗ complex streets: routes can be straight, diagonal or cross multiple lanes

⊗ ambient noise : the noise of L cars overhead, plus buses, people, and bikes

⊗ weather condition of the Windy City: when it’s raining or windy, it can be hard to hear the sounds of the traffic

⊗ signal phases – when pedestrians get a few seconds head start before vehicle traffic starts – have caused confusion for blind pedestrians than only rely on traffic sound

⊗ cars are quieter

The difficulties of crossing noisy, busy, or complex streets without APS are indeed so severe that some blind pedestrians attempt to avoid risky intersections altogether by using indirect, longer routes, or by taking paratransit, even though paratransit must be arranged for 24-hours in advance.

APS is a cheap answer that addresses most of these issues.

How can APS systems be part of an Inclusive City global plan?

“We want to make Chicago the most inclusive city in the nation, period. No exceptions.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at The Chicago Lighthouse, a social service agency that supports people with visual impairments.

The city’s goal is clear. To achieve this, the mayor has put in place several initiatives at the heart of the Vision Zero action plan. Vision Zero is a global growing program that aims at eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2026.

The 2017-2019 action plan states that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) must commit to safe street for all Chicagoans best know as Complete Streets.

This transportation policy and design approach includes state recommended design elements that provide safer crossings, safer speeds, and safer streets for all users. These elements appear in Chicago‘s Pedestrian Plan and Complete Streets Design Guidelines as well as the Vision Zero action plan.

These elements include:

⊗ right-sized streets

⊗ pedestrian refuge islands

⊗ bump-outs

⊗ protected bike lanes

⊗ pedestrian countdown timers and leading pedestrian intervals

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals

⊗ in-road state law stop for pedestrians signs

⊗ speed feedback signs

The installation of APS in Chicago must be though as a global pedestrian safety program to improve blind people’s accessibility. As part of the Vision Zero action plan, the implementation of APS in the city highlights the importance of prioritizing the health and safety of all roadway users.

More APS would definitely help Chicago score points to be recognized as the global reference in accessibility.

If you want to increase the number of APS units in Chicago or in another city and want to choose the best possible options, feel free to check the APS comparator. This tool will help you make a market research based on different APS technical features.

In line with the city’s commitments to make Chicago more inclusive, the city is starting to think about setting up a wayfinding system on the rail system to help blind, visually impaired and deafblind people navigate the street safely. The All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) would help reduce costs assistance and make the network easier.

One step further to be ‘the most inclusive city in the nation’.

media

The installation of APS in Chicago must be though as a global pedestrian safety program to improve blind people’s accessibility. As part of the Vision Zero action plan, the implementation of APS in the city highlights the importance of prioritizing the health and safety of all roadway users.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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