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Wyoming Tribune-Eagle - Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 1, 2009
As the city prepares to design a new roundabout intersection at Converse, Pershing and 19th, one advocate says it would be impossible for blind people to use.
Richard Bernstein, an attorney from Michigan, contacted the Wyoming Tribune Eagle shortly after the Cheyenne City Council signed off on the concept for the tricky intersection.
He had sued Oakland County, Michigan in U.S. District Court on behalf of three blind plaintiffs, and the federal judge ordered the county to install a stoplight called the HAWK system. The jury is still out on whether this will work, he said.
"The key here is that roundabouts are inherently dangerous for people with disabilities and special needs," Bernstein said. "There is no physical way for a blind person to navigate a roundabout."
Roundabouts are designed to move vehicles, not people, he said. Motorists are taught to stay moving at all times, so they have no incentive to stop for a pedestrian. It's unknown if the stoplights would help pedestrians.
It's a violation of equal protection, Bernstein said, "an intentional barrier" that would bar a blind person from going shopping and going about his business.
He said he'd be willing to meet with the mayor and City Council.
Matt Ashby, the city's director of planning services, said the city is "really taking a close look at the transportation networks to make sure they're multi-modal." That is, useable by pedestrians, bicyclists, "as well as folks with disabilities."
As the city enters the design phase of the circular intersection, "it's definitely something we need to consider," he said.
Data seem to indicate that roundabouts pose problems for the blind.
In 2002, U.S. Access Board issued a report saying that roundabouts "can present significant accessibility challenges and risks to the blind user." It said:
Other studies say that vehicles exiting roundabouts are less likely to stop for pedestrians.
Last summer, researchers went to Golden, Colo., to test whether a signal called the HAWK system would alleviate the problem. The pedestrian would push a button, which activated a traffic signal.
Bastian Schroeder of North Carolina State University gave a talk about this study at January's annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board. Anecdotally speaking, he said, the signal seemed to prompt drivers to stop rapidly, which makes it easier for blind people to tell if it's safe to cross.
More information about this study was not available.
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