The last time we looked at accessible pedestrian signals (APS), those chirping and cuckooing crossing indicators for the visually-impaired, it was with some surprise at the city’s claim that it simply couldn’t afford to install APS at more than a handful of intersections each year. Instead of allocating enough money to improve availability of a fairly basic service to visually-impaired residents, the city instead looked for corporate sponsors to pick up some of the considerable slack, resulting in pedestrian signals “funded by IBM” and other organizations dotting the city, a virtual declaration that the city was abdicating its responsibilities.
City Council is preparing to revisit the issue, starting with a staff report being presented at this Friday’s meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. It looks like the city has finally seen the wisdom of serving its citizens: city staff is recommending that all new signal installations include APS, and that the budget for retrofitting existing signals be doubled to clear the current backlog of requests by 2010. After 2010, the goal will be to install any APS retrofits within twelve months of receiving the initial request. Although not stated directly in the staff report, this new commitment will likely mean less reliance on corporate sponsorship of signals, if not the total elimination of the program.
Why the sudden change of direction? Following a pattern long-established over at the TTC, it only took a human rights complaint to get the city to act. A resident complained about the city’s laggardly ways in taking almost five years to implement APS at a requested intersection. Although the contents of the complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Commission and staff’s recommendation for settling it are still confidential, the city is obviously being pushed (or shamed) into action rather than moving forward on its own.
What about the cost of installing APS, an excuse used in the past to justify the lack of action and need for corporate sponsorships? According to the staff report, installing APS together with new traffic lights will add an average of 7% ($10,000) to the cost of signalizing each intersection. This also has the added benefit of reducing and eventually eliminating the need for more expensive APS additions at existing signals. For retrofits, which cost about $50,000 per intersection, an extra $670,000 for each of 2009 and 2010 will be enough to eliminate the backlog of requests. Both of these numbers point to a complete lack of hardship imposed on the city by an accelerated roll-out of APS.
Finally, the report takes an unexpected—and probably unintentional—jab at the city’s car culture when staff remarks that the current APS budget represents a 3–4-year backlog, but that council always finds money to provide for all of the year’s required traffic signal installations. In contrast, committing to a twelve-month turnaround on APS retrofits “will demonstrate Toronto’s commitment to accessibility for blind and visually-impaired pedestrians.” The commitment is already apparent in the city’s own Accessibility Design Guidelines, but the implementation, like many city services, is lagging behind.
Photo by cmac66 from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.