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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Signal lights return to Fifth and Sherman with audible crosswalk alert

From the Coeur d'Alene Press:

COEUR d'ALENE - The signal, after all, was right where it belonged.

Now, just like before, traffic by both foot and motor will be controlled by lights at Fifth Street and Sherman Avenue.

With the old, new addition comes an added wrinkle - an actuated, audible crosswalk that beeps and barks orders.

"Having (the light) without actuation was problematic," said Jon Ingalls, deputy city administrator, on the old signal that was removed in November on grounds that it was outdated, breaking down, and ran on a predetermined timer system that could hold up traffic unnecessarily, and vice versa. "Actuation was the best thing, especially with the amount of pedestrian traffic."

A review by the city's Engineering Department showed that the vehicle and pedestrian cross traffic was minimal, and the signal wasn't warranted there, according to a press release at the time.

Since then, though, City Hall has fielded its share of concerns, including a pair of letters to the editor in The Press questioning the change.

The city reanalyzed the light and, as of last weekend, it was resurrected with actuation, which is a timer-based technology that can switch its time limits based on demand.

"I know people are happy to have it back," Mayor Sandi Bloem said, standing near the intersection Tuesday afternoon.


Some - especially those hanging out right next to it - could do with a little less noise.

The signal, designed to aid the visually impaired, beeps to indicate its location and tells you when the coast is clear.

"Beep, beep, beep ... Wait, wait, wait, ... Sherman, cross," for example.

Eating lunch Tuesday at Scratch Restaurant's outdoor seating on Sherman Avenue, just a few feet from the crossing, Deb Saunders and Brenda Gabriel spent 40 minutes or so listening to the beeping and commands.

"Grrrrrrr," Saunders said on how she was handling the noise, which she later articulated as: "It'd make me certainly not want to come back here."

The beeping grates worse than the talking, both said, but the talking commands are catching passersby off guard, too.

"You see people turning around looking," Gabriel said, of the voice that seems to come from nowhere.

Jeri Schaffner, Scratch manager, said she's worried it could be something that could negatively affect business if the beeping isn't tweaked, although she's thrilled to have the crosswalk back. After the old light was removed, the pedestrian walkway wasn't controlled by anything except the old pedestrian-has-the-right-of-way rule, and Schaffner said she saw dozens of pedestrian and vehicle near-misses.

"And that's just one person," she said. "That's huge, the light."

As signals need to be replaced, verbalized, Americans With Disabilities Act compliant crosswalks will be the direction the city goes, City Engineer Gordon Dobler said. The city, which has been adding several of the signals over the last two years, will lower the beeping levels at the Fifth Street intersection.

The new devices, several of which are around town including at Kathleen Avenue and Government Way, are music to Larry Kimble's ears.

The legally blind Coeur d'Alene resident lives near the one on Kathleen Avenue, and it has made a "phenomenal" difference, he said.

"Absolutely," he said. "That's a great thing."

His advice to people who are put off by the noise?

"I'd tell someone like that you may lose your eyesight yourself or someone in your family may have diabetes and lose their eyesight," he said. "You never know."

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