Crossing Streets

Blind individuals must cross every street safely, every time they attempt to do so. Not all streets should be crossed, of course. Fully sighted (sober) track stars would not attempt to cross the Dan Ryan expressway. Some streets that sighted individuals do cross may also be too dangerous for blind or visually people. There are many personal and environmental variables that must be considered. The complexity and seriousness of crossing streets without vision must not be taken lightly.

The lay publics first impression is usually that crossing a street without vision is a foolhardy and dramatic undertaking. However, if you watch how sighted people cross streets, you soon discover that most of the time they use their hearing, glancing momentarily to double check (if they look at all). At busier intersections, sighted travelers are quite trusting of the traffic. Once the light says go, they are off with barely a second thought. Blind individuals with appropriate precautions and using good strategies, can easily cross streets using their sense of hearing. The number of competent blind travelers attests to this observation.

Crossing a street without vision requires two sets of skills. First, a blind traveler must have a general strategy for crossing streets. This includes knowledge of street and corner layouts, understanding of traffic patterns, techniques for lining up to make straight crossings, knowing how and what to listen for, etc. Secondly, the blind traveler must appreciate that every intersection has a personality, no two are completely alike. This means that every street crossing involves a study, and it implies that the capable blind traveler knows how to analyze an intersection. The traveler must have a set of criteria for judging safety, and must be skilled at making judgements based on these criteria.

General Knowledge and Skills Needed for Crossing Streets

(under construction)

Lining up

Before students even begin to think about when it is safe to cross a street, they need to know where they are going and what the short trip feels like. They need to travel sighted guide across a given street several times to get a feel for the camber of the street, as well as a sense of the time it takes to cross. They also need to know what the layout is like on the corner they are leaving and on the corner they will be arriving at. They should know what to do if they do not make a straight crossing. The question of when to cross a street must wait until the student knows where to go and how to go.

There are three ways to line up to cross a street in a straight line. The first way is simply to continue the line of direction. The student was traveling in a straight line, usually on a sidewalk, when they came to the corner. As long as they do not bounce around and shift their orientation, they should be lined up to cross. A second way to line up involves using the grass line, or when available to use an object for taking a parallel line of direction (a mail box, for example). A third way is to listening to the travel going the same way and parallel to the student. As the car recedes into the distance it projects a straight line (ie. the sound seems to be coming from straight ahead). The best way to cross the street is to use all three methods and make sure they agree.

Curbs can sometimes be used to cross straight. Putting the soles of the feet over the curb perpendicularly will line students up straight in a few instances. Under no circumstances should students use this technique as a matter of routine. Most curbs curve in toward the middle of the intersection and point the student directly into the path of cars going from all four directions. On busier corners, standing with the feet dangling over the curb is foolish sense turning trucks and buses sometimes roll huge rear tires over curbs. I tell students that unless they have studied an intersection and have found it otherwise safe, they are never to use curbs to line up.

A straight line of travel is more likely if the student goes at a quick pace. "Quick" does not mean like a jack rabbit. The student should travel fast enough to feel the camber of the street rise and fall. Once committed to the crossing it is best not to dawdle. Obviously, the longer a student is standing in the street, the greater the odds of being hit by a car.

How fast should the student travel when crossing a street?

I like the answer that mobility specialist George Tully Jr. gave to this question on the mobility listserve. This is a rough paraphrase of Mr. Tully's comments:

"I ask my students how a dead dog lying in the road got run over in the first place. Did it saunter into the road or did it dash out in front of a car? I explain to my students (blind children) that most drivers who see a dog crossing a road will slow down to keep from hitting the dog. A dog usually gets run over if it doesn't give the driver time to react, either by serving out of the way or by braking the car. A responsible driver will do everything he or she can to avoid hitting any living thing (except snakes). A dog lazily walking across a road is less likely to be hit than a dog dashing unexpectedly into the street because the driver of a car can anticipate the movements of the sauntering dog, and has time to react. The moral of the story is this: Don't do anything unexpected, and allow drivers time to react."

characteristics of intersections
listening strategies
Using impaired vision
Categories of street crossing (quiet residential streets to major intersections)

Cane use at corners

The cane has at least three duties at street crossings. Held where it can be seem from all directions (on the side of the parallel traffic), it signals to drivers that the person about to cross the street is blind or visually impaired. Secondly, before stepping into the street, the cane is waved (wiggled, scanned, moved) into the intersection. The motion of the cane usually freezes turning or approaching cars. While crossing the street, the cane sweeps out a pathway that indicates whether or not there are holes in the road or obstacles in the way (stopped cars). The job of the traveler while crossing is to listen, to keep the head up and to monitor for changes in sounds. The cane allows the traveler to do this without having to focus undue attention on foot placement. Once across the street the cane helps locate sidewalks if the crossing was not straight (using the three point touch technique). Before stepping up onto a curb, the cane is used to sweep out a path to make sure that there are no obstacles (low street signs can be very sharp and dangerous).

Analyzing the personality of an intersection

width of street; number of lanes
time of day
traffic control
variations on the standard intersection (offsets, etc.)
bends, curves, hills that prevent adequate monitoring
view blockers (trees, poles, buildings, cars, etc.)
traffic patterns
average speed of vehicles; speed limit
speed of the individual (age, physical problems, distractibility, anxiety, etc.)
reliable and unreliable curb cuts
notes: Before you can cross a street two things have to be OK:

It has to be quiet long enough to make it across the street (or the judgement has to be made that passing parallel cars are not going to turn).

It has to be possible (after studying the intersection) for a safe crossing to be made. Curves (bends) in the road, or nearby hills can completely block sounds, making it impossible to judge safely.

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