Seventy percent of people will be either temporarily or permanently disabled in their lifetime. That is a very strong point to consider whenever you design or plan a project. Sure, in the United States we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that provides guidelines to design for disabled pedestrians. In reality, the accessibility guidelines are very weak in some aspects. Plus, just because they are there doesn’t mean that designers necessarily design the facilities correctly. Take a look at the photo above, for instance. Shirley, the wonderful volunteer pictured, could not reach the pedestrian push button from her wheelchair at a traffic signal. If no one else was around, how on earth could she cross a busy street safely? Chances are very high that you as the reader of this article will experience the same situation at some point in your lifetime.
Another dubious example is pictured below. Shirley was not able to use the sidewalk because it was in such poor condition and had telephone polls and wires in the middle of it. She was forced to use the bike lane to continue down the street. This was a scary experience for her considering some cars were going over 60 miles per hour (mph) when the speed limit was 35mph (Note that cars were parked in the bike lane as well). These photos were taken along Hurley Way in Arden Arcade in the unincorporated part of Sacramento County. Really, these photos could be taken in any town USA. I would imagine that conditions are more hostile than here in most places. Remember, there is quite a large percentage of the population that have mobility issues. Yet, these individuals still want and need to get around and sometimes do not have access to a motor vehicle. If you come across a project where your expertise on this matter is needed, and you do not feel comfortable with your own judgment, please find an expert to consult with. A simple issue such as the height of a pushbutton on a utility pole could adversely affect the lives of many.
Below is another example of a pushbutton that Shirley could not reach. This time in front of a school at a pedestrian traffic signal crossing!
The photo below is a very hostile environment in which to cross the street. This was shot on one of the busiest arterials in all of the Sacramento area, on Howe Avenue at Hurley Way.
Don’t forget that it’s not just about disabled people that use wheelchairs. There are the different needs to consider for the hearing and seeing impaired, and those that use crutches as well. Pedestrian heads at traffic signals should also be timed to accommodate all users, especially those that have trouble crossing the street quickly. If the crossing is very lengthy, create ways to shorten the crossing distances for pedestrians.