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Accessible Wayfinding for Transit Facilities: Tactile Pathways


Due to changing demographics in the US, an increasing number of people have cognitive, physical or sensory challenges that make wayfinding in transit facilities difficult. Seniors who are no longer able to drive are able to maintain their independence and active involvement in the community if they live in areas well-served by public transit, and they are able and willing to use it. However, many are reluctant to do so because they fear getting confused about where to go, and feel vulnerable when they need assistance. People who are visually impaired, a majority of whom are over the age of 65, are not well-served by conventional signage and wayfinding information in transit facilities such as complex, inter-modal stations and terminals. Many disabled travelers rely on expensive paratransit, driving up the cost to transportation agencies. Research is needed to develop and validate wayfinding systems that help seniors or disabled persons travel with confidence in indoor and outdoor transit facilities, including intermodal facilities. Great strides have been made toward providing rail and bus passenger vehicles and facilities that are accessible to travelers with mobility impairments, thus providing more cost-effective service to these travelers than paratransit. However, wayfinding information is either unavailable or not sufficiently effective for many seniors and people with mobility, cognitive or visual impairments to enable them to use regular transit, especially when the routes they would like to travel involve travel through multi-modal facilities. Human factors research is needed on two interrelated topics: 1) Narrative routes and real-time location information; and 2) Tactile pathways. The expense of human factors research suggests that the issue of accessible wayfinding for transit facilities be divided into two projects which could be funded separately. Ideally, the two projects would proceed simultaneously, but they could also be done sequentially. The argument in favor of a simultaneous approach is that narrative routes and real-time location information can be simpler if tactile pathways are provided, and that tactile pathways alone do not enable advance planning for traveling in transit facilities. These are complementary treatments. If they can be developed and evaluated concurrently, there will be efficiencies in use of human resources and in the cost of human factors research.


The objective of this research will be to produce guidance for transit planners, based on the results of the research, that will help to ensure that any wayfinding system provided for senior or disabled travelers will provide the information they need, in formats that they can understand and use to travel independently and confidently, in both simple and complex indoor and outdoor transit stations and terminals.

The product of this research will be guidance on the technical specifications and installation of tactile pathways or guidetiles such as are common in transit facilities throughout Europe and developed urban areas in Asia and Latin America, and which are now in limited use in, at least, Seattle, Washington, and in some transit properties in California.

A Guidebook for Accessible Wayfinding in Transit Facilities will include (from the related project) guidance on making information available on transit websites accessible to and usable by seniors and disabled travelers, recommendations for structure and content of “narrative maps,” and criteria for selecting real-time location technology, as well as (from this project) guidance on technical specifications for and installation of tactile pathways.

A Final Report will present methods and outcomes of human factors research conducted under this project.


US transit agencies are looking to best practices worldwide to make it easier for seniors or travelers with disabilities to travel with acceptable levels of comfort and confidence, thereby increasing the use of fixed-route transit. There is considerable interest, especially in California, in providing tactile guide tiles for wayfinding assistance in transit stations (Daniel Levy, ADA compliance, Los Angeles METRO, Personal Communication, January 28, 2014; Linda Myers, Orientation and Mobility specialist, San Francisco, Personal Communication, February 7, 2015). Although research in Japan (Sawai et al. 1998) demonstrated the optimal geometry for tactile guidance surfaces in Japan, there has been no research to determine optimal installation for use in the US. The required installation of detectable warnings in the US (ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities 2010) , (truncated domes, internationally known as tactile walking surface indicators—attention fields), based on research by Bentzen et al. (1994) is very different than that in European and Asian countries, although the surface geometry is similar. It is likely that optimal installation of guide tiles will also be different. Consistency in tactile cues is extremely important to visually impaired travelers. Research-based guidelines for installation of tactile guide tiles in the US are urgently needed, lest installations across different systems or stations become quite different, thereby rendering them unreliable guides for travelers who are visually impaired.

Related Research:

There has been no research on the installation of tactile guide tiles for wayfinding in the US. Tactile guide tiles are common in large transit stations in Japan, in some other developed parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries. ISO 23599:2012, Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators provides technical specifications for tactile pathways (“guidance surfaces”) and examples of the use of tactile pathways in transit stations based on accepted practice outside North America. However, the use of detectable warnings (called attention fields internationally) is quite different in transit stations in the US and Canada than in other countries, and it is likely that the installation of tactile pathways in the US and Canada will also need to be different to serve the needs of transit riders as well as transit providers.


The proposed research is focused on determining optimal technical specifications for and installation of tactile pathways in transit facilities. The following major tasks are envisioned.

4.1 Based on the state-of-the art report and results of the survey on wayfinding needs of senior and disabled travelers completed under the related project, implement tactile pathways complying with ISO 23599:2012, _Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators _ in the same two settings used in the related project: a portion of a transit system including relatively simple indoor and outdoor multimodal facilities (such as a light rail station located in a median, or an underground station served by one line, and a related bus stop), and a relatively large and complex multi-modal station

4.2 Conduct human factors testing in that portion of the transit system, with at least two groups of participants (senior and visually impaired), with each individual traveling to destinations using the tactile pathways plus customized narrative route information accessed by their own web-capable technology or by smartphone or telephone

4.3 Conduct focus groups with each group to refine the recommendations for selecting and presenting wayfinding information.

4.4 Analyze results of human factors testing and focus groups

4.5 Prepare Final Report and Guidebook for Accessible Wayfinding in Transit Facilities including guidance developed through the related project.


Implementation of accessible wayfinding systems in transit facilities, with particular attention to making multi-modal wayfinding easier, will support increased livability in urban and suburban environments for senior or disabled travelers, providing them with greater opportunity to participate in social, economic , medical, educational and spiritual activities. Guidelines resulting from this research could be the basis for an APTA Standards Recommended Practice document related to both accessibility and mobility management by encouraging the most effective and cost-effective use of existing and emerging wayfinding resources to provide customized service to senior or disabled users of fixed-route transit services.

Sponsoring Committee:AME50, Accessible Transportation and Mobility
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Billie Louise (Beezy) Bentzen, PhD, Director of Research Accessible Design for the Blind, 25 Village Lane Berlin, MA 01503 978 838 2307 bbentzen@accessforblind.org www.accessforblind.org
Source Info:ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities. Effective November 29, 2006. Accessed from: http://www.access-board.gov/attachments/article/1417/ADAdotstandards.pdf. Accessed on: March 16, 2015
Bentzen, B.L.; Nolin, T.L.; Easton, R.D.;Desmarais, L. & Mitchell, P.A. (1994). Detectable warning surfaces: Detectability by individuals with visual impairments, and safety and negotiability for individuals with physical impairments. Final report DOT-VNTSC-FTA-94-4 and FTA-MA-06-0201-94-2. U. S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and Project ACTION, National Easter Seal Society.
ISO 23599:2012, Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators Paratransit Peer Report - January 2011. New York City Transit. Department of Buses Paratransit Division, Brooklyn, NY
Sawai, H., Takato, J., & Tauchi, M. (1998). Quantitative measurements of tactile contrast between dot and bar tiles used to constitute tactile pathway for the blind and visually impaired independent travelers. In E. Sifferman, M. Williams, & B. Blasch (Eds.), Proceedings of the 9th International Mobility Conference.Decatur, GA: Veterans Administration, Rehabilitation Research and Development Center.
Transit Sustainability Project, Draft Paratransit Final Report, (2011). Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates , San Francisco, California
Date Posted:05/18/2015
Date Modified:07/07/2015
Index Terms:Wayfinding, Aged, Human factors engineering, Multimodal transportation, Real time information, Mobility, Intermodal terminals, Transportation disadvantaged persons,
Cosponsoring Committees:ACH40, Human Factors of Infrastructure Design and Operations; AP045, Passenger Intermodal Facilities
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Safety and Human Factors
Transportation (General)
Terminals and Facilities

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