Urban Braille

Urban Braille is an accessible sidewalk system based on barrier-free design principles.

It is designed to serve the needs of:

  • The blind
  • The visually impaired
  • The elderly
  • The infirm
  • Users of mobility
  • Parents with strollers
  • The general public

Urban Braille is a leading edge, user driven approach to planning and design of public spaces. It uses 10 standard icons incorporated or imprinted into concrete sidewalks. For Urban Braille to be effective, it must be a logical, continuous path of travel from A to B as part of a coherent and planned network. Urban Braille is more expensive to install than standard concrete sidewalk construction. 

The City conducted a comprehensive review of the existing Urban Braille system in Hamilton including the financial impacts of incorporating Urban Braille into the standards for all new site plans and all retrofitted streetscapes in the City of Hamilton.

The review concluded that the City should consider installing Urban Braille in:

  • Downtown Dundas
  • Downtown Stoney Creek
  • Ancaster Village Core
  • Downtown Waterdown
  • Binbrook Village Core

The report also concluded that portions of private property with a semi-public character or function on a case-by-case basis were should be considered for future installation of Urban Braille.

Areas meeting the following criteria are considered a priority for installing Urban Braille

  • Demographic areas with higher percentage of physically or visually challenged pedestrians 
  • High pedestrian populations.
  • Serviced by local transit or having a transit node.
  • Compact development.

Urban Braille should be implemented from major entrances of City-owned buildings to the nearest transportation area. Buildings where Urban Braille should be considered include:

  • Administrative buildings (i.e. City Hall, municipal offices)
  • Arenas
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Recreation and Community Centres

Urban Braille system elements

The visual channel is blocked for the blind and visually impaired, so we can use an alternate sensory channel such as the tactile channel.  Tactile information can be located within a 1.5 metre (4.9 feet) wide wheelchair path with handrails. Any street furniture should be located outside the wheelchair path.

The blind and/or visually impaired can distinguish four to five materials and a variety of textures with their hand or cane. Two textures such as smooth and grooved can produce up to 10 distinct clues or letters of urban braille located on sidewalks and other horizontal surfaces.

The following information is communicated through the Urban Braille system:

  • Directional change – north, south, east, west
  • Hierarchy of pathways - major path or minor path
  • Entrance to buildings
  • Sidewalk and road boundaries
  • Ramps or raised pedestrian crossings or intersections
  • Other information such as underpasses, social activities, building information, address or business information

Hamilton's Urban Braille system sample design criteria and guidelines

The following design criteria were used for installation of the Urban Braille system on King Street East (between Wellington and James Streets), and King William Street (between Catharine and Victoria Streets).

  • Main pathway acts as an unobstructed path for wheelchair and scooter users to by-pass each other and other sidewalk users without obstructions
  • All obstructions  such as light poles, hydrants, tree grates, flower beds and benches are outside the limits of the main pathway.
  • “Clear way” is a minimum 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) wide, or wider where possible, measured inside the shore lines
  • Distance between shore line and building face varies
  • Regular concrete colour
  • Textured bands provide clear “tactile” direction on intersections
  • Textured bands are located perpendicular to and between the shore lines of “clear way” at the start and end of driveway approaches’ at corners, parallel to and behind the curb within the limit of wheelchair ramps; perpendicular to roadway on either side of the grey coloured portion of the name plate; and perpendicular to the roadway in front of decision node symbols
  • Regular coloured concrete
  • Bus stop detection strip helps blind users recognize the proximity of bus stop or shelter
  • Strip is 0.45 metres (18 inches) wide, coloured and stamped with a double row of soldier course brink patterning
  • Dark grey coloured concrete
  • Oriented perpendicular to roadway, extending from outer shore line, through “clear” way, through boulevard where present, to curb line
  • Location is subject to design of bus stop area 
  • Indicate locations in “clear way” with more than one possible route of travel
  • Symbol is 0.6 metre (2 feet) textured diamond
  • Regular coloured concrete
  • Lines are 0.25 metres (9 inches) wide or equivalent
  • Dark grey coloured concrete or other suitable material  such as granite
  • Cobblestone grey or equivalent colour of concrete
  • Stamped with a single row of soldier course brick patterning or inserted into concrete if other materials are used
  • Located at all corners to indicate intersecting streets
  • Indicate name of street perpendicular to path of travel, lettering oriented to be read while facing intersecting street
  • Approximate size pf 0.61 metres (2 feet) wide grey colour, with a 0.25 metre (9 inch) textured band  of white concrete on two sides
  • Letters 0.2 metres (8 inches) high recessed and highlighted with black font style to be Bookman Old Style or equivalent
  • Score lines to lead from name plates to ramp
  • Meet current City standards for accessibility
  • At sidewalk grade with a 0.1 metre (4 inch) high rolled concrete edge
  • Same colour as adjacent concrete
  • Light shale grey coloured concrete or equivalent
  • Indicate areas with obstacles such as patios, benches, flower beds and bike rings
  • Delineated as the sidewalk between outer shoreline and curb face namely, a separate area from ”clear way”
  • Regular coloured concrete
  • May contain obstacles such as bus shelters, lights, trees, traffic signs or parking meters