The History of Tactile Paving
Learn all about Tenji Blocks, better known as tactile paving.
Have you ever noticed those bumpy areas on a sidewalk? They’re near crosswalks or where a sidewalk meets a parking lot. Those are Tenji blocks, or tactile paving. And they do a lot more than add traction.
Seiichi Miyake invented tactile paving in 1967. He’s an inventor from Okayama, Japan. Miyake had a friend who had a visual impairment, and he wanted to help his friend get around town easier.
Miyake came up with the idea for texture on the sidewalk that a visually impaired person could detect with either their cane or through the soles of their feet.
The ones we see most often are the little bumps on a curb cut, where sidewalks angle down to the road. Those bumps, called truncated domes, are sometimes molded right into the concrete. Sometimes they are plastic or a cast-iron mold set into the concrete when it's poured.
These domes tell the visually impaired about a possible hazard or danger. That's why you can find them where sidewalks meet roads or parking lots. Another place you can find them is at train or trolley stops. That yellow stripe at the edge of the platform needs to let everyone, even those who can’t see, where the edge is.
In some areas, you will see a few rows of long bars or strips. These are gaining popularity in the U.S. In other parts of the world, like Japan, people use them to find public transportation from important places like hospitals, schools, or government buildings.
America requires tactile paving in two places: curb cuts and rail platforms. Curb cuts are the ramps where a sidewalk turns into crosswalk to get from one side of a road to another. Some cut-throughs, where a raised island is in the middle of a crosswalk, also have tactile paving.
Rail platforms that don’t have a physical barrier require tactile paving. In most cases, when at the edge of a rail platform, the paving is yellow to also serve as a warning to sighted people.
There was no single day that the use of tactile paving started. As mentioned earlier, Miyake invented it in 1967. However, it was mostly used in Japan at the time. It wasn’t until the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, when every venue in the games used tactile paving, that it was seen on a wide basis out of Japan. In 1991, the U.S. required tactile paving at train platforms. It wasn’t until 2001 that they became required in new or replaced sidewalks.
If it wasn’t clear by now, the reason for these is to help the visually impaired. But they serve other purposes too: sighted people can also benefit from them by helping them realize an area might be dangerous, teaching little kids that the bumps mean we have to stop and watch out.
So, if you see someone using a cane to follow the lines, or maybe they are paying extra attention to where their feet are landing, give them a little extra space, they might not see you.
Although tactile paving is designed to help people with visual impairments, it doesn’t mean you can’t use them too. If you’re in a different country and don’t know the language well, the line style paving will let you know where transportation or important buildings are. And these types of places often have people who can quickly help.