Crossing Streets and Basic Bus Travel

The Continuing Series on Cane Travel for the Blind, 4th Part

Image of a busy NYC crosswalk

Hello all, welcome to another edition of the white cane travel series. This series has been taking a break for awhile but is now back with another installment. In this edition of the series, we’ll do street crossings and basic bus travel. Remember that each person may do things differently, and our White Cane Travel site has resources and podcasts that cover this in more depth.

Crossing Streets

Crossing streets can be the most tricky part of traveling safely as a visually impaired individual. This is because some of the blind can’t see, so sound plays a big part. Even though I can partially see, I must rely on the sounds around me to determine what is going on. I can use my vision to some point, however, I still must listen to determine how safe it really is.

There are different types of crossings that we encounter on a daily basis. There are even some I encountered recently that I’ve never learned on. I’ll go through the ones I know about here. Remember that you can ask specific questions on our discussion list through White Cane Travel’s website.

Residential Streets

These are the easiest to cross out of all possible types of intersections. While most have cross walks, all cars must stop, regardless of whether anyone is there. I honestly think that most people today come to a partial stop, or don’t even bother trying, especially around schools. I live just across the street from a school and I’ve seen with my one good eye cars that don’t stop at all. You can hear them too, which makes crossing really dangerous.

What really irritates me about the fact that people don’t stop, or do enough to slow down, is that the cars today don’t make any sound while stopped. That is because the cars today are electric cars, and I understand from reading a paper my father sent me that this will change very soon. We can still hear the trucks, buses, and vans, but the small cars are a bit of a problem. What also irritates me as well are the right turn cars, especially in other types of intersection crossings I intend to cover in this article. They tend to stop just past where they are supposed to stop and when it is time to go, they will go at the same time you will. That has been my experience as of late, and it scares me.

Other things to be aware of in residential streets as of late are the people who think that it is alright to make a U-turn, especially around a school. I’ve heard that this is happening now more often than counted and at some spots, signs indicate there are no U-turns but they do it anyway.

Here is what I understand a residential street crosswalk has:

  • A limit line
  • A line at the end of the street
  • Some crosswalks now have lines going across them, either yellow or white
  • Older streets may just have two lines indicating a cross walk with no limit line at all

The limit line at some streets is used to tell cars approaching that a crosswalk is there. My understanding is that cars must stop behind this line. Some cars today tend not to do this, they’ll stop past this line. Whether there is a limit line or not, all cars should stop at the first line indicating a crosswalk.

When you cross the street at any of these crosswalks, we have been generally told to cross when it is quiet, meaning that no car is waiting. If they are waiting, and you feel safe to cross, do so. I’ll discuss the technique on crossing after I describe the rest of the intersections we may encounter. The car should wait until you cross if the car is to the right of you going from left to right or right to left, depending on crossing. Cars that are coming toward you, or the same direction, can go at the same time you do, except when they want to turn. They should determine the best time to do so. I personally try to wait until it is quiet where at all possible.

Timed Lights, No Button

When we were trained, we were introduced to timed lights with no buttons. A lot of these are now being introduced to buttons, where the buttons vibrate. You don’t necessarily press them, but I’ll get to buttoned lights later. The non-button lights usually have a 20 to 30 second limit, and you need to be aware of left turn and right hand turn cars during your crossing.

If your parallel traffic is going the same way you are, watch for the right hand car turn. These can turn at any time when safe, although you’re listening and watching for the cars to go at the same time. You do not go when the perpindicular traffic goes. When the street is on the right, you go with the far side traffic, the traffic that is coming toward you.

When the street is on the right, there are right turn cars that turn in front of you, so it's a good idea in my opinion to try and determine when to put the cane out to cross, before the car and its driver decide to move forward to turn.

Your left hand turn cars will turn after you cross the center line, but we are taught, if possible, to look that direction so they know we’re paying attention.

Timed Lights: Push Button

The timed lights with the push buttons work differently. If you’re required to push the button, whether it vibrates, is just a push button or a non-buttoned light, the concept is still the same. With the push button lights, however, you have a shorter time to cross, and the button signals to the light that there is someone there to cross and will allow significant time to cross. You still need to be aware of turning cars, even after you press the button.

The cross walks on both the push button and non-push button lights are your typical two-lined cross walk; however, as stated above, crosswalks now have the stripes going across with yellow or white lines. The cross walk design is not important on these because you only go straight across.

Left Hand Turn and Right Hand Turn Lights

There are two types of turning lights, left hand and right hand. These types of lights may be with or without a push button, it's a good idea to investigate that. With the light that's near me at Ventura BLVD and Desoto Avenue, we have a left hand turn light, with the near or far side depending on travel able to go. After we cross, the other side goes. So in this case, the south bound cars go at the same time the left hand turn cars go on to Ventura BLVD, then you have the north bound cars crossing. Even now with the push buttons at this intersection, I find that I’m still crossing when the north bound cars are starting to cross.

At times, I’ve almost gotten hit at this intersection. It has been mainly the right hand turn cars either turning right on to Desoto, (the streets change names) or the cars turning right on to Ventura itself. At this intersection, you can’t cross from southeast to northeast corners due to no cross walk. This was described to me when I moved to this neighborhood as part of the orientation and mobility process.

T Intersections

A T intersection is a street that you can’t go straight through. The only thing a car can do is turn. T intersections can be on either direction, north south, or east-west streets. In my particular area, I’ve got several that I am aware of and one is even at the end of my particular street.

Crossing these types of streets are only done on the cross walk side. Mobility Instructors will caution you that it is not a good idea to cross when you don’t detect a crosswalk. Someone did tell me that you can cross at a non-cross walk as long as you are going straight across but no going diaginal. For those of us that are visually impaired, I would advise if you can detect a cross walk, please use them. Cars are obligated to stop in cross walk zones, not in places where there is no sign or cross walk.

Standing Green Lights

Standing green lights can be found in some areas. The only way the other cars stop in the area would be if the cars stop at the intersection, which triggers a sensor in the road. I am not completely sure if standing green lights would be called standing green when there is no cross walk on one street, so check with your local DMV for your particular area to determine this.

Other Types of Street Crossings

There may be other types of street crossings that I’ve not covered because I’m not sure how to cross them, or I am not aware of them. I’ve covered those that I’m aware of in this article. I do know there are one way streets, but I’ve only encountered one, and I figured out how to cross it.

Crossing the Street for the First Time

Now it's time to fully learn how to cross the street. In my last article, "Canes and Cane Travel For the Blind or Visually Impaired," which was the last article in this series, I talk about how to use the cane. In part, it says that there are several techniques. The technique you use is going to be the same when you cross, however, there are several things that you need to do.

Lining Up

Lining up is the most important part of crossing the street. The cane is put at the curb in a diagonal way and you line up with it. You’ll be going straight across because your hand is in that angle, not your whole body. If there is a push button light, you’ll probably be lined up with it. If not, there may be a way to tell the cross walk by feeling for the ramp that most cross walks may have today. If not, listen to the sounds of the cars to determine where most stop.

Crossing the Street

Crossing the street is the most dangerous thing we can do. It is important to know your parallel and perpendicular traffic very well before crossing at a traffic light. To cross, simply put the cane in front of you, tap it, then step off and cross. Try your best to go straight ahead, or you’ll get honked at. If you can detect left hand cars when crossing with the cars coming toward you, do that. Don’t feel like you’re in a hurry to cross, the traffic can’t go until you completely cross the street.

Basic Bus Travel

Before you are even allowed to cross the street, you need to learn about the various lights. The same goes when you need to learn the bus. With me, I was taught the telephone number to call and told to get a basic route. For example, I was told to go from Ventura and Desoto to Ventura and Reseda. This is a single bus. I’m told that I need to arrive at a certain time.

Back when I learned, we called a single number, asked the operator to give me the directions, and it would be given by a voice. It was easy for me to get it, although the instructor told me that I should’ve gotten it by the operator. Now, the operators are doing the work and there is no longer a toll-free number to connect the agencies together.

The instructor would board with you to show you various aspects of what you needed to do. Learning where bus stops are located is also key and remember, we don’t have access to training every time we learn a new route.

Please check out the White Cane Travel podcast series on the mobility training and podcast 23 talking about learning a new route. I take you through how I did it, and I hope you will take the time to check out those podcasts that interest you.

Closing Comments

This article was pretty lengthy and I don’t expect you to get every aspect of this quickly. Take your time, get on our discussion list, and ask questions. Several of us are out there to answer them. Don’t be afraid, put a blind fold on and see if you can follow these articles. Please also feel free to contact me should you have any comments or concerns about what you’ve read. Without those comments, I don’t know if there will be any opportunity to make corrections or write something to clarify any confusion you might have. This wasn’t all taught in a year, it won’t be learned in a year either. Thanks so much for reading.

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Crossing Streets and Basic Bus Travel