Guide Dogs NSW/ACT continually surveys people who use our services, and has identified road crossings as the greatest concern to clients.
Comments one client: "Crossing the road is a matter of life or death for me. It's bad enough having bad eye sight, without having broken bones . . ."
Poorly designed or constructed road crossings are the single most hazardous aspect in the built environment for people who have impaired vision. To ensure that everyone in the community is able to cross a road safely, the following factors should be considered during road construction:
When crossing a road, people who have impaired vision often use the kerb ramp to align themselves and then walk in a straight line to the other side. If the ramp does not align squarely with the kerb, it can lead people on an angle into the roadway, rather than directly across the street.
It is important, therefore, that:
- Kerb ramps align squarely with the direction of road traffic;
- Kerb ramps on either side of the road are directly aligned with each other;
- Kerb ramps align with pedestrian refuge islands.
A blended kerb is one in which there is no significant drop from the footpath to street level; the path simply flows onto the road.
This is an issue for people who are blind or have impaired vision. They rely on traditional kerbs and kerb ramps to indicate where the footpath ends and the road begins. With a blended kerb, they can find themselves in the middle of the road without knowing that they have left the footpath.
While blended kerbs provide easy transition for sighted people with mobility difficulties, they create great problems and are very dangerous to people who have impaired vision.
One way to improve safety in this scenario is to install tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI) between where the footpath ends and the road begins. This will alert people who have impaired vision that they are about to step onto a road.
Pedestrian Refuge Islands
A pedestrian refuge island is a small concrete or paved island in the middle of a road that allows people to cross in stages. However, if the island is the same level and surface as the road, people who have impaired vision may be unable to identify where the refuge ends and the road starts.
The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority has developed specifications for the construction of refuge islands in NSW.
Tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI) provide information that enables people who have impaired vision to locate a refuge island either tactually or using their residual vision.
Audio Tactile Systems
Audio-tactile push-button signals (ATS) are located at pedestrian crossings and are used to indicate when traffic lights have changed to a walk phase. These signals are particularly useful for people who are blind or have impaired vision.
The tactile signal is detected through the plate immediately above the push button. When the pedestrian walk signal is red or in the "Don't Walk" phase, it emits slow beeps and the tactile plate pulses slowly. When the pedestrian walk signal is green or in the "Walk" phase, the control emits faster beeps and the tactile plate pulses rapidly.
The tactile information is useful when ambient noise levels are high, or when the person using the signal does not have good hearing.
When installing the push button control on a pole, the pole should be placed within easy reach of the kerb ramp or crossing point wherever possible. The directional arrow on the push plate provides information to the person who is unable to see the direction of the crossing and therefore should be positioned within easy reach. If the push button is located away from the crossing, the audio signal may not be able to be heard.
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