Navigating through a construction zone is dicey enough for drivers under the best circumstances, but the stakes rise considerably for pedestrians trying to make their way, even through familiar territory. For visually impaired pedestrians, the challenge can be life threatening.
TTI Assistant Research Engineer Brooke Ullman recently undertook a study, sponsored by TxDOT, to find out how pedestrian traffic is being handled in work zones and to see if any safety improvements can be made for disabled pedestrians.
“The signing that’s available right now for pedestrians may say a sidewalk is closed,” says Ullman. “But, what if it’s not closed for another two blocks? We studied the kind of information pedestrians have said they want and need, and then we took it a step further to consider audio messages that would give information to walkers who are visually impaired.”
The research generated a handbook practitioners can use to consider what signs or audio messages they need using a decision table.
Ullman’s team also identified design points they recommend when verbal safety messages are created to assist in guiding visually impaired pedestrians. For example, “alternate route” messages should clearly state where they are leading the pedestrian, and blocks or landmarks are better indicators of distance than feet or mile measurements.
“If a person who’s visually impaired doesn’t have information about what’s going on in a work zone — even an area they’re familiar with — what’s to stop them from walking into an unsafe area?” asks Ullman. “What if, for some reason, there’s no barricade? It’s important to warn people that conditions are different from what they’re expecting — especially when they’re not able to see that for themselves.”