For pedestrians who cannot see or have limited vision, navigating the chaotic sidewalks and crosswalks of New York City was dicey enough before the pandemic. But the outbreak, blind people say, has made crossing the city’s streets even riskier and more harrowing.
It has reduced the flow of cars and trucks at times, leaving streets in some neighborhoods as placid as suburban lanes.
That may sound like a blessing for blind New Yorkers like Terence Page. But, in fact, the opposite is true. The normal roar of traffic provides clues — often the only ones — about when it is time to venture into a crosswalk.
“Quiet is not good for blind people,” Mr. Page said as he swept his long green cane across the sidewalk along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, trying to locate the curb at West 23rd Street.
Mr. Page traversed that avenue with confidence, because the crossing is equipped with an audible signal that tells pedestrians when they have the go-ahead to stride across the pavement. The vast majority of the city’s 13,200 crossings are not.
As a result, a federal judge has found that the city has failed to fully protect some of its most vulnerable residents.
The judge ruled in October that the “near-total absence” of those devices — known as Accessible Pedestrian Signals — violated the civil rights of blind people by denying them equal access to the city’s crosswalks.
The pandemic has also hampered another source of help. When in doubt, blind people often can rely on other pedestrians to offer guidance or an elbow to clasp. The coronavirus has made fellow travelers less inclined to get so close, Mr. Page said.
“There are less people who want to help you or even touch you,” he said.
To make matters more challenging, the sidewalks and streets are filled with new obstacles: dining tables surrounded by makeshift fences and tents.