October 29, 2002
As the stay-at-home mom of two small boys and the president of the Rock County
chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, I have many
opportunities to travel with my cane each day. I walk and use public
transportation to do errands and to take my sons to activities. I do so safely
by relying on my hearing to determine when to cross streets, and on my cane arc
to avoid objects in my path and to tell when I am approaching a street. I
strongly oppose the current draft of federal guidelines, which would mandate
installation of detectable warnings at all intersections and the installation of
audible traffic signals, (ats) at all intersections which have walk signals. I
oppose these guidelines for three reasons: these signals and warnings will
create new problems for blind travelers, they are a needless expense, and they
will keep blind people from achieving our goals as equal members of society.
Detectable warnings and audible traffic signals will not make it easier or safer
for blind people to travel. Instead, they will create many new challenges. I
often pull my baby in a stroller, and doing so over raised detectable warnings
would be very difficult. These raised warnings become slippery in winter
weather, a concern to those of us who live in a state where the winter never
seems to end. These raised warnings can be a danger when an edge comes lose and
can catch on a heel, sending a person sprawling into the street. It is easy to
tell where a sidewalk ends and the street begins at almost all intersections. My
cane finds a curb or sloping wheelchair ramp without difficulty. In rare cases
where there is no slope, I can see that a detectable warning might be needed. In
these cases, blind members of the community can request detectable warnings.
This is already being done under current access guidelines.
Audible traffic signals would also cause needless problems for blind travelers.
I rely on my hearing for much of my travel information. Travel has never been
easy for me, so I need to concentrate. I listen carefully to the traffic at
intersections to determine the safest time to cross. The constant beeping from
locator tones at two poles near me and other poles around the intersection would
be very distracting. This beeping and the sound of the signal itself could
prevent me from hearing a speeding car running a red light. Drivers do not watch
for pedestrians. They often rush through a light, even if the walk sign or an
audible signal is working. A signal cannot guarantee that it is truly safe to
cross. I need to hear what is going on, not a symphony of beeps. These signals
would only add to the many distractions such as blaring radios and honking
horns. The constant beeping of locator tones and the beeping signals would
camouflage the noises blind travelers need to hear to precede safely across the
These signals and warnings are a needless expense. The money that would be used
to install them could be spent in many other ways, which would help blind people
travel more safely and become more productive members of society. Money would be
better spent teaching blind people to travel safely without relying on
technology or raised tiles. Money could also be used to give job training and
assistance to help combat the 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people.
Relying on a raised bump and a beeping pole to cross streets will not help a
blind person get or keep a job. The staggering cost of these poles and warnings
is not justified. It will not solve the very real problems of unemployment and
poor travel training for blind people.
Finally, these signals and warnings will keep blind people from achieving their
goals as equal members of society. I am a property owner and a taxpaying
citizen. I teach my children that although I may do some things differently as a
blind person, such as use a cane, I am still an equal member of society with the
same rights and responsibilities as sighted people. I vote, donate to charity,
and help friends when they need me. The cost of audible traffic signals and
detectable would be more than higher taxes. They are a glaring symbol of
inequality. They give the impression that blind people need special concessions
to survive in our society. Installing these signals and warnings will create a
dangerous slide of more special concessions and supposed aides for blind people.
When I return to the workforce, I want a prospective employer to look at me as
an equal who can do a job, not as a helpless person who cannot travel safely
without a beeping pole or raised tile for assistance.
Blind people are intelligent enough to decide when an intersection is truly
dangerous. If an intersection poses real dangers for blind travelers, the blind
of the community can work with the city to make this intersection safer. Every
intersection does not need special signals and warnings. Blind people are not
helpless and needy. We are intelligent, equal members of society, and need to be
treated as such. Audible traffic signals and detectable warnings will cause many
needless problems for blind travelers, needless expense for taxpayers, and keep
us from achieving equal membership in American society.
Jennifer Wenzel, President
Rock County Chapter
National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin
I have written comments for myself on this issue, but would now like to bring
the concerns of our chapter to your attention. We are concerned with the cost of
detectable warning and audible traffic signals, and with the challenges they
will present to us as blind travelers.
Our city of over 50 thousand has 75 intersections with pedestrian signals. It is
estimated that installing audible traffic signals would cost $4000 per
intersection. This means that it would cost taxpayers in our city $300,000 to
install these signals. There are approximately 300 intersections in the city. It
is estimated that it would cost $2400 per intersection to install detectable
warnings. This would mean that it would cost our city $720,000 to install these
warnings. Taxpayers would pay a total of $1,020,000 to install the proposed
signals and warnings. The above mentioned costs do not include installation or
maintenance. Our property taxes are already high, and many taxpayers could not
withstand this substantial new cost.
Our city has many other expenses that need urgent attention. We currently have
two fire stations without ambulances. Sidewalks are not present along many major
streets. Both of these concerns are more pressing to us as blind members of this
community, as well as to the general citizenry of Janesville. As taxpayers, we
do not wish to see our money spent on these needless amenities when we can
better use our money to help the community meet other important needs.
We are also concerned that the warnings and signals will create more problems
than they will solve. The warnings will be a hazard during winter months and
during spring and fall rains when they will be slippery. Their raised edges can
be a tripping hazard. They will be difficult for those who use walkers or pull
strollers to negotiate. Audible traffic signals will create needless noise,
which will mask the traffic noises we need to hear. The constant beeping from
locator tones and the erratic beeping of the walk signal will make it hard to
hear a quiet car which might decide to run a red light. Cars are becoming
quieter as drivers become more careless, and we need to hear cars, not beeping
to know if it is safe to cross. Some of our members wear hearing aids, and are
very concerned that the beeping as background noise will drown out the traffic
noise used to determine when to cross the street. Vibro/tactile signals would be
a much more reliable way for those with hearing issues to know when to cross.
This would allow them to have their hands on a vibrating arrow, not guess which
beep was the right one for crossing.
These audible traffic signals would make it much more difficult for blind
travelers to negotiate street crossings safely. They would not make us feel safe
or help us to travel more freely. They would create new dangers and put more
obstacles in the way of our safe independent travel.
Our membership decided by a unanimous vote to voice our concerns on this issue.
Below please find their names and addresses.
Mark and Melissa Riccobono
Dan and Jennifer Wenzel