Based on handouts from presentations at:
2005 Northeast AER Chapter conference
2006 DC-Maryland AER Conference
Teaching Blind Pedestrians to Cross at Complex Signalized Intersections
Dona Sauerburger, COMS
In July, 2006, the AER O&M Division approved a position paper which states that during instruction, O&M specialists will provide consumers with information about how actuated signals function and techniques for dealing with them, including strategies to find and use pedestrian buttons and cross.
This page provides some of this information and strategies.
Signalized intersections have changed drastically in the last 30 years.
Strategies that blind people traditionally use to cross at signalized intersections are no longer effective and reliable because of some of these changes.Â
The traditional strategy for crossing at signalized intersections was as follows:
Listed below are features of signalized intersections that are different than they were 30 years ago, and the effect of each feature on the strategies blind people use to cross.
Each feature has a link to more information, and suggestions to make crossings more reliably safe.
- At unfamiliar intersections, observe the movement of the traffic to determine and become familiar with the pattern of the signal (that is, in which order the traffic on different legs of the intersection have the green signal, whether there are any special features such as left-turning movement, etc.), and the geometry of the streets (their width and angle of intersecting, etc).
At familiar intersections
- Approach the curb and, after finding a location that is an appropriate distance from the corner so that it is likely to be within the crosswalk, listen for a cycle or two in order to align using the sound of traffic;
- Once aligned properly, start to cross as soon as the traffic on the parallel street (the street intersecting the street to be crossed) begins to surge forward (i.e. "cross with parallel traffic surge"), because that surge indicates that the signal is green for them and therefore green for pedestrians crossing parallel to them.
- Complex traffic patterns (protected left and split phases, lead pedestrian intervals, exclusive pedestrian phases)
Effect: Traditional rule to "cross with parallel traffic surge" is no longer reliably appropriate.
- Right-turn-on-red laws
Effect: Initial surge of parallel traffic is no longer sufficient cue to recognize the onset of the pedestrian walk signal.
- Actuated signals
- It is no longer possible to predict timing / traffic pattern, no matter how long it is observed;
- Pedestrians may have to push a button before crossing in order to ensure enough time to cross.
- Pushbutton and compliance with pedestrian signals may be required
Effects: Where pedestrians have to find and push a pedestrian button to ensure time to cross, the crossing must start in the appropriate phase of cycle immediately following the push of the button, and therefore:
- There is limited time to prepare for the crossing;
- Alignment must be done with limited or no parallel traffic sounds.
- The status of pedestrian signal must be determined (see below)
- Curb ramps
Effect: There is no longer any reliable cue as to where the edge of the street is; blind people walk into street unaware
- Aggressive drivers fail to yield legal right of way
Effect: When pedestrians are legally in crosswalks, there is danger from conflicting traffic (vehicles which are turning into the crosswalk or turning right on red).
- Separate right-turning lanes
Effect: Usually there is no signal for the traffic in the separate lane, and their movement has little or no relation to the signal and traffic movement at the main intersection, so they must be crossed during a gap in traffic or yielding vehicles.
Below is from: Janet M. Barlow, Billie Louise Bentzen, and Tamara Bond (2005) Blind Pedestrians and the Changing Technology and Geometry of Signalized Intersections: Safety, Orientation, and Independence. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Volume 99 No. 10
Do blind people need to determine or pay attention to the status of the pedestrian signal?
Some O&M instructors and pedestrians who are blind do not consider the status of the pedestrian signal to be an appropriate measure of the safety of a crossing. However, they should be aware of the laws regarding obedience to pedestrian signals.
Return to Traffic Signals
Many individuals mistakenly believe that pedestrians always have the right-of-way. The Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) provides standard laws that form the basis for traffic laws in the United States. Some states have adopted slight variations from the laws described next, but most use the UVC language.
The UVC specifically limits pedestrian right-of-way where pedestrian signals are installed (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, 2000). UVC Â§ 11-501(a) requires pedestrians to "obey the instructions of any official traffic control device specifically applicable to such pedestrian," and UVC Â§ 11-203 explains the meaning of the pedestrian control signals.
At locations with pedestrian control signals, pedestrians are legally crossing if they begin their crossing during the WALK signal. It is legal to complete a crossing during the flashing Don't Walk signal if they began during the WALK signal, but it is not legal to begin to cross during the flashing or steady Don't Walk signal.
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