Mixed signals at crosswalk ‘accident trying to happen’

An audio signal designed to help people with visual impairment cross a busy intersection safely has instead been telling them to walk into traffic.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/07/2021 (606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An audio signal designed to help people with visual impairment cross a busy intersection safely has instead been telling them to walk into traffic.

The signal, at Broadway and Maryland Street, was fixed sometime Tuesday or Wednesday — but Tyler Sneesby says it had been out of whack for months, until he posted video of it on social media and tagged area politicians Tuesday.

“It was not an accident waiting to happen,” Sneesby said Wednesday. “It was an accident trying to happen.”

Most people waiting to cross an intersection wouldn’t give a thought to the different chirps or beep-beep sounds they hear when the walk light comes on. But for visually impaired people like himself, they are telling him which direction is safe to cross.

If you want to walk north or south, you wait to hear the ‘beep-beep;’ if you want to cross to the west or east, you wait for the ‘chirp.’

“Other people hear the different sounds, but they don’t know what they mean,” said Sneesby. “But at this intersection. it was basically doing the opposite.

“It is one thing to not have it at an intersection, or for it to be broken and no sound at all, but this one was giving you the opposite signal,” he said.

“I’m fortunate I have some vision, and I’m legally blind, but people who are all dark or only see shadows are much more dependent on the sounds.”

Ken Allen, a spokesman for City of Winnipeg public works department, confirmed the signal in question has been repaired.

“A traffic signals crew investigated the situation as soon as we learned about the citizen’s concern, and determined that there was a switch error that caused an incorrect setting at one of the poles at the intersection of Maryland and Broadway, which resulted in the incorrect sound being transmitted,” Allen said in an email.

“Our crew made the repair and has verified that the sounds for the rest of the intersection were operating normally.”

Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), who is visually impaired, said with audio signals at more than 670 intersections in Winnipeg, a mechanical breakdown is bound to happen.

“We’re the only major city with audible intersections at every intersection,” said Eadie. “Traffic services will make the correction when they know.

“But you’re not supposed to rely 100 per cent on the audible because it is equipment and it can break down,” he said, adding motorists are told to look both ways before crossing a signalized rail crossing.

“You’re also supposed to listen to the traffic cues, so you can tell when it is your turn.”

Sneesby, who lost vision in one eye six years ago due to multiple sclerosis and vision in the other two years ago due to rare Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, said he once had 20/20 vision.

“I miss driving,” he said. “But now I walk everywhere — I probably walk 10 kilometres a day. I know what these signals are supposed to sound like.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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