Safe Roundabouts, an Oxymoron

Last Friday, my friend Tricia and I met a colleague of hers at a roundabout in gahanna. Tricia, an advocate for visually impaired pedestrians, had been to a conference on pedestrian safety that day, and she wanted to demonstrate to the presenter how roundabouts can be deadly for blind pedestrians. I agreed to participate in this exercise only if she could promise to not let me get mown down by motorists.

This particular roundabout had been designed for a T intersection. As we approached the intersection on foot, I immediately determined the first obstacle for a blind pedestrian using a dog guide, who is trained to avoid obstacles like poles. The solution would be to mount a locator sound on the pole, which Tricia and I were most happy to suggest.

Once we located the pole and pushed the button, we listened for a break in the flow of traffic and set out on the crosswalk to reach the island in the middle of this busy road. We had almost reached the island when an irritated driver blasted his or her horn, for what reason I am still trying to discern. But it scared the bejeebers out of me. The next 2 crossings were not as harrowing, but another problem was abundantly clear. Even though lights are flashing, it doesn’t mean that the cars will stop. It only signals to them that a pedestrian is waiting to cross, so please would they mind not running over those pedestrians? The most significant problem is that listening for a break in the flow of traffic is becoming more and more impractical as cars are getting quieter and quieter. Having an audible signal to go with the yellow flashing lights would be of no help, because the cars are not required to stop. that’s the whole idea of a roundabout, to keep the traffic flowing and to avoid t-bone crashes at intersections. But what about running over pedestrians that didn’t hear them coming? I was told that some crosswalks are raised, about the height of a serious speed bump, which could help the visually impaired pedestrian to keep from veering off the crosswalk path, and it might remind drivers that they are indeed crosswalks.

It also helps that the crosswalks are set on the side streets away from the roundabout itself, so that cars coming off the roundabout have a short distance to slow down or even stop for a pedestrian. but then will there be rear-end crashes because of a car stopping just beyond the roundabout? Unfortunately, Tricia and I did not have answers to these important concerns.

It seems to me that the engineers need to put their heads together and come up with a safer way for visually impaired pedestrians to get from one side of the street to the other safely. Come on guys. You are very smart people. You can do this. Lucky for me, I don’t have to deal with roundabouts in my own neighborhood, but the day is coming. Yikes.

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