The Thread: Crossing Safely

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

I wanted to share with you a question posed by a DO-IT Ambassador in our Internet discussion forum and some of the responses so that you can get the flavor of the many rich conversations the DO-IT community has online. Some forum posts are edited for clarity and brevity.

Photo of DO-IT Ambassador Kayla waits to crosswalk near the UW campus
DO-IT Ambassador Kayla Brown waits
at a crosswalk near the UW campus.

I need advice. I was crossing the street with a walk signal in my wheelchair, I checked before I went into the street and a car came around the corner and almost hit me. It was only a few inches away. This is about the third or fourth time I have almost been hit by a car. I didn't hear it, and I didn't see it within my field of vision. I'm terrified that I am going to be hit by a car one of these days. I have taken orientation and mobility training, and I know that I am doing everything as I should. I want to have independence to travel throughout the city, just like everyone else my age. Has anyone else been in a situation like this, and what did you do?

DO-IT Ambassador: I do not use a wheelchair, but have encountered some risky situations when crossing roads. First of all, as a person with a visual impairment, I have to listen for parallel traffic in order to know when it is my turn to cross. There have been several occasions when I would be standing at an intersection in downtown Portland, hearing traffic running parallel to me, and thinking it is my turn to cross the road. However, before I even get half way across, an oncoming vehicle turns right in front of me. I end up having to back up out of the road and wait for the next traffic cycle in order to keep from getting run over. I remember one time I was coming home from the state commission for the blind. In order to get to the bus stop, I needed to cross a very accessible road. I simply have to listen for traffic on Stark Street. Just as I was about to cross, a motorcycle turned right in front of me. I had to back up out of the road and wait for another signal in order to keep him from running over me.

DO-IT Ambassador: I do not know about all the parking garages, but at the one I frequently walk by, there is no auditory signal to tell me that there is a vehicle approaching. There are a few intersections that have audible traffic signals, but those are few and far between.

Original Poster: Even if an audible traffic signal is available it doesn't always mean that drivers are watching to see who is in the crosswalk. I didn't hear the car, perhaps it was a hybrid. Nonetheless it snuck up on me before I could see it with the remaining vision I do have. I can't see peripherally or downward. Lucky for me I didn't have my hood on my head or I definitely would have been hit.

DO-IT Ambassador: I can 100% relate! I use a power chair to get around, and I take the city bus everywhere. I have to cross the street coming home each day and I came close myself to getting hit about three months ago. I was brushed by a car but thankfully it was an elbow burn and the driver did stop and admit she took her eye off the road for just a split second. It scared the life out of me! She gave me her phone number for future reference and we went our separate ways.

DO-IT Scholar: All I can really suggest is to be cautious whenever you go out onto a road (which I'm sure you already do) even in a quiet road. Actually, a quiet road might be where the most caution is needed. I know I tend to relax my attention when crossing a quiet street because I don't expect a car to come close enough to be a danger. Do you have a flag or anything on your wheelchair? I've seen people with orange flags on their scooter. It might be a good idea to have one if you don't. There are drivers out there who drive dangerously; so there is nothing you can do but to be vigilante and make yourself as visible as possible. And it sounds like you're already doing this.

DO-IT Ambassador: Although I'm not in a wheelchair, I have the exact same problem because I am blind on the left side, so I can't see cars turning. It's really terrifying because I have been hit by a car, and in the crosswalk! I always make sure to walk the extra block or two to a crosswalk with a signal so cars are more aware, but sometimes the crosswalk pole or light pole can effect whether or not a car can see you, so make sure you are completely visibly to traffic, even if you think there are no cars coming, because I have almost been hit many time by cars turning right on a red light. I also make sure to walk with my cane everywhere if I'm alone.

DO-IT Ambassador: Try to make eye contact with the drivers that are either stopped or coming up to the turn lane. If you can't make eye contact, don't begin to cross. I also try to make sure someone else is in the crosswalk with me, even if I don't know them. If I'm walking to campus, I'm pretty much guaranteed that other people will be out walking as well. Sometimes I'll go a little out of my way just to make sure I can "follow" someone else. Standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change is a good way to make friends too.