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Pedestrian Signals Are Needed 24/7

My name is Marcia Cummings and I lived, until May 5, 2009, in the city of Toronto, Ontario. I travelled throughout Toronto using a white cane as my mobility aid, as I am totally blind. I made use of the many accessible pedestrian signal-equipped intersections in Toronto, the majority of which were configured to operate in tandem with their visual counterparts. As a result, they were always active, giving anyone crossing a safe experience at any time of day or night, without any need for personal intervention.

When I moved to Huntsville with my fiancé, Michael Yale, I discovered there were only two intersections equipped with accessible pedestrian signals—at Main Street and Brunel Road, and at Main Street and Centre Street. The first thing I noticed about these signals was that they were not always active; they had to be activated by someone finding the pole, which emitted a beep, and then pushing and holding a button.

There was no information to this effect on the pole that I could find, and it was only through word-of-mouth that I learned how to achieve equal safety when crossing these intersections. As a cane traveller, having to activate the signals puts me at a disadvantage, as it takes me off-course from the street corner.

However, the fact that these signals will not activate at all after 11 p.m. is of even more concern to me. I was nearly hit on Saturday evening, Aug. 8, when I crossed Main at Centre after an evening at the Algonquin Theatre. There was no way for me to know the status of the light, and therefore I was not expecting the car travelling along Main Street when I was just over halfway across. Luckily, I was able to get out of the way. I actually believe it was before 11 p.m. when I made the crossing.

I have been told that the reason for this lack of service 24/7 was due to a Huntsville noise bylaw. I have read said bylaw, and would like to point out that the noise bylaw does not allow safety to be compromised.

Since Huntsville's bylaws already grant exemptions for religious, traditional and festive activities, requesting an exemption for the accessible pedestrian signals, which promote and ensure public safety, should not be seen as unreasonable.

Time restrictions placed on the signals' operation, as they currently stand, contravene basic human rights of freedom of activity and safety of travel. Everyone has the right to travel safely at whatever hour of the day suits him/her, and that hour should not be restricted by unsafe legislation.

If the red and green lights ceased to function at 11 p.m. (or earlier), no one would allow this situation to continue--they would not be able to travel safely and would demand the lights be active 24 hours a day. If all town ramps were rolled up at 11 p.m. (or earlier), people in wheelchairs or those using walkers, would no longer be able to travel safely, and again, they would demand the ramps be available 24 hours a day. The red and green traffic lights and all ramps are available 24 hours a day. I am demanding, therefore, that my safety, and that of everyone who uses the accessible pedestrian signals, be likewise unrestricted by time of day, so that we can also travel safely whenever we choose.

I have been told several times that the current operation scheme was approved by the "user group" a few years ago. However, I have learned through discussions that many members of the "user group" felt as if they had little or no choice if they wanted accessible pedestrian signals. After several years under the present system, many others now favour extending the service to 24/7.

Reprinted from the Huntsville Forester, Ontario, August 19, 2009.

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