Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Downtown Jacksonville get freshened up to help the visually impaired

A simple thing like crossing the street isn't always an easy task, especially when you can't see what is out there. "I had to change my whole mind set and learn how to do things differently," says Dan O’Connor, president of Jacksonville Council for the Blind.Dan has been legally blind since his early twenties. He gets around fine with his cane, but soon there may be an extra voice of help for him and others that are visually impaired.

The city is working on a new pilot project to install automated pedestrian crossings at downtown intersections."It helps people that have vision impairment to be able to navigate and be able to get around more independently like anyone else would," O’Connor says.Right now, there are only four automated crosswalks in the city. The new systems would replace regular push button crosswalks. When pressed, you would hear a series of beeps that warn you not to cross. When the way is clear the automated voice says the name of the street and will let you know it's okay to cross; for example, "State Street walk sign is on to cross State Street."

"That message is continually repeated as long as the walk signal is showing. When the walk signal goes off then that message goes off," says Rick Ball with the city’s traffic engineering department.Once traffic begins to move again a series of beeps would sound to caution the pedestrian from crossing. A raised arrow on the push button also points in the direction of the crosswalk.Six intersections near the Hemming Plaza area would receive the first installments."It’s not going to be something that's going to solve all the traffic issues that someone with a vision impairment has but it can be an added tool," O’Connor says.

Each intersection would cost around $5,000-$6,000 for the equipment. The automated systems will be installed around the end of February and beginning of March.


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