October 29, 2002
Audible traffic signals cost a lot of money. Eight signals would be necessary
for a simple intersection. Detectible warnings also cost money. Some have
estimated billions of dollars. Blind people do not believe this is a good use of
The intersection next to my office would need ten to fourteen signals, and this
would make it more dangerous for the blind. The streets come from five
directions, and there are at least five islands. There is no crosswalk on the
north side of the intersection, but this would not be indicated by bird calls or
beepers. There is a lot of turning traffic, and buzzers and beepers would make
it harder to hear the turning traffic. The traffic provides the best information
for blind people. The intersection next to my office is a difficult one, but
blind people cross it when they need to.
I have recently spoken to several people who visited in Victoria, Canada. They
found the ATS's there both unclear and troublesome because they interfere with
normal traffic sounds. This is dangerous!
In Boise, Idaho there are currently 326 intersections with traffic signals. At
the prices I have been quoted it would cost more than 10 million dollars to
purchase ATS's for these signals. This may not include installation,
maintenance, or detectible warnings.
According to a study done in 1991 by the Institute of Traffic Engineering, there
are about 1.24 signaled intersections for every 1,000 of the population
nationwide. I could find no newer statistics, but new signal lights are being
installed as fast as the population increases. If you figure the U.S. population
at 270 million people, this would mean there are more than 334,000 signaled
crossings in the country. If you figure the cost of equipping each intersection
at between $30,000 and $40,000, the price tag approaches 11 billion dollars for
the country. That is between four and five times as much as an entire year's
federal appropriation for rehabilitation. This includes rehabilitation funds not
just for blind people but for all people with disabilities. Such an expenditure
would be far out of proportion to any value it could have.
Not long ago I was in San Diego walking along Pacific Highway downtown, and the
birds were trilling. I urged my sighted companion to cross the street when the
bird calls indicated we should go. He refused, saying the light was red. I
pointed out that the birds said: Go. He was horrified! "If you go, you'll get
killed!" he said. According to my friend the birds were set the opposite to the
traffic signals. Apparently maintenance had not been done. If I had been alone I
could have been in extreme danger. The lesson for me is not to rely on audible
signals if I can possibly hear the traffic. Traffic sounds cannot be wrong.
I have observed items bounce out of grocery carts and strollers when they were
pushed quickly over "humpy bumpy" slopes at exits at grocery stores. I have
observed women wearing high heels and people on crutches slip and lose their
balance on truncated domes. The blind do not wish to be the cause of making the
world less safe for others! There are far more blind seniors than younger
people, and they need secure footing, not humpy bumpy surfaces. If the slope at
a curb is one inch down to 12 inches across, it provides more than adequate
information to a blind person about where the crosswalk begins.
At a limited number of intersections safety for the blind might be improved by a
special signal. If so, it should be quiet! Vibrating signals in the shape of
arrows are available and can be mounted on poles thus providing information
about when to cross and which direction to go. They could be activated by a
button, so that only those who wish to use them do so. These would still cost
money, so they should be installed only at intersections which are difficult to
navigate by listening to the traffic sounds. It is important to consider that
they would not disturb a neighborhood with undesirable noise 24 hours a day. Do
you want to hear a bird or a beeper outside your bedroom or office window? Not
only would most people find this irksome, but they would blame the blind. They
might be charitable and sympathetic, but the blind want to be respected as
responsible citizens, not pitied because people think we cannot cross the
streets with other pedestrians. We all know that technology is changing rapidly.
The vibrating signals are newer than the audible signals. Because they add
information about direction, they are better, and the vibrating signals make it
possible to eliminate the excess noise.
In order not to waste money, city and county transportation departments must be
required to confer with knowledgeable blind people about difficult
intersections. Audible signals should be prohibited. Vibrating ones whould be
installed in consultation with the blind. Detectible warnings should be
installed only where the slope is 1 to 15 or less. We need city transit (buses
and trains)–many more than we now have and far worse than we need special
signals or detectible warnings.
When vibrating signals are to be used, a certain type of pole should be agreed
upon, and it should be located as close to the curb as possible, as close to the
crosswalk as possible, on the side away from crossing traffic. If there is no
crossing traffic, the right-hand side might be preferred. But if the pole is
distinctive, only a few seconds would be required to check both sides of the
I presented remarks similar to this letter in Portland. I have tried to clarify
what I said at the hearing. However, I repeat what I said in conclusion. I know
the Board and the staff have done a lot of work up to this point, but the
proposed regulations should not be adopted. Please redraft them. If I can be of
help, I would be glad to participate in any way you wish.