Pedestrian Safety Handbook


In February of 1999, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) published our first Pedestrian Safety handbook. In response to an urgent need expressed by many blind and visually impaired people, We wanted to inform our members, their families, and others who care about people with disabilities about contemporary approaches to assuring safe paths of travel for blind pedestrians and effective ways to advocate for accommodations like accessible pedestrian signals, tactual warnings at the edges of curb ramps, and mechanisms for routing travelers safely through problematic situations which were daily compromising the safety and self confidence of people who rely on white mobility canes, guide dogs, and orientation and mobility methodologies to accomplish the tasks of daily life. The next year, ACB updated the handbook to make it more comprehensive. We included new research-based information about complicated intersections, personal accounts telling how people who were blind and visually impaired had conquered the problematic paths of travel in their home environments, and specific regulations that advocates could use to support their requests for environmental modifications that would make them safer.

We have been gratified to learn how many advocates have found our pedestrian safety publications helpful during the past dozen years. Many blind and visually impaired Americans have turned to our accessible handbooks for help finding answers to questions about complex intersections and accessible pedestrian signals, and our pedestrian safety handbooks have also provided guidance to certified orientation and mobility specialists (COMS) and other blindness professional service providers, local officials working to make their community streets and intersections efficient and safe, and traffic engineers who know everything there is to know about moving traffic efficiently through complicated intersections but who often know little about the needs of blind and visually impaired pedestrians or how we navigate across streets and along the edges of roads and highways.

More than a decade after our first pedestrian safety handbook went to press, we find that the need for current information about pedestrian safety is as great, or perhaps even greater, than it was when we first embarked on the project. During ensuing years, intersections have become more complex, roundabouts have proliferated, the demands of drivers for expedited travel have become more insistent, and quiet cars are multiplying. Meanwhile, many blind and visually impaired people have advocated successfully for installation of accessible pedestrian signals, lengthened pedestrian cycles, tactile warnings on curb ramps, and other environmental modifications from which we all benefit. In many instances the Federal Transit Administration has supported our demands for safe and accessible intersections and sidewalks, and the U. S. ACCESS Board is, as we go to press, in the process of revising regulations that will guide traffic engineers and community planners toward making more pedestrian rights of way safer for more of us who cope with blindness, visual impairments and other disabilities.

Realizing that there are stories which need sharing, regulations which need explanation, new O&M research findings that require discussion and dissemination, and advocates who need encouragement, and that few, if any of us feel particularly safe, when we stop to think about it, when we are trying to decide when to step off the curb and walk quickly across lanes of traffic, the ACB Environmental Access Committee knows that the time has come to update our pedestrian safety handbook.

Thinking about the many changes that have occurred with respect to traffic and intersections, with vehicles (Who would have thought ten years ago that a car engine could be running not two feet away from a person who cannot see it, and that person would not be able to use his or her hearing to even know it is there?), with respect to federal, state and local budgets, and with automation and technology, the Environmental Access Committee concludes that publishing a handbook every decade or so cannot possibly keep up with the need for information that our community will continue to experience. The solution to the problem of a publication that is "behind the times" almost as soon as it comes off the presses is to create a living document, and that is what this edition of the ACB Pedestrian Safety Handbook aims to become. Because we can create an online publication that is accessible to every blind and visually impaired person who can access the internet, because we can categorize the information we share in ways that can meet the specific needs of blind pedestrians, advocates, orientation and mobility service providers, traffic engineers, and community planners, and because we can update that information to keep it current, we believe that our living, evolving online document will be even more useful to its readers than earlier editions were. Certainly blind and visually impaired people can download any and all of the "chapters" in the formats that are most useful to them, and print out the pages in braille, or large print, as they wish. We encourage local chapters and ACB affiliates to assist their members who may not yet be all that computer literate with these tasks. However, we believe that making this handbook as current and timely as possible will benefit the blindness community greatly, and that is why we have chosen to publish the handbook online.

Pedestrian safety for people who are blind and visually impaired will remain a crucially important mission for ACB's Environmental Access Committee, for all of the experts who have so generously shared their knowledge and advice in the pages of this publication, and for everyone who is blind or visually impaired who values independence and personal safety, as well as families, friends, and service providers who care about people who are blind. We urge you to become familiar with the regulations that facilitate your ability to travel safely through the built environment. We urge you to take inspiration and learn the "how-tos" from the people whose case studies we can share in this publication. We urge every one of you to learn from the sections that detail the problems associated with crossing specific kinds of intersections, to apply the research findings contained therein to your own travel style and travel skills, and to share what you learn with others whom you know who are blind or visually impaired. Every time we hear on the radio or read in the news about a pedestrian accident, we hold our collective breath and hope that the accident hasn't taken someone's life and that, this time, the accident hasn't befallen a friend or colleague or acquaintance who is blind. The day has not yet come when we cease to worry about our blind and visually impaired friends, or about ourselves, when we take cane or harness in hand and venture out to travel through our communities. We hope, though, that this publication will allow all of us to breathe a little easier.

-- Debbie Grubb