The National Academies

NCHRP 03-62 [Completed]

Guidelines for Accessible Pedestrian Signals

  Project Data
Funds: $1,070,000
Research Agency: University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Principal Investigator: David Harkey Phase 1 & 2; Daniel Carter Phase 3
Effective Date: 10/4/2001
Completion Date: 1/31/2018

Background: The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) modified 23 USC 217(g) by directing that pedestrian safety considerations, including installation of audible traffic signals and signs at street crossings, be included, where appropriate, in transportation plans and projects. Research indicates that some of the current audible signals, widely used in some parts of the United States, (a) do not adequately indicate to blind pedestrians which crosswalks at an intersection have the WALK signal, (b) do not provide adequate directional guidance where it is needed, and (c) do not meet the needs of people with both visual and hearing impairments. In addition, there is inadequate research to specify the nature of accessible signals that unambiguously identify the relevant crosswalk and that can be used reliably by blind persons to establish and maintain a correct heading to the destination corner. While a uniform standard for accessible pedestrian signals (APS) does not yet exist, the Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC), in January 2001, provided the U.S. Access Board with recommended standards, scoping, and technical provisions that would apply to certain newly constructed or altered pedestrian facilities, making the streetscapes in public rights-of-way accessible to all users, in compliance with requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act. Even after the PROWAAC recommendations make their way through the rulemaking process, the traffic engineering profession will still lack sufficient guidance on when and where to retrofit existing signals. The profession is looking for a standard approach to the selection of locations for, and the installation and operation of, APS.

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) unanimously recommended language regarding APS for Sections 4E6 and 4E8 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in June 1999, but members requested continued research to enable specification of sound requirements. Consistency in use of APS is desirable so that users can expect to have the same types of information available at each appropriate intersection, enabling them to cross at signalized intersections safely and efficiently. FHWA published a final rule December 18, 2000, on the Millennium Edition of the MUTCD, with Guidelines for Accessible Signals in Section 4E.

Research is needed to develop APS guidelines to provide confirmation that a WALK signal request has been received and to provide unambiguous indications of which crosswalk at an intersection has the WALK signal. The signals will enable pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired and persons who are both visually and hearing impaired to safely and efficiently cross at signalized intersections in all weather conditions.

This research will be the basis for more precise and well-supported guidance on APS for inclusion in the MUTCD and in the Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines. The research results will be forwarded to the Signals Technical Committee of the NCUTCD and to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as background and support for changes in Part 4 of the MUTCD, as well as to the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (The Access Board).

The results and products of this research may be used to increase the safety and mobility of pedestrians at signalized intersections, for those persons who are blind or visually impaired as well as those persons who are both visually and hearing impaired, by providing them with standardized information functionally equivalent to that provided to other pedestrians.

Objective: The objective of this research was to develop guidelines and training materials for implementation of accessible pedestrian signals (APS). The guidelines will explain how APS will provide optimal information through media such as tones and tactile or verbal indicators, and under what circumstances their installation is recommended. The training materials will facilitate application of the guidelines and installation and operation of APS. This training will be oriented toward technical issues and public education.

Tasks: Accomplishment of the project objectives will require at least the following tasks.

PHASE I (1.) Review domestic and international experience and ongoing and proposed research and data collection efforts related to this objective. (2.) Determine the types of additional data that will be required, beyond what is currently available, to meet the objectives of the project. This will require development of a framework or outline of the guidelines. (3.) Prepare an interim report on the information developed in Tasks 1 and 2. The interim report shall also contain an outline of the guidelines and a detailed work plan for Phase 2 that identifies the data elements, sample size, data collection sites, measures of effectiveness, and methods to obtain the additional data required to produce guidelines for APS. At a minimum, the interim report must address the following issues:

  • Frequency, amplitude, duration, and repetition of tones and/or vibro/tactile applications of push buttons and WALK signals;
  • Interface issues, such as confirmation of request, feedback strategies, explanation of intersection geometrics through tactile mapping, and signing;
  • Placement and orientation of devices, including islands, divided roadways, and skewed and multi-legged intersections;
  • Beaconing, such as alternating signals across the intersection for directional navigation, recognizing the opportunity to employ multiple technologies;
  • Detection using multiple technologies, such as infrared, microwave, or video;
  • Impact of ambient conditions (including noise), such as heavy vehicles, weather, and heavy traffic flow on other issues; and
  • Use of accessible devices during clearance intervals.

    (4.) Meet in Washington, D.C., with the project panel to review the Task 3 interim report, including an updated work plan for Phase 2, approximately 1 month after submittal. Submit a revised interim report reflecting the panel's review comments. The research agency shall not begin work on the remaining tasks without NCHRP approval.

    PHASE II (5.) Execute the data-collection plan; develop draft guidelines; outline proposed training materials for implementation of APS; and submit draft materials for panel review. The NCHRP may recommend adjustments in the guidelines and in the proposed training materials at this time. (6.) Update draft guidelines as appropriate and develop detailed training materials for implementation of APS for transportation agencies to use in incorporating the results of this research into practice. Submit revised draft materials for NCHRP review. (7.) Meet with the project panel to discuss the recommended draft guidelines and training materials. The research agency shall not proceed with the remaining tasks without the approval of the NCHRP. (8.) Conduct a pilot training session. (9.) Revise guidelines and training materials based on feedback from the pilot training session. (10.) Submit the draft final report, documenting the entire research effort. Include the guidelines as a stand-alone document and the training materials as a second stand-alone package. In addition, provide a companion executive summary that outlines the research results, including the implementation plan. All materials submitted must be in formats suitable for posting on the web.

    Phase III (11.) Update web site. (12.) Conduct preliminary training workshops. (13.) Revise APS Guide based on workshop feedback. (14.) Prepare publication version of APS guide. (15.) Conduct additional workshops. The first step in conducting the courses will be to establish a training calendar that includes the national/regional meeting dates. All other requests for courses will then be subject to the availability of other dates and the instructors. Each course will be taught by two instructors – an orientation and mobility specialist and an engineer.

    Status: Phase III research was completed in mid-2014. The Phase III final report was received in July 2014. Publicaiton is pending.

  • The Phase I Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Synthesis and Guide to Best Practice (Synthesis) has been reviewed by the panel, revised by the research team, and available at www.walkinginfo.org/aps. Field trials with human subjects were completed in the fourth quarter of 2004. The TRB Annual Meeting in January 2005 included a presentation of a paper on the 1-pole versus 2-pole experiments. The panel met with the research team in September 2005. Pilot training was conducted in December 2005. In March 2006 the AASHTO Standing Committee on Research (SCOR) approved Phase II funding to refine and provide additional training. In March 2009 SCOR approved Phase III funding for additional workshops, updating, and reformatting for potential AASHTO publication.

  • Product Availability: NCHRP Research Results Digest 278 summarizes Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Synthesis and Guide to Best Practice (Synthesis).

    NCHRP RRD 278:
    HTML Version | PDF Version

  • NCHRP Web-Only Document 117A: Accessible Pedestrian Signals: A Guide to Best Practice (2008) has been reformatted as NCHRP Web-Only Document 150: Accessible Pedestrian Signals: A Guide to Best Practice (2010 Workshop Edition). It is designed to serve as a companion resource document to a one-day training course on accessible pedestrian signals. An appendix to Web-Only Document 117A includes an accessible pedestrian signals intersection prioritization tool and instructions on how to use the tool.  Details on the research used to develop the training course and tool was published as NCHRP Web-Only Document 117B: Guidelines for Accessible Pedestrian Signals.

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