Northern Virginia Council of the Blind, Old Dominion Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the American Council of the Blind

Audible Pedestrian Signals

Through legislation and good sense, pedestrians at busy intersections have been aided by visual walk/don’t walk signals. Plus, when people need a little more time than is allotted by the regular traffic patterns, walkers can press a button which allows extra time for them to get across the street before the light changes.

But for blind and visually impaired individuals, the usual visual cues are of no use. Part of our mobility training is to listen for traffic noise and, by that, judge when it is safe to cross. In many cases, that is sufficient. But not all blind and visually impaired individuals have perfect hearing. Further, weather and other surrounding conditions may make listening for safe crossing imperfect at best and dangerous at worst.

We have been asking for audible signals to be phased in to every intersection that already has a visual walk signal. At confusing intersections, we ask specifically that an audible signal be installed as soon as possible. At other intersections, we ask that audible signals be installed as the intersection’s signals get upgraded. The cost for this renovation is approximately $5000 per intersection. Clearly, the cost would be least if the work is done at the same time as the regular signaling is upgraded.

And yet, just recently, the signals (including the visual pedestrian walk signals) at Arlington Blvd. and Jaguar Trail were upgraded, but no audible ones were installed. Currently, audible signals are only being put in at intersections where a person has specifically asked for one. Mostly this is a matter of money. The way current budgets are being allocated, intersections can be renovated without the audible signals even though visual signaling has been installed. The current system would be fine if we traveled by the same routes to the same destinations all the time. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), we are adventurous enough to go where we go depending on the activity we want to participate in, not on whether we have been there before.

There seem to be two different solutions. Either intersection renovation budget funds could be allocated in a way that audible signaling is automatically installed as a natural part of the project. This would mean that, with the same amount of money, the renovation of intersections would happen at a slightly slower pace. Or, more budget funds could be allocated for modernizing signaling so that the whole job could be done at once. So far, the people in charge of signal maintenance still don’t think of adding audible signaling as the whole job. Please help us by bringing the situation to the attention of your representative to the county government or municipality and to your representative to the state legislature. Our well-being and perhaps our lives depend on it.

Thank you for your interest and help.

Doug Powell President ( 2923 Pine Spring Rd. Falls Church, VA 22042; 703-573-5107, 571-438-7750 (cell)