Picture shows Janet Barlow wearing a blue cap and smiling
Janet Barlow

    Janet Barlow Collaboration Initiative: Traffic Engineering and O&M

      December 13 -- the last day of SOMA 2022 -- was the first Janet Barlow Collaboration Initiative, bringing 10 traffic engineers and 50 orientation and mobility specialists (O&Ms) together to learn and share. Jen Graham opened the session with an introduction to the Janet Barlow initiative (pictures below courtesy of Eileen Bischof).

      Picture shows Jen presenting, on the screen we see a picture of Janet Barlow with a title 'Janet Morgan Barlow.'    Picture shows about 50 participants in a large room with round tables. Jen is at the front of the room with powerpoint slides.

      Image is of traffic engineer John Hubbard, a close up, standing at a podium with a microphone in his hands.  The heads of the participants are in view in the bottom of the image.
      Image of John Hubbard to the left of the image standing at a podium speaking into a microphone next to a projected image on a screen.  In the foreground are the backs of 2 participants of the presentation, and one woman on the right facing the camera is signing as an interpreter.
      Picture shows a larger view of the room where John Hubbard is presenting.  We can see 7 or 8 round tables with about 30 participants, plus an interpreter sitting at one of the front tables and signing.

      To begin the day, John Hibbard, PE, the first traffic engineer Janet worked with to explore accessibility issues, talked with O&M participants about traffic signals (pictures to the left courtesy of Dona Sauerburger).

      Meanwhile, O&M specialists Lukas Franck, Linda Myers, and Jennifer Graham talked with the traffic engineers about pedestrians who are blind and guided them in experiences under blindfold (pictures below courtesy of Dona Sauerburger and Eileen Bischof).

      Image is of 11 people seated around table set up in a U shape with their backs to the camera. At the top of the U stands Lukas Franck, COMS, holing an object and facing the people seated at the tables. 2 pictures show people traveling via human guide in a large hallway.  In the background, 2 women are traveling, both with canes in their hands.  The traveling providing human guide has her blindfold pushed to her forehead, and the person receiving human guide has her blindfold covering her eyes and her cane extended. In the foreground, 2 men are traveling. The one providing human guide carries his cane parallel to his body, and the one receiving human guide has his blindfold on and is also carrying his cane parallel to his body. 2 pictures show people traveling using human guide in a large hallway.  In the background are 2 men, with the one being guided under blindfold with a cane held parallel to his body, and the man guiding has his blindfold pushed to his forehead.  IN the foreground, although 2 people are pictured, the person providing human guide is mostly out of frame, with only their elbow and hip showing.  The person being guided has a blindfold on and a long cane extended.

      Let's get real!

        During the second half of the morning, ten teams of participants, each with an engineer and 3-6 O&Ms, visited a different challenging intersection. Engineers shared their understanding of the way the intersection worked, and learned how pedestrians with vision disabilities might deal with challenges in the intersection geometry and signalization. Some of the challengers were crosswalks that were exceptionally long or skewed, apex curb ramps, leading pedestrian intervals, and a roundabout. Everyone had an opportunity to cross streets under blindfold or low vision simulator with a human guide or with a long cane.

        Aerial view of a Google Maps image of a 4 leg intersection with 6 and 8 lane crossings, islands separating the right-turning lanes on the top two and bottom right crossings, and skewed crosswalks.     Image show a zebra-painted crosswalk crossing 9 lanes of traffic to reach and go through (at street-level) an island separating a right-turning lane.     Street view image of Jen Graham COMS and Jeff Thompson PE standing at the corner facing the street.  Jeff’s back is to the camera and he is holding a white cane parallel to his body and wearing a set of vision simulators.  Jen stands to his left in the grass.    Image shows 2 people, Jen Graham COMS and Jeff Thompson PE with their backs to the camera and in motion, walking through a street-level opening in the island and approaching the separate right-turning lane.

        One such challenging intersection is the one pictured above, where wayfinding was made difficult by very long crossings, two skewed crosswalks, channelized right-turn lanes, and curb ramps that did not slope in the direction of travel on the associated crosswalks. Safety was compromised by a leading pedestrian interval with no APS. Jeff Thompson, PE, the engineer at this intersection, was a little surprised at how well Jennifer Graham, COMS was able to analyze and describe the intersection in engineering terms. He made a crossing wearing goggles simulating a 10-degree visual field and appreciated the great challenge of crossing with such limited vision.

        Jeff stated, "I have new appreciation for what the visually impaired have to deal with when crossing." Another goal of the Collaboration Initiative was to establish relationships between traffic engineers and O&Ms. By the end of the day, engineer Jeff and the O&M specialist from his county exchanged contact information.

        Image is of a crosswalk with 2 thick white lines on the perimeter.  In the center are scattered large black shapes resembling open books, stretching across the entirety of the crossing.
        Linda Myers, COMS led a group to a signalized intersection with a crosswalk pictured on the left, with lots of black graphics of open books that might appear to be holes to pedestrians with low vision. Linda said, "I noticed one sighted pedestrian avoided walking on the books when he crossed!" Decorative crosswalks and intersections, often having very colorful designs, are becoming increasingly common aesthetic treatments for "placemaking" in cities. How will they impact pedestrians with low vision?

        Image is a street view of an intersection with multiple lanes of traffic. In the foreground is the curb approach, which shows the 2 legs of sidewalk meeting to form a Y shape which extends to the respective street crossings.  In the background are several urban businesses including gas stations and restaurants.
        Sarah Duyck, a student member of the Barlow Initiative Committee, found it "hugely valuable" not only to be able to observe how the committee went about setting up the SOMA Workshop, but then as a group leader at an intersection (pictured to the left}. As a new O&M specialist, Sarah relied on the more experienced O&Ms in the group to handle instruction and analysis of the intersection, while she worked with the engineer to explain the terminology and reasoning behind her colleagues' discussion. Participants observed two O&Ms (one blindfolded, one instructing) walking around the intersection. and the engineer agreed to crossing once under occlusion with a long cane.

        The engineer in this team is involved in ADA compliance in construction zones. She was amazed and shocked at the intersection geometry in relation to pedestrian safety. After the workshop the engineer requested the pictures of the intersections be emailed to her.

      Regrouping . . .

        After lunch, John Hibbard talked with O&Ms about what it's like to be a traffic engineer who needs to respond to requests by O&Ms for improved accessibility, such as a request for an accessible pedestrian signal (APS).

        Meanwhile, >Beezy Bentzen explained alignment issues to the engineers, showed them tactile guiding strips on the floor, and then took them out to see the installation (pictures below courtesy of Eileen Bischof).

        Image is of a U shaped table with people seated around the outside of the U.  At the top of the U is Beezy Bentzen, COMS, standing presenting to the group with her hand on a chair in front of a projected image on a screen.  The screen says 'aligning to cross when cues are absent or misleading'.     We see Beezy standing in a conference room with a half-dozen engineers and talking about the sample tactile alignment pads on the floor (pads are about 2 feet by 3 feet, with raised parallel bars).     we see Beezy in front of about 5 engineers walking along the sidealk.     Beezy and a man are standing in a curb ramp near one of the tactile alignment pads.
          Lukas has a microphone while pointing to a slide showing an intersection, Jen is in front of him using the laptop.

      All together now!

      The day concluded with engineers and O&Ms sharing their experiences at the challenging intersections and brainstorming ideas to improve wayfinding and safety. It was gratifying to see the engineers and O&Ms both reveal their "aha!" moments of learning from each other, understanding why some features were so challenging for blind pedestrians and why those features made sense from an engineering standpoint, and how they might be addressed together.

      In the picture to the right, Lukas Franck and Jen Graham facilitate the discussion.

          Sponsorship for Janet Barlow Collaboration Initiative:
          At the request of Janet's family, the Janet Barlow Legacy Fund was established by and will remain housed within the Orientation Mobility Specialist Association (OMSA). This day couldn't have happened without the donations received to the Fund. To become a member of OMSA and/or donate to the Janet Barlow Legacy Fund go to usomsa.org.

          logo of OMSA shows a radiant white sunrise against a blue background and says 'Orientation and Mobility Specialist Association'.
          To Promote, Shape and Advance the Profession of Orientation and Mobility

photos courtesy of Dona Sauerburger

photos not attributed are courtesy of Dona Sauerburger