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New Crossing Signals Make Vancouver Debut

Editor's Note: Editors Note: The following article is reprinted from the Vancouver Sun, April 24, 2000.

If you take a stroll around East Broadway and Glen and get to within a few metres of any of the four corners, you'll hear a low-pitched sound that repeats at regular intervals. As you get nearer any of the four light standards, you'll notice the sound getting slightly louder. If your hearing is acute enough, the sound should lead you right to the push-button for the pedestrian-activated traffic signal. This is the latest technology designed to make the city a little more accessible for the visually impaired, blind and deaf.

This new audible device helps someone visually impaired or blind, to find the button by sound, said Rob Sleath, chairman of Advocates for Sight Impaired Consumers. Most people simply wont grope around looking for the push-button. Its embarrassing. Instead, they'll ignore it and read the traffic and cross at a break.

With the existing audible devices, an intersection gets flooded with sound from a speaker mounted high on the corner light standard.

At some locations, the constant noise can greatly aggravate people who live or work nearby. Vancouver has about 150 of the old style audible devices, more than any other Canadian city. The city's first was installed in November 1970 at the site of the former CNIB at Main and 36th.

The new tactile pedestrian indicators, the first of their kind in the country, are much less aurally intrusive than the older models. One major reason is that the devices speaker is located on the traffic side of the grey and white box, directing all sounds into the pedestrian crossing. Once a blind or visually impaired person locates and presses the push-button, it makes a sound to indicate that it has been successfully activated. When the traffic signal changes, the low-level sound used to locate the push-button changes to the recognised North American standard: at this intersection, a cuckoo sound for north/south (at east/west crossings, the standard sound is a chirp-chirp).

It decreases the number of complaints that come from people living adjacent or who work next door to them, said Sleath, who worked with the city on installing the new pedestrian indicators. What we would like to see the city do is recognise the value of this newer technology and start to use it in more and more locations.

The devices also have a raised and slightly detached black arrow that points in the correct direction to travel. When the pedestrian signal is activated, the arrow vibrates telling a deaf and blind person that it is safe to cross.

As an added bonus, the devices can also be programmed to speak a short phrase of up to 16 seconds, such as Crossing Broadway and Glen. If an intersection had an unusual feature such as a centre median, for example, that warning could be programmed into the device. During the pilot project, none of the four audible devices at Broadway and Glen will include this feature; sound levels are also undergoing adjustment. The units have a microphone mounted higher on the light standard that adjusts the sound level to the ambient noise. The tactile pedestrian indicators are manufactured by Polara Engineering in Fullerton, Calif. (Http:// They cost $870 each. (The older units, $500 each.)

The new audible devices were installed at Broadway and Glen because the King Edward campus of Vancouver Community College, located on the Northeast corner, is the centre for programs for adults with visual impairments. The new devices have the support of blind and visually impaired students and instructors at KEC. As I am hard of hearing as well as blind, it makes my street crossings much safer, said Betty Nobel, co-ordinator of the program for visually impaired adults at KEC, in a letter to the city.

I can touch the arrow and feel when it vibrates so that if I cant hear the audible signal, I still know when the walk signal comes on.


Fire departments ( ) have a big cncern on the matter as well. Putting up safety initially on our streets is being looked out by all our public servants.

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