Traffic signals stand out for blind

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson A new crosswalk to aid visually-impaired residents doesn’t look different from other crosswalks, but vibrating buttons and audio signals are features of the $5,000 system. It was installed the first week of January.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

From the seat of a car, or a nearby building, the crosswalks at 10th and Prince streets look similar to any crosswalk in Clovis.

But if you’re blind, the difference is easy to see.

The city is about a month into its first run of a crosswalk to aid visually impaired residents, and that contingent is satisfied.

“That is a fantastic signal setup they’ve got there,” said Lewis Carter, who lives a few blocks away on Walnut Street and has been blind since age 4. “I’ve been from New York City to Baltimore to Washington, D.C. That signal is the first I’ve seen like that, and that is the best.”

The yellow boxes at the intersections don’t stand out at first sight.

“As far as me, I work here every day,” said Melissa Lopez, employee of a title and check loan business on the southwest corner of the intersection. “I didn’t even know about it.”

The differences are in the sound and feel. At the crosswalk, a “ping” sound is audible for about a 20-foot radius to help visually impaired people find the button.

The button itself is about the size of a hockey puck, with a raised arrow pointing toward the street. Once the button is pushed, the box says, “Walk signal is on,” and repeats it until the red hand shows up.

“The arrow will vibrate when it first comes on,” City of Clovis Traffic Superintendent Kevin Musick said. “If we had a blind person who could not hear that, they could feel that vibrate.”

When the walk signal is on for Prince, there is also a “cuckoo” sound. When the signal is on for 10th Street, there is a “chirp” sound.

Glenda Horner of Clovis first requested the signal. She works at Bethel Assembly of God in the 1500 block of Norris, and crosses 10th and Prince for many trips. Horner rides with Clovis Area Transit Service, but it doesn’t cover her in every instance, including Sunday services.

“I cannot see the green arrow at all, nor at times can I see the red or green light,” Horner said. “I got in really big trouble at 10th and Prince. I was out in the middle of the street, with traffic coming from every direction. We’re trained to listen for traffic, but with ‘turn right on red’ laws in New Mexico, it’s still very dangerous for us to cross without some sort of help.”

Her pastor, Lemuel Perry, helped take up her cause and attended traffic committee meetings with the city.

Musick said he was approached about the intersection a year ago, but the system is $5,000 for an intersection and grant money couldn’t be found. He put it in his 2010 budget, and the system was hooked up in the first week of January.

“In my budget, I could probably handle one intersection a year,” said Musick, who is hopeful grants can be found.

Horner and Carter are members of the Clovis Blind Support Group, which is merged with the Clovis-area chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and includes about 25 members.

The group has given a list of future intersections to Musick, including the Colonial Parkway-Prince intersection by Wal-Mart and 21st and Main streets by S&S Supermarket.

Carter, the group president, said members are realistic about the city’s finances, but he’d love to have more of the crosswalks.

“It’s darn nice to have,” Carter said. “I got hit by a car when I was 18, 19. I don’t want to do it again. A crossing that has a signal, I’m going to use it.”