Audible crosswalks 'invaluable' to the visually impaired

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Would you cross Gordon Highway at Deans Bridge Road if you were blindfolded? How about Wrightsboro Road at Jackson Road?

The audible crosswalk at the corner of Washington Road and Alexander Drive is one of the few currently in Augusta, but more are on the way.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
The audible crosswalk at the corner of Washington Road and Alexander Drive is one of the few currently in Augusta, but more are on the way.

Blind people who have years of experience crossing roads avoid certain intersections like these in Augusta.

"I'm pretty brave, but not that brave," said Willie Jones, who has been blind 36 years.

That could change in the near future with the addition of audible crosswalks in Augusta. The crosswalks give an audible cue, often birds chirping or a verbal command, when it's safe to cross an intersection.

Jones, who navigates by listening to the sound of traffic around him, said it would be a "big help" if downtown and other major intersections were more friendly to the visually impaired.

Augusta currently has only a handful of audible crosswalks, including ones at Wrightsboro Road at Pine Needle Road and Alexander Drive at Washington Road.

Steve Cassell, an assistant traffic engineer, said audible crosswalks will be part of the coming downtown improvements along Broad Street. Those improvements include better street lighting and new traffic signals.

The signals will have a box on either end of the street so that a person using the crosswalk will be able to hear the signal as they cross. That will keep the signal volume relatively low.

Audible crosswalks are gaining popularity across the country, but places such as Raleigh, N.C., have had the crosswalks for more than 20 years.

Jed Niffenegger, Raleigh's senior transportation engineer, said budget constraints won't allow the city to install an audible signal at every crosswalk.

In part, that's because older intersections must be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act when the signal is installed. That could mean new curb cuts and other infrastructure work.

The audible crosswalks have been "invaluable" to people with impaired vision in Raleigh, said Renee Cummings, the director of the Alliance of Disability Advocates.

Cummings relies on an audible crosswalk near her office to cross the street because of her significantly low vision. The signal gives her peace of mind, she said.

She said it's also an important tool for older people who might have problems with their sight.

Improved crosswalks also make good business sense. Jones said there are places such as the shopping plazas at Deans Bridge Road and Gordon Highway he would patronize if it were more accessible.

He also points to Wrightsboro Road at Jackson/North Leg roads and 15th Street around Medical College of Georgia Hospital as places he mostly avoids.

"It's too many lanes," Jones said. "The only way is to ask someone to tell me (when it's safe)."

Brian Mosley said just standing on sidewalks listening to traffic was terrifying when he went blind 15 years ago. He's grown much more comfortable now crossing streets, especially with the help of his guide dog.

"But there's always room for error," Mosley said.

Mosley said he used audible crosswalks on a trip to California and it was a "magnificent" experience.

"I almost wanted to leave the dog and take a stroll myself," he said.


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