Was the Free Press poll misleading?
Last week the London Free Press published an article about the City’s commitment to making the streets safer for people with visual impairments. The story headline read $12M for city crossings overhaul, and the subheading CROSSWALK: Nearly 400 city crossings are each getting a $32,000 overhaul.
Although the report was careful to point out that the work would take many years to complete, little information was provided about how this was being costed and how the work would go forward.
And then came the real kicker: a follow-up poll on the paper's front page which asked: “Spending $12M on London crosswalk traffic-light buttons is: ridiculous (or) reasonable?" Not surprisingly, 84 per cent of the more than one thousand respondents thought it was ridiculous.
During my time on Council, persons with disabilities, individually or through the Accessibility Advisory Committee, have consistently identified three major concerns: affordable access to transportation, snow clearing of sidewalks, and safety in crossing the street.
In 2008, Municipal Council approved a new annual capital budget project of $50,000 for retrofitting traffic signals for the hearing impaired. At that time, the cost of retrofitting was estimated to be about $25,000 per intersection. However, by upgrading those intersections where construction work was already planned, the costs were held to those of the equipment only. As a result, instead of upgrading two intersections, we were able to complete many more.
At the end of 2010, London had 348 traffic signals and 38 pedestrian signals. 32 of the signals had accessible pedestrian push buttons and 22 intersections had countdown pedestrian signal heads.
They have been a blessing to the growing number of visually impaired members of our community. Getting across the street when you have to rely on your hearing to determine whether it is safe or not can be a challenge, especially with the increased use of advanced green and at noisy, busy intersections. Even at $32,000 per retrofit, it is significantly less than the cost of training a guide dog which can be used by only one person!
For the coming year, the Accessibility Advisory Committee has requested the installation of accessible pedestrian signals at Richmond and Grosvenor, where over 80,000 persons with vision loss visit the Ivey Eye Institute each year, and the intersection of York and Clarence where a high number of visually impaired go to the government offices at 217 York St. Only the former can be accommodated under the current budget.
For new intersections the accessible pedestrian push buttons will be standard just as new safety features have become standard practice in other areas. No doubt they will become mandatory under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act when the provincial government releases its regulations for transportation. To be proactive now as opportunities arise will save us many dollars and perhaps a few lives.
As a city and as individuals we are aging. To immobilize or endanger the increasing number of persons with visual limitations will be far more costly than providing inclusive devices that will benefit all of us.
$12M is the cost of retrofitting all the intersections, including the cost of moving poles, digging through concrete and moving underground ducts and cables. That indeed is expensive. But in most cases, if we time the work to coincide with planned upgrades, the cost will be a fraction of that and save the annual $50,000 to deal with those intersections that just can’t wait.
That makes accessible pedestrian signals sound pretty reasonable.
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