Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dots Mean Danger

I feel the earth move under my feet-
and when I feel the dots through the soles of my shoes, I know the trail is changing...

Dots don't mean danger really, but they do suggest great change in terrain. Be it a turn in the walkway or a flight of stairs, the dots warn walkers of changes ahead. Call it the death card of pedestrian existence: you've come this far and great change is imminent.

What am I talking about? The warning blind sidewalk, of course.

Hengtong go-ahead blind sidewalk and warning blind sidewalk have the advantages of combustion resistance, slip prevention, wear resistance, static prevention and easy laying.

What's more, they can be found all over Seoul. Quite literally, actually. Upon arrival, I naively assumed that these tiles, which are laid side-by-side to form a trail down the center of every major city sidewalk and metro station, were a form of divider for what can become heavy pedestrian traffic.

Interestingly, these markers changed in texture from those with four long, raised areas (which could invite forward progress by acting as runners when placed one in front of the other) to those covered with raised dots. The dotted tiles were also often laid side-by-side, and usually in conjunction with the runner tiles in some way. Sometimes the dots were not adjacent to the other tiles at all. I once found a single dot tile in a stairwell landing. There were no other tiles--not dots nor runners--in the building at all.

Try as I might, I can't claim a bit of genius in figuring out that these runners and dots are actually trail for the blind (Is it okay if I don't call them go-aheads and warnings? That's not very visual). A friend told me what they were. And I think a friend told her. Regardless, it's the truth. And these dots are not random.

Above: Dots warn subway riders (the seeing as well as the blind) not to stand too close to the edge of the platform.

Below: Runners lead the way to two metro exits. A group of dotted tiles at the intersection warns of a turn to the left and to the right.

Sometimes the tiles making up the trail are yellow and sometimes they are white. I've even seen pink dots with triangular cuts of black dots wedged into them. This rare aesthetic aspect of such trails may be to engage the sighted in the blind sidewalk experience. If nothing else, it conforms nicely to my vision of the textures of Seoul. In the photo below you see runners in white, and dots, warning of a staircase on the right and the subway boarding dock on the left, in yellow.

Finally, some tiles are just different. At points throughout the city and throughout the metro system one finds circles, not runners. Like those in the photo below, the go-ahead tiles consist of four arcs placed to make a circle. There is a dot in the center of this circle, but the dot is only one dot and the dot is a bit larger than those on a warning tile. All the same, these alternative runner tiles are accompanied by dot tiles to warn of change.

Whether it be to warn of a turn in the flow of traffic, a ledge or a staircase, a raised grate in the sidewalk, or a precariously placed vending machine in the hallway (yes, it happens), dots mean danger. Dots mean pay attention because things are changing.

And dots, I've found, are everywhere.

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