WMU professors study the safety of roundabouts for the visually impaired | News

Erin Kaplan and Fritz Klug

West Herald

The safety of roundabouts for the visually impaired has become an important topic of research by scientists at Western Michigan University.

Scientists employed by Oakland County will conduct research at roundabouts on Maple and Drake Highways, as well as on Maple and Farmington Highways, both in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

These tests are part of a larger, comprehensive national study that has collaborated with five other universities. In 2000, Richard Long and his team of traffic engineers, psychologists and rehabilitation specialists received $ 11 million in funding from the federal National Eye Institute to study access issues related to difficult traffic situations for blind people. In 2002, the team decided to study roundabouts.

According to Long, the challenge for the blind and roundabouts is that there are no stop signs or red lights for traveling cars.

“It is difficult to hear vehicles approaching the pedestrian crossing because there is such noise in the area. Hearing distant vehicles can be quite a challenge, Long said. “One solution is to introduce pedestrian signals that stop cars briefly to allow pedestrians to pass.”

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, intersections must be evaluable by all users. This means finding a way to notify visually impaired people that they are at a roundabout.

“Engineers must have a variety of intersection design options,” Long said. “Our job is to help make these different options available.”

“We are working on ways to make these intersections accessible on the Detroit Subway,” he said. “We are working on specialized road signaling tests to be added to roundabouts to help pedestrians cross safely.”

The first phase of the admission test took place in June. After the signals are installed, the team will return in September and test the signal. Unlike a regular siren, they will remain blank until the pedestrian presses the button. “Then the signal goes from blinking yellow to red and then back to blinking yellow… no green for vehicles at all,” he said.

I hope the signals will facilitate pedestrian access without obstructing the intersection.

“We believe it will be effective, although we need to see if it works for blind people and how it will affect vehicles at the intersection,” he said.

But Long is not opposed to roundabouts – saying they provide drivers with many safety benefits, such as reducing high-speed accidents and reducing congestion at interchanges.

Problems with the safety of traffic for the blind are not limited only to the setting of street intersections, but also the vehicles that move on them. Long says electric and hybrid cars make it harder for people who are blind or partially sighted to hear approaching cars.

WMU has one of the country’s 15 visually impaired programs and is one of the oldest and largest. The program teaches people with new or lifelong visual impairments to read Braille and helps them find a job.

“I think as a society it is very important that we consider the needs of all people and our research is one example of how we as a society value people with disabilities and their ability to function in the world,” Long said. “It’s about appreciating people and accessing.”

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