Pedestrian Safety: Are Your Pedestrian Crossings Safe for Visually Impaired and Blind People?
Have you ever paid attention to pedestrian crossings in your city? If some of you walk across them safely every day, for other people their life is at stake on each crossing. This article will help you better understand the issue that pedestrian crossings represent in terms of pedestrian safety especially for visually impaired and blind people. You will never see your crosswalks in the same way again!
Why pedestrian safety is important?
We are all pedestrians. Virtually every trip begins and ends with walking even if you use public transport or your personal vehicle. According to the World Health Organization, more than 270,000 pedestrians are killed on roads each year. Pedestrians constitute 22% of all road deaths. Moreover, millions of people become permanently disabled due to severe injuries caused by traffic-related crashes while they were walking. Road accidents, however, should not be considered inevitable as they are both predictable and preventable.
Moving safely ought to be a fundamental and inalienable right. It is an essential condition for the social participation of all. The feeling of insecurity causes the most vulnerable people to stay at home. This concerns children, the elderly and more generally all people with disabilities or reduced mobility. Moreover, walking should be promoted as an important mode of transport given its potential to improve health and preserve the environment.
Because they have social, psychological and physical consequences, pedestrian fatalities and injuries generate costs for society. It is difficult to estimate the economic impact of pedestrian road traffic crashes precisely, but road traffic crashes in general are evaluated between 1 and 2% of gross national product.
All around the World, dozens of leading cities have committed to Vision Zero with one strong objective: eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries on roads. They have developed Vision Zero action plans which consist in identifying the most hazardous traffic areas, implementing new regulations, and redesigning safer streets.
Key risks to pedestrians are both related to driver behavior (speed, mobile phone use during driving, alcohol, drugs…) and infrastructure (lack of pedestrian facilities in roadway design, lack of visibility…).
Pedestrian crossing points are particularly dangerous because they include a large number of conflicts between pedestrians and other modes of transport: cars, busses, bikes, but also Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs), such as electric scooters, hoverboards, Segways, etc. Crossing streets safely is even more challenging for visually impaired and blind people.
How to improve pedestrian safety?
Pedestrian safety measures for visually-impaired and blind people
To travel independently, people with visual impairment mainly use auditory and tactual information. Some of them can use their remaining sight and are very sensitive to brightness contrast. Roadway design must take their needs into account to enable them to identify safe pedestrian paths, detect streets and know the proper time to cross. For further information about techniques visually impaired and blind people use to travel safely, read our article: How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?
Here are some tools that really improve the orientation and safety of people with visual disability:
⊗ Detectable warning surfaces or truncated domes are textured ground surface indicators which alert people when they reach the edges of pavements or steps. Detectable warning surfaces are particularly useful at lowered curbs when the sidewalk grade is equal to the grade of the street.
⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) help visually impaired and blind people to identify the WALK interval at intersections. When well set up and positioned, accessible pedestrian signals are also helpful to locate crosswalks and maintain alignment while crossing.
⊗ Tactile paving can also be used to lead pedestrians with low vision towards safe crossing places. Guidance path surfaces are generally made of raised flat-topped bars that can be followed by walking on the surface or maintaining contact with a white cane. They indicate the right direction to cross the road.
⊗ Pedestrian crossings must contrast with the surrounding surface so that visually impaired people with remaining sight can see them. Zebra crossings with white stripes on a dark surrounding surface are mostly well recognized and recommended for their high visibility.
Other safety measures for all pedestrians
Visually impaired and blind pedestrians also benefit from measures that are taken to improve the safety of all walkers. Pedestrian crossings are a major issue because there are pedestrian and vehicle conflict points. Road safety good practice can really improve the situation.
⊗ Motor vehicle speed is a major risk factor for road safety. Speed reduction has been proven to lower the number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Raised platforms, pavement narrowings, optical treatments, roundabouts are effective measures to reduce speed at intersections. However, it is important to keep markings and auditory clues for pedestrians with a visual impairment.
⊗ Simple measures can be taken to simplify crossing location, increase visibility between pedestrians and motorists, and shorten crossing distances. Concrete curb extensions, clearer intersection geometry, markings improvements pedestrian fencing and upgrading pedestrian ramps are among them.
⊗ Raised medians and pedestrian refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic at a time. These make the crossing task much easier. Moreover, medians and refuge islands provide a space to install improve lighting which reduces the nighttime pedestrian fatalities on crosswalks. It is also important to install pedestrian signals with auditory systems on these islands.
⊗ Bike lanes should be separated from sidewalks using raised elements so that pedestrians do not fear any collisions.
⊗ Right-Turn-on-Red (RTOR) allows motorists to turn right on a red signal after stopping and yielding. While this measure may improve the traffic flow, it has increased pedestrian and bicyclist accidents. RTOR should be avoided as far as possible.
⊗ Parking areas, trees and street furniture that impede visibility at pedestrian crossings should be removed.
Pedestrian Safety: major features and benefits of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS)
What is an Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS)?
Crossing the street when you are a blind person is a real challenge on a daily basis. Among the many existing solutions, Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) represent the best option to secure and facilitate the crossing for visually impaired and blind people. An APS is an integrated device that sends an audio signal to indicate to pedestrians if they can cross the road safely. This device allows blind pedestrians to cross the road at the right time, more quickly and safely while maintaining their orientation throughout the crossing.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) began to emerge in the 1970s in the United States and have since largely evolved to adapt to their environment and their users. APS are known by different names around the world such as: acoustic signals, audio-tactile signals, audible pedestrian signals, audible traffic signals, audible pedestrian traffic signals or audible crossing indicators.
From a legal point of view, the APS must comply with local laws of each country. In America, for example The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) states that pedestrian safety considerations should be included in new transportation plans and projects. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) includes guidance for APS installation, location and standards.
How Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) features improve pedestrian safety?
APS greatly contribute to securing the road network. The audio signal indicates the right moment to engage on a pedestrian crossing. Although listening to traffic flow is essential to avoid the risk of an accident, the acoustic signal makes decision-making a lot easier. By installing APS in your city, join the Vision Zero movement that has already conquered 250 cities around the world.
In addition to pedestrian safety, there are many other features and advantages that make APS an attractive solution for for both local decision-makers, installers and end-users:
⊗ Easy to install: APS are easy solutions to implement compared to road works to comply with accessibility requirements. In addition, the electronic card can be easily inserted into the pedestrian signal already installed,
⊗ Inexpensive: the overall cost ratio (maintenance, installation, purchase) compared to the functionalities provided is attractive,
⊗ Useful: in addition to the WALK/WAIT signal essential for blind pedestrians to know when to cross, some APS also indicate the names of parallel and perpendicular streets to better get their bearings,
⊗ Reducing noise pollution: recent APS offer an alternative to continuous noise by allowing the pedestrian to trigger the audio signal with a remote control on demand,
⊗ Customizable: some APS have been designed to adapt to the city and to users by modulating the sound volume according to the ambient noise. Other parameters may also be added depending on models.
As we know hearing is the first sense used to compensate for the lack of vision and visual and tactile cues to locate a pedestrian crossing are not enough. Therefore the use of an audio signal is essential. APS is also the ideal solution to compensate for the road installation defects and the lack of local safety measures by creating safe road environment for pedestrians and drivers.
Join the movement for a safe pedestrian environment and save thousands of lives every year. Investing in city-wide security is about saving lives and building a society in which everyone can find their place regardless of their disability or age. Let’s build together the inclusive city of tomorrow!
It is difficult to estimate the economic impact of pedestrian road traffic crashes precisely, but they are evaluated between 1 and 2% of gross national product.
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