The City of Lethbridge is trying out a new speaker system at some of its downtown intersections to assist those who are visually impaired by providing a safer way to cross busy streets.
“It’s taking accessible pedestrian signals, which are otherwise known as beeping traffic lights, and enabling anyone to activate them without having to be able to find the push button,” said Lui Greco, manager of regulatory affairs for CNIB, who have partnered with the city for this one-year trial.
CNIB and their partner, Key2Access, approached the city to do the project. The speakers are located in three different intersections along 4 Avenue S., on 7 Street S. and 8 Street S., and Stafford Drive.
“Beeping traffic lights are really, really important for people who are blind,” Greco said. “Knowing when it’s safe to cross the street is something that people who are sighted just take for granted. [In] pedestrian-vehicle encounters, the pedestrian always loses and people who are blind are really among the most vulnerable road users.”
The speakers work in conjunction with fobs or an app called Key2Access.
While 10 special fobs have already been handed out, the App can be downloaded by anyone who might need it. It’s available for free at the App Store for iOS and Play Store for Android on any Smart Phone.
The App actually changes the light and/or gives you a signal of where you’re at and also when you can walk across the street. It can also tell the user their location, and which street or avenue they have triggered. A speaker chirping will sound, and a voice will give the person crossing a countdown.
The unit, that sits on top of beeping traffic lights, has bluetooth capability. This means when you walk up to an intersection, the app will detect the speakers and your location. It will then ask the user to double tap to cross, and after receiving the request, the light will change and the speakers will alert the user it’s safe to walk with a chirping noise.
When the countdown begins, the user will be able to hear it. This kind of system is useful for Lethbridge residents who are visually impaired, like Matthew Hoare.
“The audible signals are much easier, you definitely know when to go,” said Hoare, noting the other chirping speakers in the city don’t have verbal countdowns.
“Especially with the countdown timers, you know how many seconds you have left, because somebody with a visual impairment can’t see the post where the clock is — the countdown timers.”
The city will determine if the system is a viable option after the trial. Cost of the project is about $6,000 so far, but it’s not clear yet how much it might be in the future.