Crosswalk sounds for the blind rattle Cameron Village residents

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 8, 2013 

— City transportation officials have spent weeks tweaking volume levels on beeping crosswalk signals for the blind and visually impaired, following neighbors’ complaints that the noise is too loud.

Tom Jeffrey lives about a block from the crosswalk at Clark Avenue and Woodburn Road in Cameron Village. He and his wife have complained repeatedly to city officials and Councilman Russ Stephenson that the beeps are audible inside their home 24 hours a day.

“Please understand that we are not indifferent to the needs of visually disabled citizens,” he wrote in an email. “We simply believe very strongly that the 24/7 signals at Clark and Woodburn are substantially louder than is reasonably necessary, and probably louder than required by any code.”

Initially, city traffic crews agreed to turn the volume down. But the change prompted outcry from the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, which often takes students to Cameron Village to teach them about walking safely in an urban setting. Most intersections there have the audible crosswalk signals, though the school recently reported that several weren’t working or were too quiet to hear over traffic.

Mike Kennon, the city’s transportation operations manager, met with a representative from the school to set the lowest possible sound level under federal Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

“The audible signals must be set loud enough to be heard over daytime traffic,” Kennon wrote to the Jeffreys. “I understand your concern is primarily nighttime, but with the existing equipment, setting variable sound levels is not possible.”

Bruno Toffalo, who advocates for the blind and visually impaired in Raleigh, says the crosswalk sounds are key for helping the blind navigate city streets safely, though they also use other sound cues to determine when to cross.

“I have never heard a complaint about the loudness or their presence,” Toffalo said. “I think people are generally supportive of the idea.”

Kennon says the city installs the crosswalk sounds at the request of blind residents. The signals in Cameron Village will be replaced in the coming months with a newer model that he thinks will resolve the complaints.

While the current signals make beeping and chirping sounds around the clock, the new ones will be activated by a button. A voice will say “walk” and “don’t walk” only when someone pushes the button, and the volume will be lowered automatically at night.

“The ultimate solution is to upgrade the signal, and we are working as quickly as possible to complete this,” Kennon said.

Jeffreys says he doesn’t want to wait months for the beeping in his house to stop. He has requested that the city measure decibel levels at the intersection and compare them with any ADA-mandated levels. He also wants the speakers angled downward to keep sound from traveling far.

“I want to read the reason that that pedestrian signal will be the last sound I will hear tonight and the first sound I will hear tomorrow morning,” he wrote to Kennon.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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