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Advocates for people who are deaf, blind prefer return to traffic lights
Advocates say the Rawlins Cross traffic configuration is particularly dangerous for people who are blind or have partial sight, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Accessibility of the roundabout-style configuration has been a concern for people since the day the traffic lights were covered with black bags, and the pilot project began just before the Labour Day weekend in 2018.
Within days of the new configuration, wheelchair users noticed the curbs were not cut at a crosswalk. After public outcry, the city installed curb ramps.
“The following week, because people in the sight-loss community also had concerns about accessibility … a number of people met with (Coun.) Debbie Hanlon, who at the time was overseeing the traffic element of the city, and they audited that site with her,” said Anne Malone, a St. John’s resident who uses a guide dog due to sight loss.
"...it’s not rocket science. You install the hardware in the pole, and it’s done.” — Anne Malone
“She was shown with great precision exactly what the barriers and dangers were on the site, and what the remedies were. Three days later, she was in the media telling the world that people are resistant to change, and they just had to get used to it, and when they get used to it everything will be fine.”
Malone said she was not impressed, and expressed her concerns to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which arranged a meeting at city hall in November 2019. She said she was informed the city would install flashing beacons, which were put in place in December, but she argues they are “useless” for people with sight loss.
“We need an audible signal, and I was told that, ‘Well, we’re going to work on a solution.’ Which is not a response because there are international accommodation standards in place — it’s not rocket science. You install the hardware in the pole, and it’s done.”
Committee to be consulted
The Telegram requested interviews with Coun. Sandy Hickman, transportation lead, and Coun. Deanne Stapleton, council champion on the inclusion advisory committee, but was instead offered an emailed statement from a city spokesperson on Monday.
“The inclusion advisory committee is aware there are concerns with the Rawlins Cross pilot project, especially for people who have visual impairments, mobility challenges and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” reads the email.
The spokesperson said the topic is on the agenda for the next meeting of the inclusion advisory committee.
Regarding the flashing beacons, the statement acknowledges they don’t address concerns for individuals with visual impairments.
However, the city is using Key2Access accessible pedestrian crossing technology on a trial basis at some other crosswalks in the city.
The system provides access to the pedestrian push button using a fob or free mobile app, and ensures an audible signal is available. It can also tell the user the street names.
The statement says if that trial is successful, the same equipment could be installed at the Monkstown and King’s Road crossings at Rawlins Cross.
Meanwhile, the final report on the Rawlins Cross pilot project is expected to be presented to council “in the coming months,” according to the spokesperson, when council will decide whether to make the pilot project permanent.
The pilot was originally scheduled to clew up in spring 2019, but has been delayed because the city is awaiting collision data for the new configuration.
In the meantime, the statement says staff will consult with the inclusion advisory committee on the next steps for the area.
The committee will also be consulted before any final decision is made about Rawlins Cross.
Traffic lights more accessible, advocates say
Malone says Rawlins Cross was safer when it had traffic lights.
Since the new configuration, she said, she has felt less safe walking through the area, and it has affected her ability to live independently.
“For a person with sight loss, I need to know with certainty where the crosswalk’s going to be. I can’t view it as a sighted person might, and go, ‘Oh, well, it’s over there. If it’s not where it’s supposed to be, it’s useless to me. I can’t see it. It might as well not be there.
“And consistency is everything for somebody with sight loss because now you’re relying on these international standards, and if those are absent, it’s even more hazardous because you’re thinking something is going to be where it would be, and it’s not there.”
At the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf (NLAD), psychologist Renee Phair-Healey said the unsignalized traffic circle has such a negative effect on some of her clients that they’ve discussed with her during meetings.
“It’s been noteworthy enough for them that it’s brought up in session,” Phair-Healey said.
“It seems to me what had been in place before these changes, I hadn’t heard any complaints from our population.”
She said the association has concerns about the safety of the configuration.
“For our consumers, of course there’s the layer related to them being deaf and needing visual references in order for them to navigate their way through traffic and crossing roads, but also a significant number of our population also struggles with mental-health concerns.
“And so, when you couple the piece of them being deaf and having to rely purely on the visual reference, and add to that the complexity of symptoms with their mental health … the challenges that Rawlins Cross presents is certainly one that our community struggles with.”
Phair-Healey said she has been told of near-misses at the intersection.
“I think that the way that it had been configured in the past, it had just allowed for more ease for them to cross more safely.”