City lawmakers call for increase in street signals for the blind

There were accessible street signals at 71 intersections as of Nov. 1, 2013.

Lawmakers are calling for more street signals for the blind and visually impaired to improve safety at intersections throughout the city.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilman Mark Levine are co-sponsoring a bill calling for an increase in the number of signals that cue visually impaired pedestrians that they can cross intersections from 25 to 50 a year.

“Accessible pedestrian signals” emit audible noises or messages and can also vibrate.

The bill, which is being introduced into the City Council on Wednesday, also calls for accessible signals to be installed at intersections where signals provide lead time for pedestrians at any street corner with a protected bike lane.

There were accessible pedestrian signals installed at 71 intersections citywide as of Nov. 1, 2013, the Department of Transportation reported in its annual update. But there is not a single one above West 65th Street in Manhattan.

Lawmakers and advocates have criticized the uneven distribution of the signals.

“The blind and visually challenged travel all of our streets, not just at the most crowded intersections where DOT is currently installing the signals,” Brewer said in testimony at a Feb. 24 hearing on the Vision Zero plan to eliminate pedestrian deaths over the next decade.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called audible pedestrian signals an “important tool.”

“We will expand our use of them as resources allow as well as explore other treatments that make streets even safer for all New Yorkers,” she said in an emailed statement.

Under a law passed in 2012, the DOT has installed 25 accessible signals at intersections each year. Locations are determined partly based on guidance from disability advocates.

The Council is also holding a hearing on the Vision Zero plan on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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