Position Papers

Washington Council of the Blind
Environmental Access Committee
Pedestrian Safety – Round-Abouts

August 12, 2007

The Washington Council of the Blind Environmental Access Committee is committed to the improvement of pedestrian safety conditions in the state of Washington. It is crucial that city and urban planners consider the needs of all pedestrians when designing round-abouts and other intersections. Pedestrian safety is a major focus for this Committee. We recognize the value in working cooperatively with governing agencies to resolve concerns.

Traditionally, people who are blind have been taught to use the sound of traffic and traffic flow as a gauge for determining the appropriate time to cross the street. Being able to differentiate the flow of traffic has been compromised by the impact of greater traffic volume, and increased ambient noise. At the onset of movement of parallel traffic, it was once safe to assume the light was in favor of the blind pedestrian. Then, along came free right on red, and the challenge became figuring out whether the light changed, or those parallel traffic vehicles were turning in front of the blind pedestrian because of right turn on red. In some communities, left turn on red soon followed on one way street intersections. Blind pedestrians were able to devise a method of making an informed decision about when to cross. The first car to clear the intersection would be an indication that the pedestrian had the light and could cross based on the sound of a car going straight through an intersection. Still a year does not pass during which we read of blind pedestrians being struck by cars as they attempt to cross this nation’s streets.

The Problem:
In order to better use gasoline resources and manage traffic flow, many communities
have instituted round-about intersections, intersections where no vehicle comes to a complete stop. In these intersections, pedestrians who are blind lose all their clues as to when it is safe to cross, and when it is not. The volume of traffic today (not only the free right turn rule) makes it more difficult to know if it is yet safe to cross. Round-abouts put pedestrians who are blind and others such as those who are elderly, developmentally delayed, or children at serious risk of injury or death. One must have the most accurate, and reliable information to make the best judgement possible for deciding when to cross. Blind and visually impaired people cannot rely on “catching the eye of the driver, a practice which is at best risky for anyone. The blind pedestrian is unable to do this and will require auditory clues that will assist in compensating for this problem.

Recommended Solution:
Contact affected citizen groups for discussion before creating round-abouts. The United States Access Board has guidelines to follow that enhance the safety of blind pedestrians. Roundabouts have removed all auditory and tactile cues that blind people have traditionally used for street crossings. For your convenience, we have attached a synopsis of these guidelines. More information on designing round-abouts with safety of blind pedestrians in mind is available at http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/streets-sidewalks/public-rights-of-way/guidance-and-research/pedestrian-access-to-modern-roundabouts/background. The Washington Council of the Blind, the State’s largest consumer organization of blind people, their friends and families, stands prepared to assist you. We have resources you can use as advisors, as well as literature that will guide you in your work with creating safer round-abouts as well as installing accessible pedestrian signals. We look forward to partnering with all jurisdictions in our State to create an environment in Washington that is safe and effective for all citizens, including those with visual disabilities.

Washington Council of the Blind