Feeling safe, walking and wheeling

If we want to get everyone walking and wheeling for their health, and the health of the environment, a few things have to change. If people don’t feel safe walking and wheeling, they will avoid the journey or take the car. Many people who are blind or have low vision fear a collision with vehicles and cyclists. That makes them feel unsafe on our streets, and means they are less likely to venture from well-known routes in their community.

Pedestrians who are blind or have low vision have difficulty knowing when it is safe to cross at non-signalised crossing points. This is compounded by traffic volume and speed. Not every person with low vision uses a cane or dog indicating to drivers they have reduced vision.

Two young women stand at a pedestrian crossing. One is holding the arm of the other. There is a car in the background on the crossing. Are they feeling safe walking and wheeling?

If you want to know more about the issues encountered by people who are blind or have low vision, take a look at the study by Victoria Walks. They conducted a survey of people with vision impairment and carried out some street audits. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the road and footpath safety issues encountered by this group.

“Difficulty in judging whether it is safe to cross the road” was the biggest overall concern, followed by tripping hazards on the footpath. Crossing the road at non-signalised intersections was not an option for many. Given that most mid-block crossings and intersections are not signalised, this severely limits this group’s mobility. But they are not the only ones. People with poor depth perception and some cognitive conditions find it difficult to judge when to cross.

Interaction with other road users

Drivers are required to give way to pedestrians. However, at traffic lights for example, motorists failing to give way was the biggest concern for people who are blind or have low vision. Failing to give way to pedestrians on the footpath across driveways was another real problem. Shared paths with cyclists, pedestrians with dogs, and just other pedestrians were also an issue.

People who are blind or have low vision are not the only ones with poor road and footpath experiences. Consequently, if we can get it right for this group, every pedestrian should benefit.

An older woman wearing a straw hat, carrying an orange bag, and using a walking cane, crosses the road.

Site audit issues for safe walking and wheeling

Issues common to most areas audited were:
– Tripping hazards and obstructions on the footpath such as low hanging tree branches, shop sandwich boards, and outdoor dining.
– Poor kerb ramp design that potentially sends pedestrians with a vision impairment into the middle of an intersection rather than directly across the road.
– Differences between the width of a crossing and the width of the kerb ramp used to access it causing a potential trip hazard.
– Missing or poorly functioning Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI) or audio tactiles.

The title of the report is Road Safety for Pedestrians who are Blind or Have Low Vision. There is more detail about each audit location in Victoria and what was recommended. Also more detail from the survey, all of which is instructive.

What happens when tactiles fail

Taking another perspective, Dean Homicki has some short videos explaining the details that matter and why. His latest video is the placement of tactiles at a railway crossing. He titled it, “Why the chicken shouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t cross the rail-road“.

Walking in Berlin

A working paper based on five participants with disability highlights the small but important details that form barriers to getting around in the public domain. The results of their neighbourhood movements are traced in a map showing the barriers.

The usual barriers are encountered and are specific to Berlin and most likely representative of suburban neighbourhoods in Australia as well. Another paper to add to the collection.

The shortened title of the report is, An explorative case study involving disabled people in Berlin.

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