Those Bumps On The Sidewalk Are There For A Good Reason

If you're reading this article while walking on the sidewalk, then first—watch where you're going. Second, look down at your feet when you reach the next crosswalk. Chances are, you'll see raised dots, bright colors, or maybe even rectangular grooves. Who doesn't like a pop of color or some traction after an ice storm? Well, that's not actually their purpose. When it comes to these design elements, there's more than meets the eye.

What Are Those Bumps For, Anyway?

Despite what you might have thought, the bumps you see, or feel, on the sidewalk near intersections are not there to provide traction. (It's easy to assume that during an icy winter!) They were implemented to warn people with visual impairments when they're about to reach a dropped curb. And those bright, contrasting colors? Not everyone with impaired vision is completely blind, and bright colors can help guide partially sighted people. When the "tactile pavement," as these sidewalk designs are referred to, is red, for example, that typically means it's facing a crosswalk with traffic lights.

These sidewalk designs are also made with other disabilities, such as arthritis, in mind. If you have, say, arthritis in your knees, walking over uneven surfaces can be aggravating, so designers try not to over-do the tactile paving.

Keep The Bold Colors

In an attempt to be more aesthetically appealing, some cities, like London, are transforming the designs of these markers, and not necessarily for the better. Instead of bright colors, for example, they're opting for more neutral shades of gray.

In a video with YouTuber Tom Scott, partially-sighted Richard Homes from the Royal National Institute of Blind People explains that the problem with these more neutral colors is that they're harder for visually impaired people to see. "People can find themselves in the road—not knowing they're in the road—because those essential clues aren't there," Homes explains. The guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces from the UK's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is literally 100 pages long, but Homes says their importance can't be overstated. So next time, you find yourself walking on a bumpy, bright sidewalk — now you know why.

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Written by Curiosity Staff January 23, 2017

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