Al and Hope Pietrolungo
|October 22, 2002|
In support of these recommendations, we are including a copy of a complaint
filed by the American Council of the Blind of Maryland against the Maryland
State Highway Administration, (MSHA), regarding their refusal to promptly
evaluate and install accessible pedestrian signals, (APSS.) in our state. We are
sending you the complaint, because it demonstrates that at least in Maryland,
without effective federal regulations, the MSHA is not going to voluntarily move
the process forward. Secondly, the complaint explains how the small number of
signals which have been installed, including three in Baltimore City, are
actually helping blind pedestrians with useful and important safety information.
In the strongest way, we ask the U. S. Access Board to move forward with these regulations.
If you have any questions regarding our testimony, please write or call us at 410 529-9475 or 866 529-9475.
Thank you for receiving our comments.
Al and Hope Pietrolungo
The American Council of the Blind of Maryland
4334 Slater Avenue
Baltimore MD 21236-2727
410 529-9475 or 866 529-9475
United States Department of Transportation
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
Office of the Secretary
400 7th Street, SW, Room 10215
Washington DC 20590
October 17, 2002:
I am writing to file a complaint on behalf of the members of the American Council of the Blind of Maryland regarding the refusal by the Maryland State Highway Administration, (MSHA), to evaluate and promptlyy approve requests made by various visually impaired citizens for the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals, (APSS). These devices, as noted in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, (MUTCD), are to be considered by traffic engineers, because the devices provide access to important safety information which is currently being provided to sighted pedestrians. As we will explain in detail, access to this information enables visually impaired citizens to more safely cross the streets at intersections controlled by traffic signals.
In addition to making decisions contrary to the policy described in the MUTCD,
we believe the refusal to provide this important access and safety information
to blind and visually impaired pedestrians is a violation of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 as Amended and the applicable provisions of
the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Let me begin by suggesting that some of us believed that the amended language in the MUTCD requiring that accessible pedestrian signals, (APSS), be considered by traffic engineers would substantially change the way in which APSS are viewed by traffic engineers and agencies such as the MSHA. the adoption of this language in the MUTCD has not significantly changed the acceptability of these devices on the part of the MSHA. After the adoption of the MUTCD changes on December 18, 2000, the MSHA simply developed a series of reasons why the agency could not move forward with deciding which intersections warranted the installation of an APS and which ones did not.
When MSHA suggested the agency could not move forward with the installation of APSS without developing warranting criteria, Our organization agreed to be part of a group established to develop these warranting criteria. The work of this committee was completed by June, 2001. However, MSHA continues to drag its feet when blind citizens request an APS installation.
I have attached some samples of the large number of letters which have gone back and forth between our organization and the MSHA regarding new reasons for delaying the evaluation and installation of APSS at intersections where blind citizens have requested such installations.
Based on our review of the facts, it would appear the MSHA will not move forward voluntarily with the prompt evaluation and installation of APSS without some urging by the United States government. Thus, unless the United States Department of Transportation is willing to require the MSHA to move forward with the installation of these devices particularly where blind citizens have requested these installations, the delays described by the attached correspondence will simply continue.
In fact, our effort to ask the MSHA to address this issue began in March, 2000. To date, we believe four APSS have actually been installed. For the remainder, three requested installations have been approved for installation sometime between now and the Spring of 2003. The remaining APS requests, (Numbering at least 20), have not been fully evaluated, so we have not been told whether the requested installations meet the warranting criteria established back in the Spring of 2001.
Some discussion of the difficulties associated with getting four APSS installed would help you understand why we are appealing to the U.S. Government. After failing to get a response to two letters sent to MSHA about the possible installation of an APS at the intersection of Harford Road and Taylor Avenue, In July 2000, we sent a letter to Maryland State Senator, Thomas Bromwell seeking his assistance in this matter. It took the active insistance of Senator Bromwell to convince the MSHA to move forward with this requested installation. Senator Bromwell's exertions were necessary even though the Maryland School for the Blind joined us in the request for this installation. The school is located just a short distance from the intersection. Additionally, more than 25 blind and visually impaired citizens live and work within a few blocks of this intersection. MSHA officials even told Senator Bromwell they would not install this APS. Eventually, Senator Bromwell refused to accept no for an answer, and in May 2001, the APS was installed.
We can offer similar stories regarding other APS requests. More than two years ago, Mr. Charles Crawford of Silver Spring Maryland requested an APS at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Seminary Road. After no action was taken on this request, Mr. Crawford filed a complaint with the Federal Highway Administration which dismissed the complaint based largely on the absence of regulations requiring the device. Mr. Crawford has been advised that sometime between now and the end of 2002, he will get an APS at this intersection. I do not have a copy of Mr. Crawford's initial letter, but we are concerned both about the fact it will take more than two years to get the device installed and that a complaint to the Federal Highway Administration seems to be one of the hurdles MSHA wants us to leap before they can agree to install the device.
Mr. Phil Guntner faced a similar hurdle in his efforts to secure the benefits of an APS in his neighborhood in Baltimore County. Mr. Guntner faced delays and more delays. Near the beginning of the Loch Raven Boulevard Streetscape renovation project, Mr. Guntner requested APSS at several intersections involved in this renovation project. He was told his request for the installation of these devices at every traffic signalized intersection would be denied. He too filed a complaint with the Federal Highway Administration. This time the complaint was dismissed seemingly because MSHA convinced the FWHA they did not deny Mr. Guntner's request. Rather, the request was still being evaluated. Recently, the MSHA has agreed to install APSS along Loch Raven Boulevard at Glen Keith Boulevard, Taylor Avenue and Putty Hill Avenue. However, their silence about the other requested APS installations in the Loch Raven Boulevard Streetscape project clearly reflects that MSHA is denying the other requests made by Mr. Guntner.
We mention these incidents to establish that we did get four new APSS and a commitment for two others. In five of the six situations, we either had to rely on the direct and persistent intervention of a State Senator or we obtained the installations at intersections which were involved in complaints filed with the FWHA. In the sixth situation, Mr. Gary LeGates of Westminster has been advised that his APS will be installed sometime during the Spring of 2003, more than 18 months after he requested the APS. Regarding the seventh request which has been approved, the MSHA approved a request in Leonardtown Maryland after a more than two year effort to get that request approved. Interestingly, the request was approved the day after a group of blind citizens announced plans to conduct a public demonstration at this intersection.
What happens when it takes 18 months to get an APS installed? Either the blind person continues to cross the street relying on the guess work traditionally used by blind people negotiating such crossings, or the blind person simply does not cross to the other side and is effectively denied access to that part of their environment. Either situation should not be occurring, and many of the requested installations have been delayed for more than 18 months.
Let me explain why I call traiditional methods for crossing the street guess work. On a day when there are no environmental noises which mask the sound of traffic, and assuming normal hearing on the part of the traveler, we manage to cross the street by listening to moving traffic. For example, each morning at Gay and Fayette Streets, while crossing Fayette heading south, I used to wait for traffic to begin to move north on Gay Street before beginning to cross. This presented me with two problems. First, I listened to make sure traffic on Gay Street was clearly moving before stepping off the curb. By this time, that first vehicle had gotten underway, and if that driver was making a lefthand turn to head west on Fayette, the driver almost always would cut me off by crossing the path I was using to get across the street. If the first driver cut me off, you can bet the second driver would cut me off and maybe even the third driver. So, I am standing in the middle of the street waiting for my path to become available to me. I recognize this activity on the part of drivers may not be legal, and it occurs a half a block from City Hall. The practical reality is I am left standing in the street and sometimes must run to finish getting across the street.
The second problem is this. When I come to the intersection, and the traffic is already moving north on Gay Street, I do not know how much time I have to still cross the street. If I start across, I may get caught in the middle of the street after the light has changed. So, generally, I wait to make sure I had the full time period to go.
Two years ago, several blind citizens demonstrated in front of City Hall to get an APS installed at Gay and Fayette and two other intersections. Now, when the walk sign comes on at this intersection, I know this immediately. So, I get going across the street before that first vehicle on Gay Street can begin to get moving. I am more than half way across before that turning car gets around the corner, so that vehicle passes ten feet behind me instead of impeding my path. When I come to the intersection while traffic is moving on Gay Street, I push the button and the APS tells me whether the walk signal is still on. If it is not on, then I know the signal will change in two or three seconds.
What I have described occurs on a day when there are no environmental noises
to create a hearing problem. When there is a heavy rain, a strong wind or a jack
hammer banging away in the neighborhood etc., my effort to jcross the street
without an APS really becomes guess work. In these situations, I am put at much
greater risk without the information provided by an APS. Of course, heavy rain,
strong winds and jack hammers can provide masking sounds at almost any time.
The MSHA will tell you they have never denied a request for an APS installation. When they offer this defense, please understand that by refusing to say yes for between 18 and 30 months, they are really saying no. The MSHA is really saying that denying blind and visually impaired citizens important safety information is acceptable. There are no reasons why these evaluations must take more than two years.
In closing, I hope this testimonyt helps to make it clear there is a real need for the accessibility and safety information provided by an APS. Further, at least in the State of Maryland, public officials will not move forward unless the federal government requires them to do so.
The documents attached are a sampling of the extensive correspondence
generated in this effort to get the MSHA to be responsive to these requests. If
you need additional evidence or sworn testimony from witnesses, please do
not hesitate to contact me.
Thank you for inquiring into this important matter. We look forward to the
day when we can more safely have access to our community.
Al Pietrolungo, President
The American Council of the Blind of Maryland
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