Over a period of two years, the city will install up to 100 new traffic signals with audible beeps or vibrations to help people with blindness or low vision to cross the street, according to the mayor’s office. It’s one step towards making transportation available to all, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Friday.
Just last year, there were only 10 crosswalks in the entire city with accessible pedestrian signals (APS) technology.
Lightfoot announced the initiative at Chicago Lighthouse, an organization that serves communities of blind, visually impaired, and disabled people.
“Chicago’s mission is to be the most inclusive and accessible city in the nation, and that means building a transportation system that fully serves every resident,” she said in a statement.
Both the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spearheaded the crosswalk initiative. Now, any new traffic signals, reconstruction projects, and modernizations must include APS.
In addition, CDOT and MOPD are working on a federally funded pilot project to develop best practices for the design and installation of APS. While some advocate for the method, it can be difficult to hear a beep or feel a vibration on a noisy downtown street or crosswalk located under L tracks. The study will examine six different types of intersections at sites including the Loop, university campuses, and six-legged intersections.
Learn about Chicago’s plan to install up to 100 Accessible Pedestrian Signals over the next two years – announced today by @chicagosmayor – https://t.co/C4h8IH2tnNpic.twitter.com/BfS60rmauW
Crosswalks that will receive APS include: Roosevelt Road at Wood, Loomis, Blue Island and Morgan; and on Hyde Park Boulevard at 57th Street, Cornell Drive and 57th Street and Stony Island Avenue and 69th Street. Plus, intersections on Ashland from Harrison to Washington as part of a modernization project.
The city is working on installing more ramps on streets and sidewalks, and making sure every L station is ADA compliant. But there’s a long road ahead. Last year’s numbers show that there were 42 rail stations inaccessible by wheelchair and 162 elevators that need upgrades or replacements.
Meaningful change will take time to implement—about 20 years, according to the CTA’s all stations accessibility program (known as ASAP). The biggest hurdle is funding. The cost for making stations fully accessible over a period of two decades would cost about $2.1 billion.
If Chicago plans to lead cities in accessibility and inclusive design, then it must have a fully accessible transit system for all residents. There are lots of barriers in navigating the city, not just for people in wheelchairs and who are blind, but also for families with young kids in strollers and people who are chronically sick. Prioritizing improvements like curb ramps and elevator access would be meaningful for many different kinds of riders.
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