Planning and Designing Streets for People with Vision Disabilities in Potomac – Virginia Connection Newspapers

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
The guide involved extensive input from residents, service providers and organizations supporting people with vision disabilities.
“Throughout COVID-19, our residents have enjoyed spending more time outdoors and walking,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “Safe and accessible walkways and gathering spaces [must be] built with everyone in mind.”
The work was funded through assistance from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Transportation Land Use Connections Program. While the project was conceived and overseen by Montgomery County, it is intended to serve as a useful resource for the entire metropolitan region.
The toolkit will serve as a model to bring global best practices in design for people with vision disabilities to the United States.
The guide incorporates feedback from the visually disabled community, service providers and caregivers. Engagement included a virtual community meeting in January of 2021, online surveys, in-person site visits and access to tactile graphics. The project team observed how people with vision disabilities navigated Downtown Silver Spring and provided updates and sought feedback throughout the study process to the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities.
The toolkit can help planners and designers understand the needs of people with vision disabilities. It introduces strategies for effective engagement with this community and design tools that make it easier and safer for people with vision disabilities to navigate. Understanding how different types of vision disabilities impact the ability of people to navigate safely is critical to improving designs. The guide also includes an overview of the approaches taken and lessons learned from communities around the world.
For example, the toolkit offers guidance on creating tactile graphics so that people who cannot read paper plans are still able to be engaged in the planning process by access to plans that allow understanding of information through touch. Montgomery County used tactile graphics as part of the process of developing the toolkit and is already using tactile graphics with a project currently going through the planning process as a pilot to refine this form of outreach.
The design guide highlights three types of Tactile Walking Surface Indicators that can be used to guide blind and low-vision pedestrians. One of these is already used extensively in the United States and is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Known as the Detectable Warning Surface, walkway inserts with truncated domes appear at the ends of crosswalks, train platforms or other areas where pedestrians may encounter conflicting traffic.
The guide introduces two additional tools that are not as common in the United States, but are used internationally. The first is the Detectable Guidance Surface, which is comprised of a walkway insert with linear surface of ridges and valleys (similar to Detectable Warning Surface, but with different shape and pattern) that people with vision disabilities can follow to navigate to key areas, such as the Accessible Pedestrian Signal push button, to cross wide-open spaces or to find transit stops. The second new design recommendation is use of the Detectable Delineator Surface, which can be used to delineate areas where pedestrians should not cross, but which may not be readily apparent to people with vision disabilities.
“Within the next several months, we will be constructing a testing and training facility to use temporary materials to construct mock-ups of proposed designs so that blind and low-vision pedestrians can test out the designs in person and at real scale to determine whether additional changes are needed to improve accessibility,” said Matt Johnson, a capital project manager for MCDOT.
Following the development of the testing and training facility, and based on the feedback received there, the County will start work to apply the guide-recommended treatments at two pilot intersections in Downtown Silver Spring.
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