Part 1: Typical Strategies and Cues
Janet Barlow, MS, COMS (Deceased)
Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Accessible Design for the Blind
Billie Louise (Beezy) Bentzen, Ph.D., COMS
Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Accessible Design for the Blind
Coordinator of Research (Retired)
U.S. Access Board
Originally posted 2012
Throughout this article, whenever possible, the authors have provided references to the most relevant supporting statutes, proposed statutes, research work, and other source material to assist the reader’s understanding of the information to be covered. The existing and proposed statute references cited in this article are from the: 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD), 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards), and (Proposed) Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (Proposed PROWAG). All references are current and accurate as of the posting of the two parts of this article and are intended solely as informal guidance.
The following words and phrases in this two-part article shall have the following meanings:
- Pedestrian(s). “A person on foot, in a wheelchair, on skates, or on a skateboard” (MUTCD Section 1A.13 paragraph 3).
- Pedestrian(s) with a vision disability. A person with a decreased ability to see that causes difficulties with normal daily tasks including reading and mobility not fixable by usual means, such as glasses or medication.
Any questions concerning this article can be directed to: Billie Louise (Beezy) Bentzen, Ph.D., Director of Research, Accessible Design for the Blind, 3110 Judge Arend Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99709, telephone (978) 549-8393, or by email, [email protected].
In the intervening 10 years since this article was originally posted, there have been numerous research studies performed contributing to the development of new orientation and mobility strategies and environmental modifications for assisting pedestrians with vision disabilities (PWVDs) in locating street crossings and aligning to cross. This article has been updated to reflect some of these advancements by being transformed into a two-part format comprised of original, revised, expanded, and new content.
Part 1 is an update of the original article’s description of cues and strategies used by PWVDs for finding the crosswalk and aligning to cross, including discussions of challenges associated with these tasks in the modern urban environment in which intersection geometry is continuing to evolve. Some possible modifications that may help with each of these tasks are described.
Additionally, this part will include a short section on how to advocate for modifications that have been proven effective in addressing street crossing challenges. Also, a reference list is provided with the information necessary for the reader to locate and retrieve any source that is cited in the body of this part of the article.
Part 2 is a new section to the article which will provide descriptions of four modifications that recent research has shown may be very effective in helping with the following problems:
- Finding crosswalks at non-corner crossings such as mid-block, channelized turn lanes, and roundabouts.
- Aligning to cross where parallel traffic is absent, intermittent, or misleading.
- Crossing straight at very wide signalized crossings, or where there is no or inconsistent traffic going parallel to the crossing direction travelled by the PWVD.
- Crossing straight at very wide unsignalized crossings, or where there is no or inconsistent traffic going parallel to the crossing direction travelled by the PWVD.
This part concludes with its own reference list and a footnote.
Identifying the Sidewalk/Street Boundary
Recognizing the arrival at the street boundary involves the PWVD assessing a number of cues:
- The end of a building line transitioning to the openness of an intersection.
- Changes in wind direction.
- The sounds of idling or moving perpendicular traffic, turning traffic, and idling or moving parallel traffic.
- A down-curb, curb ramp, or similar sloped transition in the sidewalk. Note: A curb ramp is defined as “A ramp that cuts through or is built up to the curb. Curb ramps can be perpendicular or parallel, or a combination of parallel and perpendicular ramps.”
(Proposed PROWAG R105.5 [curb ramp]).
- Detectable warning surface (DWS) underfoot at the flush transition between the street and a curb ramp or sidewalk blended transition.
- DWS is defined as “A standardized surface feature built in or applied to walking surfaces or other elements to warn of hazards on a circulation path.”
- DWS are intended to provide a tactile equivalent underfoot of the visible curb line.
(MUTCD Sections 3B.18 paragraph 18, 3I.06 paragraph 1; 2010 Standards Sections 106.5 [detectable warning] and 705; Proposed PROWAG R208, R305, R306.3.1).
- The locator tone of an accessible pedestrian signal (APS), which is integrated into the pedestrian detector (pushbutton) housing, if an APS is installed.
Note: An APS is defined as “a device that communicates information about pedestrian signal timing in non-visual format such as audible tones, speech messages, and/or vibrating surfaces.”
(MUTCD Sections 1A.13 paragraph 3 [accessible pedestrian signal], 4E.09 paragraph 10, 4E.11 paragraphs 9,11,25, 4E.12 paragraphs 2-6, 4E.08 – 4E.13; Proposed PROWAG R209).
- The presence of waiting pedestrians, or the whistle of a traffic officer or bell of a turning cyclist.
The PWVD may fail to detect the end of the pedestrian way (sidewalk) and the beginning of the vehicular way (street). Then, the PWVD may recognize that they’ve inadvertently entered the street after detecting the transition between a downslope and the upslope following a gutter.
When the PWVD is expecting to find the street edge and does not, this may mean they may be in a location where the sidewalk has been extended at the corner, called a bulb-out or curb extension. A bulb-out extends the sidewalk into the parking lane to narrow the roadway and provide additional pedestrian space and visibility at key locations. However, the pedestrian’s crossing begins further from the building line than usual.
Many cities want to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians and increase their visibility to motorists and other pedestrians, as well as slow vehicular traffic, by installing bulb-outs. They either want to experiment with bulb-outs before inclusion into the community’s Neighborhood Traffic Management Program toolbox and having to spend the money to construct them or want to install a number of these traffic calming devices at low cost.
Often, traffic engineers will construct what are sometimes referred to as “quick-build” bulb-outs, which describes an approach to building infrastructure using low-cost, short-term materials. In this case, they just paint a new “curb line” in the street and install a few bollards (which may be short, flexible posts) along that line. The engineers may or may not do the following:
- Install a DWS at each crossing location.
- Remove the DWS at the bottom of the existing curb ramp that used to indicate the next step would be in the street.
This is a fast, inexpensive change that can happen along a frequently traveled pedestrian route. If it seems like pedestrians are waiting to cross out into the street, the PWVD should suspect the presence of a quick-build bulb-out and inquire.
If the PWVD can’t tell where the quick-build bulb-out ends and where to wait to cross, it is appropriate to request installation of a DWS. At the same time, they might request the removal of the DWS that used to indicate the beginning of the street.
When the PWVD knows that they would have no idea where the quick-build bulb-out ends, except for where there is a DWS at the crosswalk, it is appropriate to request the installation of cane-detectable posts or barriers along the painted line that are close enough not to be passed through without making physical contact with them. Research work is underway to determine the best method for constructing these quick-build bulb-outs to make them safer for PWVDs, and there are no published recommendations as of the date of this publication.
Curb ramp slopes may be relatively steep, which can help in detecting the street edge. The bottom or base of a curb ramp run (the slope that is parallel to the down or up direction of travel on a curb ramp) is required to fall within the crosswalk area (2010 Standards Section 406.5; Proposed PROWAG R207.1); however, there is no requirement that the curb ramp running slope be aligned with the direction of travel on the crosswalk. There are many different ways that curb ramps can be built to connect the sidewalk to the street at a crossing. Understanding those possibilities may help the PWVD recognize the edge of the street better as they travel on a curb ramp.
The most common connection is a perpendicular curb ramp, in which a section of the sidewalk slopes down to the street. The edges of the curb ramp may be ‘returned’ with curbs on each side of the ramp or ‘flared’ with sides that slope back up to the sidewalk level. Returned curb edges on these ramps are usually found where there is a landscape strip between the curb and sidewalk, and flared sides are usual when the sidewalk is paved to the curb. Perpendicular curb ramps need wide sidewalks to be usable — approximately 10 feet (3048 mm) where curbs are 6 inches (152.4 mm) in height.
In older sidewalks, there may be only one curb ramp, at the apex of the corner; these are often called ‘diagonal’ curb ramps because they are oriented towards the center of the intersection rather than towards the crosswalk. Newer sidewalks should have one curb ramp for each crosswalk. Sometimes, it is not physically possible for the running slope of these curb ramps to be aligned with the crosswalk because the base of the ramp should be square to the gutter to avoid causing tipping problems for users of wheelchairs and other wheeled mobility devices (Proposed PROWAG R305.2.1).
DWS provide a tactile equivalent underfoot of the visible curb line, which is the boundary between a roadway and a sidewalk area. They are required to contrast visually with adjacent walking surfaces either light-on-dark, or dark-on-light (2010 Standards Section 705.1.3; Proposed PROWAG R305.1.3). Often, DWS are yellowish orange in color, known as federal or safety yellow, an approximation of FS 33538 of SAE AMS-STD-595A (formerly FS 33538 of Federal Standard 595C), though they may be installed with different colors. For examples of state government provisions for the use of federal yellow DWS, see Section 11B-705.1.1.3.1, Chapter 11B, California Building Code; Section 4, 3-406.00, Chapter 3, Tennessee Department of Transportation Roadway Design Guidelines; and 8-14.3(5)A, Division 8, Washington Department of Transportation Standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction M 41-10. In cold climates, where snowplowing is common, cast iron DWS are becoming common and these weather to a rusty color.
DWS should be located across the base of the curb ramp, just behind the curb line. If these surfaces are placed too far from the curb line because of a large corner radius, the location may compromise effective crossing by PWVDs (Proposed PROWAG R305.2.1). They are not intended to provide wayfinding for PWVDs (Proposed PROWAG R208.1). (Research has shown that pedestrians who have vision disabilities are not able to align accurately based on DWS) (Scott et al. 2011).
DWS consist of truncated domes aligned on a square grid pattern placed behind and along the curb line in the predominant direction of travel (running slope); they may not be aligned with the direction of the crosswalk. The alignment of the truncated domes on a square grid instead of a diagonal pattern should be perpendicular to the grade break between the ramp run and the street to permit greater safety and negotiability of the passage of the wheels of mobility devices between domes. Where DWS are provided on a surface with a slope that is less than 5 percent, dome orientation is less critical (Proposed PROWAG R305.2.1).
In narrower sidewalks with a width of 5 feet (1,524 mm) or less, parallel curb ramps are common and are installed in the sidewalk (also referred to as curb-attached sidewalks, or sidewalks at back of curb) along the street edge. These curb ramps have a running slope that is in line with the direction of pedestrian sidewalk travel, and the sidewalk lowers to a level landing at street level where a pedestrian can make a turn to enter the pedestrian street crossing or continue traveling around the corner. Parallel curb ramps may be diagonal or have a shared landing, with only one location to cross from at the corner, or there may be two landing areas, one for each crossing. In the case when there are two parallel curb ramps, the pedestrian will find the sidewalk sloping up and down twice as they turn a corner (2010 Standards Section 406.6; Proposed PROWAG R207.2, R304.1, R304.3, R304.5, R305.2.2).
One of the more confusing aspects of a parallel curb ramp is there may be a curb at the back of its landing to keep dirt or landscaping from washing down into the turning space. So, there is the potential the PWVDs may find themselves walking down a sloping sidewalk to an area that is located between a DWS and a low curb. In most cases, they are still on the sidewalk, but it can be confusing to find a curb on the backside of the landing and DWS on the streetside where there is a flush transition free of any abrupt changes between the roadway and the sidewalk. DWS are required to be installed on the sidewalk along the curb line at the landing, for the full width of the edge which is at street level (MUTCD Section 3B.18, paragraph 18; Proposed PROWAG R305.2.2, R305.2.3).
In some cities, a combination of these two curb ramp types is used. First, the sidewalk slopes down a bit, connecting to a level landing from which a pair of short perpendicular curb ramps connects to the street.
Some cities use “blended transitions” in which the whole corner slopes gently down to the intersection at a grade of 5 percent or less between the sidewalk and the level of the roadway. This is often called a “depressed corner.” In these transitions where there is little slope from the sidewalk into the street, the DWS are required to extend in a curve from one crosswalk to the other, providing limited information about the location of crosswalks. (Proposed PROWAG R105.5 [Blended Transition, Grade Break], R208.1, R304.1, R304.4, R304.5, R305.1.4, R305.2.3).
Similar low-slope connections will be found where the crosswalk itself is raised to sidewalk level (height) — a raised crossing, sometimes also described as a speed table for its traffic-calming effects. Raised crossings can provide accessibility in very narrow sidewalks where there is little room for curb ramps. Because there is no slope or gutter to identify these raised crossings, DWS will be the only indication of the blended transition boundary between sidewalk and street or speed table (Proposed PROWAG R105.5 [Blended Transition], R304.1, R305.2.3).
For more general information regarding raised crossings/speed tables, consult with the internet where there are many resources, such as the Federal Highway Administration “Raised Crosswalk, Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian, Countermeasure Tech Sheet,” and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide, “Speed Table.”
Additionally, raised medians and pedestrian refuge islands can be provided in the center of a street at intersection or mid-block locations to help protect pedestrians from vehicular traffic. These raised structures may have a cut-through passageway(s) at roadway level or may have curb ramps onto and off of them. In either case, DWS are required at the curb line to indicate the boundary between the median or island, and the street (MUTCD Section 3B.18 paragraph 9, Section 3I.06; Proposed PROWAG R204.3, R208.1, R302.3.1, R305.1.4, R305.2.4).
However, in the Proposed PROWAG analysis, “detectable warning surfaces are not required at pedestrian refuge islands that are cut through at street level and are less than 1.8 meters (6 feet) in length in the direction of pedestrian travel….” The explanation given in the Proposed PROWAG is “…detectable warning surfaces must extend 610 millimeters (2 feet) minimum on each side of the island and be separated by a 610 millimeters (2 feet) minimum length of island without detectable warning surfaces”. Otherwise, “installing detectable warning surfaces at cut-through pedestrian islands that are less than 1.8 meters (6 feet) in length would compromise the effectiveness of detectable warning surfaces”. The Proposed PROWAG “…recommends that where a cut-through pedestrian island is less than 1.8 meters (6 feet) in length and the pedestrian street crossing is signalized, the signal should be timed for a complete crossing of the street” (see Proposed PROWAG R208.2, R305.1.4, R305.2.4).
Finally, the underfoot cues provided by curb ramps — slope, DWS, gutter counter slope — can augment cues about street location obtained from traffic sounds. Nevertheless, PWVDs must understand curb ramps and blended transitions are not accurate indicators of crossing direction and should not be relied on as an indication of the direction of the crossing.
Strategies for detecting the end of the sidewalk
Travel strategies for approaching an intersection and detecting the street edge or end of the sidewalk include:
- Assessment of audible traffic cues, both moving and idling.
- Attention to changes in building line, intersecting sidewalks, locations of poles and “street furniture” commonly located at corners.
- Constant contact technique to detect small changes; slowing to maintain the line of approach. Note: The constant contact technique is a method of using the long white cane in a side-to-side motion, maintaining continual contact of the cane tip with the walking surface as the cane clears the area ahead of the forward foot.
- Attention to small changes in slope (a curb ramp) or texture (a DWS).
- Cane exploration to the side when the PWVD thinks they have reached the street edge on a curb ramp. Contacting a curb to the side will confirm that they are standing on a curb ramp.
- Pushbutton locator tones of APS.
To help detect the street/sidewalk boundary, the PWVD should request the installation of DWS, APS, or other accessible features. The pushbutton locator tone of an APS can indicate to the PWVD that they are close to the street, while providing wayfinding information to assist in making a crossing.
Locating the Crosswalk
Traditional strategies for locating the crosswalk assume that the sidewalk, curb ramp or blended transition, and the crosswalk itself, are all in-line with the PWVD’s approach heading so they can maintain their line of approach when coming to a curb or corner. However, sidewalks and streets and their intersections are rarely so standardized these days.
The PWVD is to remember that the curb ramp (excluding any flared sides) or blended transition serving crosswalks is to be contained wholly within the width of the pedestrian street crossing served (MUTCD Section 3B.18, paragraph 17; 2010 Standards Section 406.5; Proposed PROWAG R207.1). The location of the curb ramp or blended transition may provide a good cue about the crosswalk location.
If the PWVD reaches the street from the curb ramp or blended transition area, DWS will indicate to them that they have arrived at the street. However, the DWS may not be lined up with the crossing direction nor indicate a good crossing direction.
Often, the PWVD may find the crosswalk to be offset and away from the corner. Streets may curve or widen to add vehicle lanes or have large corner radii (long curvature of the corner) to allow vehicular traffic to turn at higher speed. Corners having large radii usually have curb ramps that are not in line with the direction of travel on the associated crosswalk, lengthen pedestrian crossing distances, and increase the potential severity of vehicle-pedestrian collisions.
In some locations, one leg of the crossing of the major street may be closed to pedestrians without any accessible information (like a fence or other barrier) for PWVDs.
Streets that don’t meet at right angles will have angled crossings, and crosswalks may be farther from the corner than expected.
Some intersections are engineered with separated (channelized) right turn lanes or roundabouts. Where there are separated right turn lanes or roundabouts, the crosswalk is likely to be on a very gradually rounded corner, and it is easy for PWVDs to miss it, especially if there is no landscaping between the sidewalk and the street. The crosswalk will usually lead to an island or median, from which the PWVD will need to locate the crosswalk to continue their crossing.
The absence of crosswalk markings at corners of an intersection does not mean that there is no crosswalk. Legally, crosswalks exist between any two opposite corners at an intersection, unless they are marked “No crossing.” A cane-detectable barrier is recommended wherever there is no crossing between opposite corners of an intersection, but this is relatively uncommon.
Strategies to locate crosswalks
Strategies to locate crosswalks and confirm that they are for the street a PWVD is wanting to cross require relying on an evaluation of the corner location and traffic movement in all directions. This takes time.
- The PWVD needs to listen to traffic traveling in the same direction as they are going (parallel traffic) as they approach a corner. They need to determine if the parallel traffic seems to be moving behind them, or if they are no longer sure which is the parallel traffic. It may be suspected that they are at a large-radius corner, a channelized turn lane, or roundabout where it is necessary to cross to an island and then to complete the crossing from the island. The PWVD needs to listen more carefully for cues that indicate what the intersection geometry may be. Then, the individual needs to be aware if their body is turning or the cane is dropping off the curb to the side to avoid thinking they are veering toward the street, instead of the street curving around the corner. The individual needs to stop and listen for traffic on both streets and consider asking another pedestrian, if one might be present, about the geometry.
- The PWVD should trail the outside shoreline or curb while being careful of turning traffic and use a wide cane technique to find the curb ramp or blended transition. Next, they need to analyze the relationship of the curb ramps and blended transitions with moving traffic. This means, listening carefully for parallel and perpendicular traffic to decide whether the curb ramp is perpendicular with the street they want to cross or is an apex (single diagonal) curb ramp directed toward the center of the intersection.
- The PWVD is to position themself on the side of the curb ramp furthest away from the center of the intersection; this will usually be within the crosswalk area and puts them close to parallel traffic but not too close. Many feel that it is often the best place to begin crossing from.
- The PWVD should expect to find crosswalks (and curb ramps) at channelized turn lanes about halfway between the parallel and perpendicular streets.
- At roundabouts, the crosswalk for the parallel street will be before the PWVD reaches the corner and the crosswalk for crossing the perpendicular street will be after they have completely rounded the corner. They will have to turn toward the street to cross.
- The PWVD must be aware that the presence of DWS does not mean that there is a safe crossing at that location. There may be no type of traffic signal or beacon at the crossing that makes it likely that drivers will yield for a pedestrian to cross (MUTCD 4E.09 paragraph 10, 4E.11 paragraph 9, 4E.13 paragraphs 4-8).
- Once the PWVD has located the crosswalk, they are to explore for landmarks that work well for them, which can be found reliably, and be used for alignment.
When intersections are newly constructed or reconstructed, they should incorporate useful environmental cues, if technically feasible, such as:
- Continuous landscaping between roadway curb and sidewalk, making curb ramp and blended transition locations more obvious.
- Continuous barriers/fences to help define the travel path along the sidewalk.
- Short corner radii (generally close to a right angle), which will permit directional curb ramps, reduce vehicular turning speeds, make it difficult for motorists to enter a sidewalk from the roadway, minimize pedestrian crossing distances, and reduce the potential severity of vehicle-pedestrian collisions.
However, it’s quite common to see newly built intersections without the above features.
Where effective cues to crossing location aren’t available at existing signalized intersections, the PWVD should contact the state or local department of transportation (sometimes the local agency is known as the department of public works) which has jurisdiction over the crossing to request the installation of an APS with a locator tone and tactile arrow to indicate crossing direction. Also, the request should include, whenever possible, the installation of planters or landscape strips to frame the sidewalk and crosswalk, particularly at roundabouts (MUTCD Sections 4E.08 - 4E.13; Proposed PROWAG R209, R306.3.1).
Aligning to Cross
Traditional strategies for PWVDs aligning to cross assumed that the crosswalk was relatively well-aligned with the direction of travel on the sidewalk and included:
- Maintaining the line of approach.
- Aligning with parallel traffic (traffic moving alongside them in the same direction as their desired crossing).
- Squaring off with perpendicular traffic (traffic that the individual is intending to cross) and/or curb.
With the non-traditional curb ramp and sidewalk designs being used now, it may be very difficult to maintain a straight line of approach. Also, with the need to push a pedestrian pushbutton to have adequate time to cross the street, it is not usually possible for the PWVD to hold the approach line and cross because of the necessity to find and use the pushbutton before crossing.
In many instances, there is little or no parallel traffic, such as when the pedestrian is crossing a major street with little regular traffic on the minor street, the “top” of a T-intersection, or an offset intersection. Additional time may be needed by a PWVD to carefully analyze crossing direction where parallel streams of traffic don’t provide good cues. Some intersections have angled and/or multiple legs and there is no standard for crosswalk orientation. At those kinds of locations, some crosswalks may be perpendicular to the street (and thus the shortest crossing), while others will take the angle of the intersection (requiring longer travel in the street, but possibly being more parallel to traffic). Finding the curb ramp(s), one can identify the departure point, but the direction of the crosswalk may be unclear.
The PWVD will find parallel/perpendicular sound cues not to be available at channelized right turn lanes (slip lanes) that diverge from one street direction to connect to the intersecting street. Crossing this lane will connect them to a pedestrian refuge island, which has curb ramps or cut-through blended transitions, where pedestrians can stop before finishing crossing a road. From the island, the PWVD can cross the major streets using standard techniques. These channelized turn lanes will typically have one crosswalk with a curb ramp or blended transition at the apex (or center) of the curve. The curb ramp may provide useful cues to crossing direction; crossing perpendicular to traffic movement can be a good strategy if the PWVD knows the crosswalk is at the center of the curve. The same technique may work in circular intersections — roundabouts and large rotaries, but the crosswalks may be angled in ways that make it very difficult for the PWVD to determine appropriate alignment. Landscaping, curb ramp direction and other cues may be helpful, but traffic sound cues will not usually provide good alignment cues.
Strategies for determining travel direction should not rely on curb ramp slope or DWS orientation, as these may be designed for wheelchair travel. Work is underway nationally to promote more directional curb ramps, but existing ramps may not be replaced for many years. As mentioned earlier, the perpendicular or parallel curb ramp and DWS can identify a starting point for the PWVD, since the base of the ramp must be within the crosswalk.
Strategies for aligning to cross
All these changes require some variations in how the PWVD aligns for a crossing.
- To align with the direction of travel at an unfamiliar crossing, the individual needs to approach the intersection, holding their direction of approach as well as they can, and stop at the curb or edge of the street. Then, they need to listen to the flow of traffic and determine if it is or is not a signalized intersection. If it is signalized, they need to listen to a few cycles of the light to try to get a good sense of traffic movement and alignment.
Parallel traffic is usually, but not always, moving in alignment with the crosswalk direction. Through traffic on the street parallel to the PWVD’s crosswalk usually provides the most reliable and accurate cue for alignment if the individual has unimpaired hearing. Listening for the traffic on the perpendicular street, both moving traffic and idling traffic, may also be useful for alignment.
The PWVD needs to listen for where the vehicles stop for the light. Although not required, most street crossings have a stop line (also known as a “stop bar”) to indicate the point behind which vehicles are required to stop in compliance with controlled crossings. If used, the stop line should be placed a minimum of 4 feet (1219.2 mm) in advance of the nearest crosswalk line at controlled crossings (MUTCD Section 3B.16).
Driver compliance with stopping at stop lines varies. A good rule-of-thumb is for the PWVD to have an alignment at multi-lane crossings where they pass just in front of all idling vehicles. They must remember that some drivers will stop beyond the stop line, and even into the crosswalk, to better see approaching perpendicular traffic.
When the PWVD feels they are aligned for the crossing, and have determined that the intersection is signalized, it’s usually necessary for them to leave that location and find a pedestrian pushbutton to call the pedestrian signal.
Before searching for and using a pushbutton, the PWVD needs to align for the desired crossing and find a tactile landmark that gives them a good directional cue to return to before looking for the pushbutton. After pushing the pushbutton, the individual will return to the landmark and use it to re-align quickly.
- Poles, grass edging, slope changes, angle of the curb, street edge or curb ramp can all combine to confirm the correct alignment for PWVDs. Also, asking other pedestrians may be helpful.
- If an APS is installed, the pushbutton locator tone will help the PWVD find the pushbutton and raised tactile arrow. The arrow on the APS is required to be aligned parallel to the direction of travel on the associated crosswalk, which can then be used to confirm their travel direction and that they have found the APS for their crossing (MUTCD Section 4E.12, paragraph 1; Proposed PROWAG R209). However, the reality is, arrows aren’t always installed correctly, so the PWVD must use all cues and information available to them to confirm their alignment at an unfamiliar location. In case an APS is installed incorrectly, the PWVD should contact their state or local department of transportation (sometimes the local agency is known as the department of public works) which has jurisdiction over the site to speak with a traffic and/or signal engineer to discuss these issues and to educate them on the need for correct alignment of the arrow(s) and/or pushbutton pole(s).
- The PWVD needs to be ready to adjust their alignment while crossing. They are to watch for and use straight-through traffic (not turning traffic) to align with while crossing. The raised edges of highly visually contrasting crosswalk markings, the slope and camber of the street, the traffic waiting on the perpendicular street, or a change in surface materials may help to refine the PWVD’s heading.
Where traditional cues aren’t effective, the PWVD should confer with the traffic and/or signal engineers who have jurisdiction to develop a treatment that provides the needed information, whether it is a landmark, beacon, tactile guidestrip, or directional curb ramp(s) that can be relied on. They should ask first about the intersection geometry, since there may be a good alignment cue nearby.
Advocating for Modifications to Address Street Crossing Challenges
The more a PWVD knows about a particular crossing that is hard for them, the more effective they will be in figuring out a solution. The individual should take the time and use their experiences and observation skills to analyze each situation carefully. If there are other pedestrians nearby, they should pay attention to what the others are doing and, if comfortable, ask for advice.
PWVDs should always consider receiving supplementary Orientation and Mobility training to determine if there is a need for updated intersection assessment skills development from a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). The COMS can verify if the PWVD does have an assessment skills development issue(s) and if needed, provide the training. If there is no issue, the COMS can offer to state or local traffic and/or signal engineers or planners (whichever is applicable) suggested modifications to address the problem(s) with street crossings.
A PWVD should consider advocating for installation of specific modifications that can assist them in locating crosswalks and aligning properly for safe street crossings. The more the individual knows about the specific crossing, and specific modifications that may be helpful to them, the more effective they will be when discussing with state or local traffic and/or signal engineers the various problem solutions or modifications available to these professionals. Engineers should always be familiar with DWS and with APS.
However, too often, the reality is traffic and/or signal engineers are not always aware of the research work behind these well-studied and helpful modifications. The research work will be described in Part 2 of this article.
California Building Standards Commission. (2019). California Building Code, Title 24, Part 2 (Volumes 1 & 2) with July 2021 supplement.
National Association of City Transportation Officials. (October 2013). Speed Table. Urban Street Design Guide. Island Press.
Scott, A., Barlow, J., Guth, D., Bentzen, B.L., Cunningham, C., & Long, R. (2011). Nonvisual cues for aligning to cross streets. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 105:648-661.
Tennessee Department of Transportation. (Revised November 15, 2021). Roadway Design Guidelines.
U.S. Access Board. (2013). (Proposed) public rights-of-way accessibility guidelines.
U.S. Department of Justice. (September 15, 2010). 2010 ADA standards for accessible design.
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (2009 edition, including Revision 1 dated May 2012 and Revision 2 dated May 2012). Manual on uniform traffic control devices for streets and highways.
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (June 2018). Raised crosswalk safe transportation for everyone countermeasure tech sheet.
Washington Department of Transportation. (August 22, 2021). Standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction M41-10 2022.
Part 2 article on Finding the Crosswalk and Aligning to Cross