Crossing the street is considered a menial task for many, but it can be intimidating for pedestrians with visual challenges or impairments.

While audible pedestrian signals provide a solution to this issue, many of Calgary’s intersections are still without them.

“The City of Calgary has actually been installing audible signal actuated devices since 1985,” said Candace Bain, Calgary’s senior leader of traffic construction. “We had some off-the-shelf components that gave standard sounds and then we built our own device to work with our traffic signals.”

As time progressed, the city explored new technology. 

The latest version works by producing a constant, low-pitched locator tone near a crosswalk’s corresponding push button to help visually challenged pedestrians to locate the button. When a pedestrian pushes a button, they are notified when it is safe for them to cross the street by a new sound, which varies depending on which direction they are going.

In order to reduce noise pollution but maintain the accessibility that audible cues offer, the revised cues also become louder and quieter based on the traffic noise.

Calgarian Patricia Timmermans suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease which has been deteriorating her peripheral vision since she was a child. She said crossing the street without the help of an audible cue or guide dog can be scary.

“A busy environment is challenging,” she said. “You have to rely on your hearing.”

Bain said the city is working on installing about 30 more cues this year and plans to install 80 more in 2019.

“In an ideal world, we’d do more of them,” she said. “We just don’t have the resources or manpower to actually do them.”

Each cue costs approximately $10,000 to $15,000 if no construction is necessary and takes four to six hours to install.

While updating the technology of all of Calgary’s pedestrian cues could take years, there are many benefits.

“Even people that don’t consider themselves visually challenged may benefit from [the audible cues] — seniors who may not be able to see a walk signal … and distracted pedestrians looking at cellphones,” she said.

The city plans to retrofit requested areas and high-traffic pedestrian areas with audible cues first in order to provide accommodations to as many people as possible.

Editor: Kiah Lucero |

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