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Crossing Signals Urged For Blind

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Orillia Packet & Times, May 16, 2007.

Picture: Laura and her black lab venturing out on busy roads

It's an art--and a dangerous one at that.

Laura Joyce, who is completely blind, has become adept at listening for the surge in traffic to decide when it's safe to cross the street.

Sometimes, however, her black Labrador ventures out a little too soon and, with the hum of bus engines at the corner of Mississaga and Peter streets in downtown Orillia, crossing becomes a real gamble.

"I can't hear the surge of traffic above the idling buses," said Joyce who, at 38, has been blind for nearly 21 years.

That's why Joyce said the city should install audible pedestrian signals at key intersections downtown.

"It's a safety issue," she said during an interview this week.

On Monday, elected officials considered a report from public works detailing options and costs for the signals, which are already part of many urban landscapes in Canada.

Orillia is behind the eight ball, Coun. Don Evans told the Packet & Times.

"We think about Orillia as being a progressive community. What better evidence of that could there be than making sure that all our citizens benefit from what it has to offer?"

Though not enthusiastically embraced during Monday night's council committee meeting, a report on the audible signals received positive feedback, Evans said.

Public works estimated it would cost between $25,100 and $29,600 to install the devices, depending on the type of intersection.

But council shouldn't be "scared off" by possible costs, Coun. Wayne Gardy said during the meeting: "I think it is probably a good idea for those who need it."

One type of audible signal employs a small speaker on a traffic pole and emits a cuckoo/peep-peep sound for north/south and east/west crossings.

Another uses a push-button system and a series of informational prompts to help the pedestrian cross.

"It's time that we move forward with this," Coun. Joe Fecht said, pointing out more and more Orillians will rely on the audible signals as their eyes worsen with age.

The city has 33 signalized intersections, but Joyce suggested an audible signal at the Peter and Mississaga crossroads would be a good start.

There are at least 375 visually impaired people in town who would benefit from that, she said.

Public works contended retrofitting intersections with audible signals would be too expensive unless the work were carried out with an overall signal upgrade.

Fecht suggested a multi-year plan to install the signals should be presented at budget time.

Joyce said she plans to write a letter asking for an opportunity to make a deputation on the issue.