S.F. approves funds for audible pedestrian signals

Audible traffic signals that give walkers street information will be installed at 80 busy intersections in San Francisco over the next few years, officials said Wednesday.

After three years of negotiating with organizations that represent the blind and visually impaired community, city officials have agreed to spend $1.6 million on hundreds of audible pedestrian signals that will be installed at 80 busy intersections by 2010.

The new signals come at a time when more pedestrians in San Francisco are being struck in traffic-related accidents than in prior years. In 2006, there were 16 pedestrians killed, and in 2005, 14 walkers were killed. Another 716 pedestrians, however, were injured in nonfatal collisions in 2006.

About 40 of the new signals are already up and running, including some at heavily used intersections, such as Fourth and King streets by the Caltrain station and 19th and Holloway avenues by San Francisco State University, as part of a pilot project to test the signal technology.

Signals will be installed at 10 more intersections by the end of the month, including crossings at Market and Powell streets by Westfield San Francisco Centre and on The Embarcadero by the Ferry Building. The remaining signals will go up periodically.

The devices, which emit a rapid ticking sound to alert pedestrians when it is safe to walk, have vibrating push buttons and low locator tones to help blind and visually impaired people find the devices on the street corner. When pedestrians push the button for a second longer than usual, the device will provide audible information, including street names and how many seconds are left to cross the roadway.

Organizations for the blind and visually impaired began lobbying for the audible signals about three years ago. Lainey Feingold, a disability rights lawyer based in Berkeley who represented the organizations, said this is the first time a city has approved an agreement to install the signals that aid all pedestrians.

arocha@examiner.com

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