KITCHENER — Blind pedestrians feel unsafe at roundabouts and gave politicians an earful Tuesday.
They didn’t demand an end to roundabouts. But they’re frustrated that politicians are approving traffic circles without safety measures such as raised crosswalks to alert them, noisy rumble strips to reveal approaching cars, flashing lights to make drivers stop or crosswalks placed outside the circles.
“There’s a heavy emphasis on eye contact,” said Gord Cummer, a retired businessperson with limited sight. “That’s wonderful for some people. Ain’t so great for me.”
Cummer helps advise politicians on accessibility issues.
“Our streetscapes are definitely not blind-friendly,” said Dawn Clelland, whose blind daughter struggles to cross streets safely on her own.
After school hours, two blind students at St. Mary’s High School can’t use the nearby roundabout at Homer Watson Boulevard and Block Line Road because crossing guards are absent.
“They can’t distinguish when it’s safe for them to cross,” said Jennifer Urosevic of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
Politicians directed traffic planners to meet with groups representing the disabled, to consider safety measures that could apply to roundabouts based on traffic research.
“This is a very, very much larger issue than one roundabout,” Kitchener Coun. Jim Wideman said.
“We have to make sure we do this right,” Kitchener Coun. Geoff Lorentz said.
Design changes that may follow this consultation are uncertain.
For example, councillors voted 11-3 Tuesday not to relocate Homer Watson Boulevard crosswalks outside the circle. Cummer said doing so would help blind pedestrians, but traffic experts said it would put other pedestrians at greater risk.
Councillors deferred a safety recommendation to ditch the third lane at the controversial roundabout that opened last August. Downsizing to two lanes, recommended by blind pedestrians and consultants, will be considered at a future meeting after planners provide more information.
Councillors voted to enact other safety measures at the Homer Watson Boulevard roundabout, many related to paint on asphalt and signage. The measures came partly from consultants hired to review the circle after it opened to numerous fender-benders and a serious pedestrian collision. Collisions have dropped off since November.
Politicians will keep asking drivers to signal left turns at roundabouts, even though consultants said this is too challenging for too many drivers and it’s simpler to only signal right turns.