Design & Development
August 4, 2017

Cars Crashing into our Most Vulnerable~Wheelchair Users


Universal accessibility means that everyone, no matter what your ambulatory capability, can safely use city streets and public spaces.  It is egalitarian, and morally the right thing to do. Earlier this week Price Tags wrote about the unfortunate response of the City of San Francisco to a group of seniors that wanted more crossing time at a troublesome intersection. The city will lengthen the signal time, but still not at the national standard for seniors  to safely cross the street.
Another horrifying example  of a municipality doing the work right instead of doing the right work has just happened in Denver Colorado. Kyle Wolf, who is disabled was using  his  wheelchair  to cross a street and “was just five feet from the curb at 19th and Lawrence Streets in downtown Denver when his wheelchair was struck from behind by an SUV. He had legally ventured out into the intersection during a walk signal but was carrying several items that kept slipping off his lap, thus slowing him down as he crossed. The pedestrian signal changed after just 20 seconds, and before he knew it, he’d been hit — injured — and his wheelchair totaled.”
The driver of the SUV was not charged, but Mr. Wolfe received a ticket from the police for his “failure to cross the street with the walk light signal”.Mr. Wolfe was hospitalized with injuries and was later released. Once again just like in San Francisco, the City of Denver trotted out that the nationally accepted Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices standard identifies that only fifteen per cent of the population walk at speed less than 3.5 feet a second, and therefore their  twenty-second walk time for this cross walk was within the standard. However if an intersection crosswalk is being used by seniors or people with ambulatory impairments, the accepted crossing speed is established at 3 feet per second. And once again in Denver to minimize any impediment to motordom, the wheelchair user was charged with failure to cross the street in a timely manner while the SUV driver drove away with no charges.
What is wrong with us as a society that we are not encouraging our streets to be safe and to encourage the most vulnerable user, who often has the wheelchair as the sole way of transport? Even in the City of Vancouver all accidents are “pedestrian” so there is no notification on the report of whether the crash occurred with a wheelchair user or a walker. This makes  the actual incidence of wheelchair crashes impossible to statistically collect, but it is suspected that wheelchair user crashes are underreported. A 2014 study by BMJ Open found that wheelchair users were three times more likely to die in crashes, and most of these users were killed crossing at intersections.
We are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable of our population. On a city street, bicyclists and pedestrians must have safe comfortable and convenient ways to travel. How do we move towards an inclusive standard that is universal for walkers, including seniors and those in wheelchairs?


 

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An august group of planners in Sydney Australia, London England, Paris and Vancouver are looking at “intersection signal intervals” -how long it takes for the walk signal to activate after a pedestrian pushes the cross walk button. This group feels that the livability of a city and the quality of the walking environment can be measured on the length of time that pedestrians are given to walk across the street. It’s been fascinating to see how varied those interval times are in cities around the world.
As always, the Dutch are early adapters to  the changes in technology necessary to make walkability safer for all ages.  The Dutch city of Tilburg has been testing a smartphone application that allows seniors and those with restricted mobility more crossing time at intersections. The app has four time settings which are adjusted dependent on the user’s mobility to minimise traffic delay. While a sensor in the traffic lights scan the sidewalk adjacent to the intersection, it looks for a signal from the app to adjust crossing time.
As reported in The Guardian “Dynniq, the Dutch company that develops intelligent traffic systems and is helping the city council with the trial, explains the app works in combination with GPS and the software that operates the traffic lights, so there is no need to install extra devices. The company is also developing a spin-off for cyclists, the CrossCycle, which will sense when bikes are approaching a junction and change the lights sooner. Another version detects visually impaired pedestrians and activates the ticking sounds that tell them whether the light is red or green.”
While the app  can respond to individual users, the app can also adjust for a group of school children, so that the app will keep the crossing green for the children until a teacher confirms that they are safely across. While this initial pilot has only ten users, it is part of a pilot to enhance safety and comfort for pedestrians and cyclists. “We want to do more with smart mobility and use technology rather than just putting down more asphalt,” says Mark Clijsen, urban planning specialist at the city council.”

 

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