Pilot project to improve safety for visually impaired pedestrians
Special side walk surfaces that ensure the safety of the visually impaired are pictured at the intersection of Victoria and Shuter Streets in Toronto, Nov. 13, 2012. (Photo courtesy City of Toronto)
Published Tuesday, November 13, 2012 7:56PM EST
Torontonians approaching the Victoria and Shuter Street intersection will notice something different lying under their feet.
The city is participating in a pilot project testing different sidewalk surfaces so visually impaired pedestrians will know they are approaching an intersection.
"This pilot project is a wonderful step to make our sidewalks more accessible to those with visual impairments, especially at key areas like intersection crossings,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. The project is taking place in her ward.
Jeffrey Climans, director of major capital infrastructure co-ordination for the City of Toronto, said these dome surfaces are similar to the TTC platform edges, and can be identified by a cane or other walking aid.
“One of our goals is to make sure materials not only feel different but can be detected by colour contrast,” he said.
“The designs and patterns are the same from one sidewalk corner to the next; the difference is in the material and the colour.”
Climans said they will be testing two different types of plastic in red, black and dark grey as well as cast iron which is a rusty orange colour.
The four different surfaces have been installed on each of the four corners of the intersection so they can all be tested at the same time.
“We are completing an evaluation matrix that is including a number of considerations.”
Climans said the city will be looking at cost, the time it takes to install the sidewalk, contrast with the surrounding pavement, urban design and aesthetic qualities.
“If we can achieve a safety standard that is complementary to the public realm, then that is a factor we want to consider.”
In terms of cost, Climans said the evaluation will be based on how much the materials are and how long they last.
“If rod iron is much more costly but can be expected to last much longer, we want to consider that trade off,” he said.
Something else to be taken into consideration is how these surfaces fair through the winter.
“We will be testing how they hold up when they are cleared of snow in the winter,” said Climans, especially after a steel blade runs across them.
Depending on how deep the snow is, Climans said the dome-like surface will still be detected under foot or by someone using a walking aid.
However, the city is also taking undesired consequences into the evaluation.
Climans said the sidewalk surfaces also need to be functional for people using crutches or in wheelchairs.
“We don’t want to solve one problem by creating another,” he said.
Material being tested for the product has already been used on sidewalks in other cities around the world, including Montreal, New York, Japan and Europe.
The city is using this particular intersection for the pilot project because of its high level of pedestrian traffic and the entire intersection was already scheduled for reconstruction at the end of the project in 2013.