October 17, 2002
Please convey my message of strong support for accessible pedestrian signals and
detectable warnings to all members of the Access Board and feel free to include
my comments on the web page with the many others that already appear there.
My first experience with mobility training occurred in 1964 when I learned to
travel in Seattle, Washington with a white cane and under the guidance of a
mobility instructor. In this way, many of us who are blind or visually impaired
have learned to negotiate the streets of our nation in relative safety.
My first experience with an accessible signal was a very loud bell on a busy
corner during mobility training period. I must say that I never became
comfortable with it, and found it of no value. I next encountered audible
signals in Salt Lake City many years ago. I was a visitor and did not stay long
enough to develop a comfort level with them either. During a trip to Prague with
my sighted husband, we were crossing a busy street when I heard a
woodpecker-type sound that started slowly and then doubled its speed. I said to
my husband in surprise, "They have accessible signals!" So unobtrusive were they
that he had not even noticed them in the midst of all the traffic sounds.
The fixed phase light cycle is becoming a thing of the past as intersections are
updated. Signals are being installed that use video cameras to "watch" the cars
approaching the intersection and adjusting the timing so as to best move traffic
with minimal delay. This has a profound influence on my ability to safely judge
traffic flow. When traffic is light, cars do not stop and then create a surge of
traffic. The light may change for only two cars to clear the intersection.
When I now hear the surge of parallel traffic, I must ask myself if I will have
time to clear the street before the signal changes giving the traffic on the
street I am crossing the "green light". Now, it is necessary to push a button to
tell the computer a pedestrian wants time to cross. The computer adjusts the
timing of the light cycle appropriately. The obvious problem is clear. If the
walk sign is not accessible, there is no way to know how long the parallel
traffic will have the "green light."
We have one accessible signal in our community, and there are many more
crossings that need one. My first reaction to it was disappointment because it
was distracting to me. First, I had to wait and listen to see just which noise
meant walk for which street. The additional information was nerve racking.
However, I realized the importance of it, and I persisted until I could feel
comfortable with processing the new information as well as that from the
familiar traffic sounds. Now it is very nice to arrive at the intersection and
push the button. I know right away if I have enough time to cross before the
change of the light. Things that are new to us are confusing at first just as
for anyone, but I have found that the added information from the signal is well
worth the extra effort it took me to accustom myself to the additional sounds.
As for vibrotactile buttons, some are not located near the curb. The time it
would take to travel from the button to the curb would use up the walk phase
entirely. Also, they are touted for people who are deaf! One must remember that
they are not an indication that the street is safe to cross. They are only an
indication that the walk sign is illuminated! If a person is truly deaf, his
limited or absent hearing would make it difficult or impossible for him to cross
safely because of the inability to judge traffic sounds.
As for detectable warnings, I have found myself in subway stations in various
places where I found the sounds around me to be very disconcerting. I would
greatly have appreciated some way of knowing how close I might be to the edge of
the platform. Similarly, there is a street crossing in our community where the
sidewalk and street meet so seamlessly that there is nothing under foot to give
an indication that I have entered the street. There is no color change between
the side walk and the street. Even my dogs have had difficulty learning to stop
for this intersection. I have frequently completed a crossing at this
intersection before I realized I had entered the street.
I have participated in a survey concerning APS but I do not consider myself an
expert on the best type to install. Studies are being done to determine what
signal types are best. Instinctively, I would favor a signal that emits a
locator tone on the push button because this would give me the knowledge that a
button exists to be pressed, even in an unfamiliar area. I understand that the
noise level of such a button can be adjusted so as to be heard only a few feet
from the source. This would not be loud enough to annoy residents of the area or
be mistaken for accessible signals at other corners a block away.
Thank you for providing a forum for me to share my concerns. If my comments have
caused one person to reconsider a negative stance about accessible signals and
detectable warnings, the time to elaborate on this subject will have been well
worth the effort.
Thank you once again for taking time to read and compile the information on this
very critical topic.