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Home > Design Needs > Exterior Design Elements > Street Crossings > Accessible Pedestrian Signals

Accessible Pedestrian Signals

An Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS) provides auditory, visual and tactile information so that a person with vision and/or hearing loss will know when it’s safe (i.e., when the walk phase begins) to cross at a set of traffic signals. In addition, an APS may provide information to help a person with blindness travel in a straight line across a street or roadway.

All intersections with traffic control signals should be augmented with APS devices to help with accessible travel for people impacted by blindness.

APS devices should be capable of activation 24 hours a day. In general, the time provided for crossing at any intersection or crosswalk, regardless of the presence of an APS, must be programmed to be long enough to accommodate people who may walk at a slower pace, according to this formula: at least zero point eight seconds of crossing time provided per 1,000 mm of crossing distance.

While extending the crossing time universally will enhance walkability for pedestrians who may not walk as quickly as others, cities around the world are beginning to implement smart technology.

These systems have the capability, when implemented, of providing a custom solution activated by a transit card or device which extends crossing signals based on individual preference or needs.

The CNIB Foundation encourages municipal planners to bare these capabilities in mind when sourcing new traffic control systems.

Employ APS systems as follows:

Acoustic Locator Sound

An acoustic locator tone should be used to indicate the presence of an APS and its push button. The acoustic locator tone should be audible at no more than 3,700 mm from the push button, or at the closest building line, whichever is closer. The tone should sound no longer than 0.15 seconds and repeat every one to two seconds.

The sound-pressure level of an acoustic locator should be between 30 and 90 dB, automatically adjusted to be two to five decibels above ambient sounds.

Activating an APS

APS devices should be activated using one of three methods:

If manually activated, then activation should only require a single press, not pressing and holding the activation button.

Confirmation of Activation

An audible, visual and vibro-tactile (vibrating) confirmation should be provided to indicate the system has been successfully activated by the push button.

Acoustic and Tactile/Vibro-walk Signal

An audible, visual and vibro-tactile walk signal should indicate when it’s safe to cross the street.

The audible walk signal should be composed of multiple high and low frequencies, with the principal frequencies between 500 and 1,000 Hz with higher harmonics. It should sound during the entire walk cycle. The walk signal should be distinct for each direction of travel. Additionally, walk signal voice messages can be provided, according to the principles outlined by the Transportation Association of Canada

The walk signal volume at the point of departure should be carefully controlled to ensure it’s loud enough for someone at the departure curb to hear it properly. Unless sound beaconing is used, it should be automatically adjusted to be two to five decibels louder than the ambient noise level.

Take care to ensure that for people with hearing loss, the audible signal won’t be confused with other sounds, such as birds chirping.

Confirmation of direction of travel

A tactile, colour-contrasted arrow should unambiguously indicate the direction of travel associated with any push button.

The name of the street to be crossed should be made available in uncontracted braille, raised print characters and an audible format. Braille and raised print characters should be located on or near the push-button assembly.

Photo of a pedestrian crossing with a push button that incorporates a tactile arrow to indicate the direction of crossing and a tactile map showing the lane configuration along the crossing route.

The APS can also employ other features to unambiguously indicate the direction of travel:

Push-button location

An APS push-button pole should meet these guidelines:

Pedestrian crosswalks

When APSs are used at pedestrian crosswalks, follow the same guidelines listed for APS devices at intersections above.

For detailed information on APS devices, refer to “Guidelines for Understanding, Use and Implementation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals,” available from the Transportation Association of Canada’s website bookstore.

Non-accessible pedestrian signals

If using standard push-button signals at an intersection instead of APSs, follow these guidelines:

Limitations of Accessible Pedestrian Systems

Being able to locate a pole with an activation button

Even if locater beacons are functioning as expected, locating a pole and activating theAPS system can be difficult for many pedestrians.

Activating an APS via a push button requires a combination of reach, strength and dexterity. A large range of conditions can affect these abilities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis or any degenerative disease. Where more than one APS activation button exists, the need to make contact with it requires finding the appropriate button for the direction sought; this can prove particularly daunting for someone who is blind and unfamiliar with the layout of an intersection.

Locating a button housing(s) may require a pedestrian with sight loss to veer from their path of travel to activate an APS, then to realign themselves with a crossing. This can significantly hinder their orientation.

Pole placement:

Despite CNIB’s guidelines, taken from various standards and best practices, pole placement can be dramatically influenced by complex engineering or design considerations. The end result is an inconsistent and unpredictable placement of poles. This will require a pedestrian with sight loss to explore until they find the pole and locate the correct activation button.

This exploration will often result in a pedestrian losing their orientation to the crossing. Pole placement also becomes an issue for pedestrians with mobility impairments. For example, when poles are located in beds of grass, they are often entirely inaccessible to pedestrians using mobility devices as they often cannot come close enough to make contact with the button.

Despite existing standards requiring that poles are located within 1.5m maximum distance between the pole and the curb, seasonal conditions, placement of sidewalk elements and other mitigating factors can result in poles being situated beyond a pedestrians easy reach.

Uncertainties around crossing cycles:

Conventional traffic control systems are extremely limited with respect to the information provided to pedestrians who are blind.

At best, a traditional APS system can provide an audible signal when the walk is on, however, there are other key pieces of information that sighted pedestrians receive that help them cross the street safely. This can include count down timers or general orientation information.