Isn’t it good when things go according to plan? Isn’t it great when you don’t have to worry about the unforeseen snags that can sometimes occur? Isn’t it marvelous when you turn, look back and think to yourself, “How the hell did I manage to get through that?”
Oh how life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, and my oh my how fast it can happen.
Take a step, or two, and dare to brave the new world. Sound a little frightening? Ok then, how about just trying to brave the new day then.
Time described: Summer, Fall 2011
As fall continued to move on through, my mobility lessons continued on as well. Rosemary and I had the opportunity earlier that summer to work with Waterville’s new talking pedestrian crossing assistance program things. Grin Rosemary almost cried when she found out they were planning on installing the new poles at each lighted intersection throughout the city. She had been after the city to upgrade their pedestrian crossing signals for some time, and from what she and I had encountered on our lessons around the city, a lot of the current systems were very poor, some to the point of not working at all. I remember the intersection of Elm, Park and Appleton where the library is. The signal didn’t work very well. In fact, it was quite dangerous for pedestrians, let alone someone who couldn’t see. When the walk sign was lit, the traffic light stayed green, so the normal crossing opportunities conflicted with the traffic. Talk about taking your life in your own hands! Sheesh!
Rosemary and I spent a ton of time on that intersection, and when the signals were synched properly, I learned how to hold my breath while crossing. So much of what I learned had to do with trusting that I was visible to drivers. Now I’m fully aware that I’m a big dude, but cars tend to be quite a bit bigger, so when we’re talking about a one on one conflict, well, need I say more?
Learning the proper crossing techniques with normal intersections depends on quite a few things. Not all intersections run the same as far as the light patterns. We spent a few lessons just standing at each corner and studying the patterns, one corner at a time, and believe me, there is a lot to learn from a simple 4 way intersection. With Rosemary’s help, I learned the patterns and applied the skills for a few more lessons. This was a couple months prior to the start of updating the city systems, and by the time I had learned just that one intersection, we moved on to another one.
Waterville has roughly 25 or so lighted intersections, and virtually every one is different. Those lessons with Rosemary were long, grueling and exhausting. By the time I arrived back home, I was mentally fried. I usually had a hard time falling asleep because of visions of busy intersections dancing through my head.
One lesson while we were heading down Main Street, we came across a road crew working on the intersection of Temple, Main and the Concourse entrance. After going back and forth through the intersection a couple times, Sarge asked the crew what they were working on. When they told her they were installing new audible pedestrian crossing systems, Rosemary hollered out loud. It scared me a little, as I couldn’t really hear their conversation very well because of the road noise. She grabbed me and pulled me off to the side, and as she told me the news, I could hear the excitement in her voice.
That intersection was one of the first installments done in the city. These systems weren’t like other systems I had worked with , for instance, down in Newton Mass. Their systems were chirping sounds that signified when crossing by pedestrians was safe. The Waterville systems were talking systems that told you in a synthesized voice when, and which streets were safe to cross. They also had beeping indicators so that you could find the poles and push the buttons to start the crossing pattern. Another really cool feature that impressed me even more was when you walked up to the pole and hit it with your cane, the volume level of the beeping, and of the voice assistant increased. It was also designed to increase automatically with increased road noise, such as trucks and other loud vehicles, so that you could continue to hear the signals. Pretty cool innovations if you ask me. Waterville was the first city in the state to have these new systems, and I was probably the first blind person to use them, or one of the first.
Within a few months, all of the lighted intersections of Waterville were set up with the new system, and the fun was just starting, from my perspective anyway.
With new technology, come new opportunities, and new issues. With any changes, mobility also changes, and a new way to do things needs to be taught, learned and implemented. That particular intersection that saw the first new system provided for some unique challenges. On the intersection’s south west corner, the pole that controlled the Main Street crossing was placed roughly fifteen feet from the actual start of the crossing. These signals were set up to announce when the walk light was lit, so when you heard, “Main Street walk signal is lit. It is now safe to cross”, the smart move would be to start sweeping your cane and head across. There was one problem though. As I said, the pole was quite a distance from the start of the cross walk, and there was also a time indicator that counted down to let you know how much time you had before the walk time ended. Of course, this count down indicator on the pole had no audible indicator associated with it, so Rosemary was the only indicator mechanism that told me how much time I had left. By the time I reached the cross walk and got half way across the street, the time was up, and the traffic began to flow again.
Not a good scenario!
I couldn’t move closer to the start of the crossing after I pushed the button on the pole because I couldn’t hear the voice announcing unless I was standing right beside the pole. The volume increasing didn’t seem to raise the voice levels sufficient enough to be heard more than a few feet from the pole.
Are you confused? So was I.
Well, we both decided that this scenario sucked out loud, and Sarge told me that it was up to me to fix it. I ended up contacting one of the Public works managers and told him about our dilemma. He agreed to meet us at the intersection on my next lesson, which he did.
That day I felt like the problem might be addressed, but it would probably take a few weeks to iron out. The manager met us at the street corner that next lesson, and while Rosemary and I were describing the problem, he hopped on his phone, called a number, opened the control panel on the box’s box, punched a few codes into the small keypad inside the box and extended the time allowed to cross the intersection by fifteen seconds.
Problem solved in less than five minutes.
Oh how I love modern technology, especially when it works well.
To be continued…