Recently, ACB of Maryland celebrated a major victory in an ongoing effort to get accessible pedestrian signals (APS) installed and make street- crossing easier for blind pedestrians. In a letter dated July 8, 2005, the Federal Highway Administration found that the State Highway Administration was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act when that agency denied requests by blind citizens for accessible pedestrian signals. This brief statement was the official response to an effort which began about six years ago when Charlie Crawford's leadership on this issue inspired our affiliate to make the installation of APS a major priority.
Initially, our effort involved the administrative complaint process. Charlie Crawford in Montgomery County and Phil Guntner in Baltimore County filed complaints with the Federal Highway Administration after the state ignored their requests for the installation of APS near their homes. We commented that asking FHA administrators to investigate the SHA was like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. Unfortunately, this prediction was accurate, and both complaints were dismissed.
After this disappointment, Ralph Sanders and the legislative committee introduced a pedestrian safety bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would have required the installation of APS, but our bill was combined with other bills in committee. Our APS language disappeared in that smoke-filled committee room.
Being stubborn folks, we approached local governments about installing APS, and Montgomery County and Baltimore City agreed to install a few. The effort in Baltimore required the members of the Central Maryland Council of the Blind to hold a demonstration in front of city hall on Dec. 18, 2000. A few months later, the Southern Maryland Council of the Blind held a similar demonstration in Waldorf, which forced the SHA to agree to install an APS at that intersection.
With all this work, by October 2002, we had obtained about seven new signals and promises for a few more. We were dissatisfied with this limited progress. So, on Oct. 17, 2002, we filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. After we participated in a meeting to try to resolve the dispute, the waiting process began.
After much waiting, we received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration on July 8, 2005, which informed us that SHA was not in compliance with the ADA. As previously indicated, FHA interpreted an intersection as a traffic facility and indicated that restricting program or information access to that facility constituted a violation of the ADA.
At the ACB of Maryland state convention in November 2005, Neil Pedersen, administrator for the State Highway Administration, made a commitment to install APS at 1,250 traffic-controlled intersections on highways controlled by his department. He said this process would be completed by 2015. In addition, Pedersen agreed to convene a panel of stakeholders to go beyond what ADA mandates throughout the state to increase pedestrian safety. This panel, which will be convened in the next 60 days, will look at issues like sidewalk construction, lighting and the installation of accessible bus shelters throughout the state.
What is significant in the APS saga is the FHA's determination that intersections are traffic facilities, and that everyone has the right to access the information provided by traffic signals. Maryland has shared this decision with other affiliates, hoping they can take advantage of this favorable ruling by the FHA. In addition, we are using this position to push for other APS installations throughout the state at non-SHA-controlled intersections. Thanks to the efforts of Charlie Crawford and many dedicated Maryland members, the Maryland Department of Transportation and SHA have come to recognize ACBM as the leader in the state when it comes to pedestrian safety and access issues.
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