Listen before crossing street

Jeff Engel

  • Audible pedestrian signals were installed at three intersections on campus last week.
  • The signals are located where Wisconsin Avenue intersects with 12th, 14th and 16th Streets.
  • The signals are intended to aid visually impaired pedestrians.
  • The Milwaukee Department of Public Works installed the devices and is covering all the costs.

"Walk sign is on … walk sign is on … walk sign is on …"

Audible pedestrian signals were installed on campus last week. The signals, located at the intersections of Wisconsin Avenue and 12th, 14th and 16th Streets, are intended to aid visually impaired pedestrians, said Heidi Vering, coordinator of the Office of Disability Services.

Vering said the signals are crucial devices, especially at such busy locations.

"We have to make sure students can get to every building on campus safely," Vering said. "The signals will benefit Marquette students and the Milwaukee population as well."

The Milwaukee Department of Public Works installed the signals and is covering the cost through its capital budget, said Kelly Laabs, traffic control engineer with DPW. She said the cost of equipment for all three intersections is just less than $15,000.

Laabs said DPW deemed the signals necessary because of car traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and the large number of pedestrians, including those with vision problems.

Vering said Marquette currently has fewer than ten visually impaired students. However, she said that is the highest number of students with low-vision in the school's history.

Last winter, Disability Services received multiple requests for the audible pedestrian signals from low-vision students, Vering said.

The concern was passed on to the Office of Public Affairs, which then filed a request with DPW, according to Rana Altenburg, university vice president for public affairs.

Altenburg said DPW has shown a high level of cooperation and response. Her office requested one audible pedestrian signal at 14th Street and Wisconsin Avenue by the Raynor Library. DPW evaluated the situation and decided to install three on campus.

"We're pleased with the city's understanding and appreciation of our visually impaired students and other impaired visitors on campus," Altenburg said.

The signal's push button does not actually activate the walk sign when pedestrians are waiting to cross, Laabs said. It simply activates the audible pedestrian signal's features for the visually impaired.

The signal has a speaker that emits a locater tone, Laabs said. This allows the visually impaired pedestrian to find the push button.

After pushing the button, a mechanical voice guides the pedestrian. It advises the person to wait until the walk signal turns on. Once the pedestrian has the right of way, the button vibrates and the voice says, "Walk sign is on."

A raised arrow on the push button also points the pedestrian in the correct direction, Laabs said.

"The signals give some low-vision pedestrians a sense of confidence," Laabs said. "There is still a responsibility in crossing the street, but (the signals) give pedestrians something extra."

Justine Shorter, a freshman in the College of Communication, said the signals help her maneuver campus. Shorter is visually impaired, but not fully blind. She said the signals provide a safety net, especially if her eyes are not functioning well on a particular day.

Shorter's low vision often forces her to depend on her hearing skills. She said it's hard to pay attention to traffic because of all the noises on the street, especially with the construction on campus.

"The signals are very clear," Shorter said. "Having that loud, audible noise helps out a lot."

Kimberly Swoboda, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she believes the audible walk signals serve a good purpose. However, she thinks they could perform their task in a better way.

Her hometown of Raleigh, N.C., has similar signals that use the sound of a bird chirping instead of a mechanical voice to indicate that the walk signal is on. She said this sound is less distracting.

"I understand Marquette's walk signals are for the visually impaired, and that's good, but I think there's a less obnoxious way to do it," Swoboda said.

Chelsea Ostrov, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the audible walk signals do not bother her and are necessary.

"I think they're a good addition (to campus)," Ostrov said. "It shows Marquette is paying attention to its disabled student body."

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