As the sun began to set in Melbourne, Australia and I approached a crosswalk in the city’s Central Business District, I spotted a bright green light embedded in the pavement. Moments later, the color switched to red, flashed on and off for a few seconds, then settled on red. As I moved closer, I noticed that the truncated domes preceding the crosswalk’s curb ramps contained LED lights.
Tactile pavers are an important accessibility tool and safety feature for blind and low vision people, and the addition of LED lights increases their value not only for disabled people but for the public at large.
Drive.com.au reported in 2017 that the pedestrian lights I spotted were installed on a trial basis to help those “walking at night or looking down at their mobile devices.” Luke Donnellan, a politician who was then Victoria’s minister for roads and safety, told Drive that the “lights will remind people to stop at the red light, look up and pay attention to the traffic around them.”
As a wheelchair user, I routinely encounter pedestrians whose eyes are glued to their mobile devices, unaware of their surroundings. Exclaiming “excuse me,” “watch out” or some other phrase usually prevents a collision, but my verbal warnings don’t reach some wearing noise-canceling headphones, leading to awkward run-ins and near misses.
Traditional crosswalk signals, with their flashing lights displayed across the street and an occasional sound may not be fit to serve pedestrians of the 21st century. Melbourne’s innovative approach, while only outfitted at a single intersection, offers an extra layer of protection for pedestrians lost in tech, while also offering an easier to decipher visual cue for those with reduced vision.
Lighted crosswalk indicators at ground level, together with audio announcements, and traditional pedestrian signals make urban environments safer and more accessible for all. Although the cost of such systems may be too steep for widespread adoption, cities would be smart to first start with high-traffic intersections and those that have proven most dangerous over time.
It is my hope that the City of Melbourne will expand the use of these innovative crossing signals and that the idea might spread to other communities around the world.