Talking pedestrian signals popping up in Minot

JIll Schramm/MDN Construction workers continue work on new disability-accessible curbs at Third Street and Burdick Expressway in downtown Minot Monday. Part of the project this fall will be installation of new talking pedestrian signals at that intersection.

Talking crosswalks could be coming soon to an intersection near you.

The City of Minot installed its first talking pedestrian signals at 16th Street and 31st Avenue Southwest recently and is in the process of installing three more along Burdick Expressway in the downtown area. More are likely to be installed at key intersections around the city in connection with future improvement projects, said Stephen Joersz, Minot traffic engineer.

For some time, the pedestrian signals at Burdick and Main Street, next to Trinity Hospital, have featured chirping sounds to help pedestrians, particularly those with vision impairments, know when it is safe to cross. As part of the road work and accessible sidewalk project under way along Burdick downtown this fall, the Main Street intersection will get a push button to activate the signal.

Talking pedestrian signals also will be installed at the Third Street and Valley Street intersections.

Joersz said the signals give off a locator tone to help people with vision impairment locate the push button that activates the walk light and voice guidance. The voice tells pedestrians when to wait and when it is safe to cross.

In addition to voice prompts, new equipment offers the option of a pedestrian countdown timer to let walkers know how long they have before the signal changes, Joersz said.

Because they are an expense, talking signals typically are added as part of larger projects through the North Dakota Department of Transportation, Joersz said.

The talking signal at 16th Street and 31st Avenue was a stand-alone project that had been requested by a city council member on behalf of a resident with a visual impairment. That signal cost $8,000 to install, but Joersz described it as a partial intersection system. The cost of a full intersection is around $12,000.

Older traffic signal cabinets require updates to be able to incorporate talking pedestrian crosswalks. Those updates can improve motor traffic as well.

As those upgrades are made, Joersz said the city will be looking to add the push button technology at other intersections. Where and how soon will depend on the availability of state highway safety improvement money for street projects in Minot. Joersz said a talking signal is being considered at Third Street East and Central Avenue as part of roadway reconstruction to be scheduled in the next 10-12 years.

Joersz said the city accepts suggestions from residents regarding intersections they would like to see equipped with the talking pedestrian signals and push buttons.

“I just think that any location where there’s a lot of traffic is probably a good place for it,” said Scott Burlingame, executive director for Independence Inc. in Minot, which advocates for people with disabilities. “Especially as people are losing their vision, whether from a disease or a disability or the effects of aging, it can be pretty scary crossing the street.”

Burlingame said Independence Inc. has worked with people for whom pedestrian signals have been a challenge to see. However, he added, people don’t need to have vision impairment to struggle to interpret a lit pedestrian signal if the sun is at an angle that makes the signal hard to read. Talking crosswalks can be an advantage for anyone, he said.


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