As every New Yorker knows, the streets of the city are constantly changing. However, recent changes are catching even seasoned residents of the city off-guard, and no group faces more challenges in light of recent street re-design than the blind.
Blind people navigate New York by mentally recording the streetscape – every bump, planter, light pole and grate. But the advent of massive construction projects, pedestrian plazas and bike lanes have been game-changers for many blind people who once found New York to be an accessible city and who suffered few injuries as a result of pedestrian accidents.
The navigation signs, such as poles and sidewalk cuts, are not the only clues that are changing. Audible signals, something blind people especially rely on, are changing as well. Hybrid cars and bicycles make little noise, making it very difficult for someone who cannot see to know whether traffic is coming.
Blind New Yorkers acknowledge that change is inevitable, and they are willing to live with that. However, the recent pace of change has been such that previously mobile blind people are becoming reluctant to leave the safety of their homes. City Council member and transportation committee chair James Vacca acknowledged that the special needs of blind people were not always considered when implementing the many construction projects that are currently underway in the city.
Advocacy groups like Lighthouse International and the PASS Coalition have lobbied for increased audible pedestrian signals and more detectable warning strips as counter measures that can help blind pedestrians continue to navigate despite new obstacles. The city has begun both, but the pace is slow. For example, they city’s plan calls for the replacement of 25 current traffic signals with audible signals each year. Given the number of traffic lights in New York City, some feel this is a token gesture.
Some blind people are concerned about the soon-to-be-implemented bike share program. They fear that the number of silent vehicles will increase the hazards they face as they venture outside.
Source: New York Times, “With Changes in New York’s Streets, More Hurdles for the City’s Blind Pedestrian,” by Matt Flegenheimer, July 29, 2012.