Heads down thumbs up:  Saving pedestrian lives with visual clues

By intouch * posted 03-04-2017 12:01

By: Chris Sheedy

For the next 12 months around pedestrian crossings near Melbourne's Swanston Street and Little Collins, the footpaths will be aglow with colour. When the red ‘Don’t Walk’ sign is showing or flashing, luminous LED blocks within the footpath will also glow or flash red. When the ‘Walk’ sign lights up, those blocks buried within the footpaths will glow green.

new_light_trial_in_Melb_small.jpgThe reason for the footpath lights is simple. Too many pedestrians are looking down at their smartphones as they walk the busy streets of the inner city. That distraction is proving injurious and, in some cases, deadly. In Victoria each year around 30 pedestrians are killed and 600 seriously injured when they are hit by vehicles.

There are several reasons that pedestrians are being hurt or killed, says Hafez Alavi, Senior Transport Safety Planner with the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). These include inadequate infrastructure, inappropriate vehicle speed, pedestrian age, pedestrian vulnerability and human error. But they also increasingly include distraction of pedestrians by smartphones.

For that reason, the TAC is innovating to bring the numbers back down before more pedestrians walk blindly into traffic.

“Our new system relies on the precept that we can change the behaviour of people who are distracted by mobile phones by bringing them back to reality with visual clues,” says Alavi, who works within the TAC’s Safe System Road Infrastructure Program.

“The visual clues in this case are the LED tactile blocks. Our hypothesis is that the best location for these blocks is in front of people and beneath their feet, just before they enter the road.”

The blocks themselves, measuring 300mm x 300mm, are DDA compliant and have a similar level of texture and grip to the pavement. They are waterproof, can withstand up to 30 tons of direct pressure and are wired in to nearby power poles for energy and signals. The ‘LED Tactile Blocks’, as they’re known, are inlaid and cemented into the footpath in order to ensure they don’t create a trip threat.

Each block is luminous so the entire block glows, rather than offering a small pinpoint of LED light, Alavi says. Brightness is turned up to ensure daytime visibility but is dimmed at night to prevent visual clutter. The blocks themselves, he says, can be set to be sensitive to ambient light and therefore can manage their own brightness levels.
“The product has been used in Korea at pedestrian crossings and at other intersections, on platforms for trains and trams and at bus stops,” Alavi says. “An evaluation was conducted by researchers at Korea’s Pusan University. They found that rates of crashes, injuries and fatalities were reduced by 26%, 21%, and 38% respectively. So they are highly likely to be effective.”

TAC_Crossing26_small.jpgThe plan in Melbourne is to run the localised test for 12 months before the TAC conducts its own evaluation. Similar tests are being carried out in Sydney.

“The major cost components are the product and the installation, but at this stage the majority of the cost is the installation,” Alavi says. “However, when it comes to such valuable innovations we're happy to shoulder the cost upfront to find out if the solution is effective. If it works then we will find ways to reduce the cost.”

Images: TAC