Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Council Wants City Streets Made Safer For Visually Impaired

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The City Council's transportation committee on Wednesday held a hearing on a series of bills aimed at improving the safety of intersections and pedestrian plazas for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

One of the proposals would require the city Department of Transportation to install warning surfaces with raised bumps, indicating where a pedestrian plaza ends and the street begins.

"Projects often change the design in geometry of the right of way and the results can be initially confusing to some, especially in the disability community," testified DOT Deputy Commissioner David Woloch.

Earlier in the day, several Council members and disability advocates gathered at a pedestrian plaza on East 17th Street near Union Square to point out the safety void.

"There's nothing on the ground. There's no rumble strip-type surface that could help a visually impaired person know when they're in the street as opposed to on the pedestrian island," said City Councilman James Vacca.

"I got hit once, 55th and Eighth Avenue. Luckily I was not injured, but it was a turning vehicle, and it was probably because he figured that guy is not going to be crossing I'm going to cut in front of him," said Ken Stewart, an advocate for the visually impaired.

Another measure being considered includes the addition of more Accessible Pedestrian Signals, which make sounds to help the blind know when to cross the street.

Currently, there are 23 located around the city, with another 24 installations planned this year.

"We want to have accessible traffic signals in many more locations," said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer.

A third bill would push for improvements to the city DOT's website, making it more user-friendly to alert those who are visually impaired when the city changes any type of street design.

The transportation committee is expected to vote on the new safety measures in two weeks.

The full City Council would then take it up in February or early March.

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