By Linda Bartram
Last week I attended a “field trip” to a reconstructed intersection in Victoria to see if members of the Victoria Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) and city staff (there turned out to be six who attended on the day) could figure out how to make this challenging intersection accessible for persons who are blind and those who use wheelchairs. At a previous AAC meeting, the staff had reported that they were scratching their heads over this and we suggested that we might all visit the intersection and put our collective heads together to find a solution. The two streets do not meet at a right angle and they are skewed, requiring the crosswalk to take off at a 45 degree angle from the curb.
The engineering staff laid down three attention tactile walking surface indicator (TWSI) mats side by side, lining up with the curb, as is the standard orientation. When I stood on the mat as I would normally stand, the staff were quick to see that this alignment would send me into the middle of the intersection. My AAC colleague who uses a manual wheelchair also indicated that this orientation would be very challenging for her to align her wheels to roll over the TWSI mat comfortably.
I suggested that although it was not the standard practice, as we were not dealing with a standard intersection, the TWSI could be placed in such a way that if I lined up my toes with the front edge of the mats, I would be facing correctly to access the crosswalk. Because of the angle, only two mats could fit but this was found to be sufficient. I was now able to figure out how to align myself correctly. The wheelchair user indicated that this orientation would be much better for her also.
The sighted individual who was making sure that I did not get too close to the road, told me later that she saw the moment when the engineers “got it”. They then went to work figuring out how to adopt this concept to determine the orientation of the mats to cross in the other direction and for the other three corners. We found a solution that made sense and that everyone could work with. The staff admitted that without the lived experience, they just wouldn’t have thought of it.
I also pointed out that the wraparound curb cut which extended around the corner, was a safety concern. I suggested that they consider installing some flexible bollards spaced close together so that a blind pedestrian would not accidentally step on to the road while looking for the TWSI. This addition was received favourably by the city staff as it would also discourage drivers from making an illegal right turn, and driving over the corner of the pavement. A win win for everyone.
There were also some adjustments suggested to the accessible pedestrian signals as the locator tone was too quiet, the directional arrow was misleading, additional audio cues would be helpful in confirming when and which signal had been activated, and the walk signal was too short even for the able-bodied folks in attendance. The engineering staff said they would pass this feedback on to their colleagues responsible for traffic signals.
This area also includes a one-way bike lane on each side of one of the roads. Victoria appears to have gotten the message that floating bus stops such as the ones that were found to be discriminatory in another Victoria location, are not accessible, since the bus pulls into the curb, crossing over the bike lane.
After nine years of advocating for our safety, perhaps blind persons are finally starting to be heard in Victoria. I'm cautiously optimistic!
IMAGE ALT TEXT: photo taken from up in the air showing a street crossing with people and bikes crossing the street