Making Intersections Safe for All

by Bob Hartt

BPAC Member

What is an intersection that is safe for all? As an Alexandrian who is visually impaired, I am acutely aware that some improvements intended to make intersections safer for people who walk, do not always make them safer for all, and can even hinder a safe street crossing for people with limited vision. Fortunately, and much like the addition of a ramp for wheelchair users, the addition of an Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS), which emits audible information, can correct for unintended consequences. An APS provides additional information that makes a complicated street crossing safer for those with visual impairments, including seniors with failing vision.

A Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) is an example of a safety feature that needs an APS to realize safety for all. LPI refers to a pedestrian walk signal programmed to provide people walking with a 3-7 second head start from vehicles turning from the lane parallel to the pedestrian’s path of travel. LPIs are a proven countermeasure, with a 60% reduction in crashes caused by drivers turning into people. Blind pedestrians normally use either the sound emitted by an APS or the sound of parallel traffic to know when to cross. When there is no sound of parallel traffic starting to move, as in the case of an LPI crossing, the sound from an Accessible Pedestrian Signal is needed to provide an audible cue so that a blind person knows that they should start crossing the street before turning traffic starts.

Although I believe simple, low volume signalized intersections that do not use the LPI can be negotiated safely without Accessible Pedestrian Signals, there is especially a need to include Accessible Pedestrian Signals when safety improvements like the LPI feature are introduced at busy intersections. This past summer the City of Alexandria Complete Streets and Traffic Engineering staffs indicated that there was a city-wide effort to prioritize and focus more resources on the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals. City staff members Christine Mayeur, Bob Garbacz and Harlie White have all been responsive to pre-pandemic requests for Accessible Pedestrian Signals at locations such as the King Street and Bradlee Shopping Center intersection, the intersection at Mount Vernon Avenue and Monroe Street and planning for a High-intensity Activated Cross Walk (HAWK) signal crossing on Braddock Road near the Minnie Howard School. These changes are much appreciated. When features such as Accessible Pedestrian Signals are included in the planning and installation of improvements at busy intersections, they really do make crossing the street safer for “all.”