Question: I’m a traffic engineer responsible for safely improving traffic flows, but have lately been besieged with questions regarding pedestrian safety. Can you provide practical solutions to common issues? -- Matthew, Wisconsin
Answer: Vehicles and trains can and must meld safely and efficiently with bicycles and pedestrians. Don’t think of this as a competition, though; instead, respect each transportation mode for its unique role in moving people from one place to another.
Retail and/or office building complexes, tourist attractions where long sections of road are lined with hotels and shops, and schools and the routes leading to them are particularly daunting because they’re high-traffic, frenetic areas usually oriented more toward vehicles than pedestrians.
For example, a common problem I as a wheelchair user face is not having a curb ramp at every corner of the intersection. If there is a ramp, the crosswalk pavement marking often doesn’t align with it. Program traffic signals to give parents with strollers, the elderly, and wheelchair users enough time to cross the street. Visual countdown lights help everyone.
Directional curb ramps are recognized as the best solution for crosswalk markings and signal timing.
If an intersection’s particularly wide, such as when there are four or more lanes of traffic, include a median so people can stop and rest. Make sure any plantings aren’t so tall or thick that they impair the pedestrian’s line of sight.
To get a real feel for such issues, keep a folding chair in your vehicle to use when assessing how to design your intersections. By sitting down, you’ll see the same thing a wheelchair user sees. The street center crown doesn’t usually obstruct the vision of someone who’s standing, but it keeps wheelchair users from seeing if there’s a curb ramp on the other side. You’ll also be more aware of the exhaust fumes that a child in a stroller and the wheelchair user inhale.
This is just a quick start. I hope it helps you to develop an awareness of the plight of the pedestrians of different abilities and needs when using our streets and sidewalks.