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Audible Cross Signals for the Blind Too 'Noisy' for UES, Critics Say

By DNAinfo Staff on January 7, 2013 7:35am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Plans to install audible pedestrian signals to help blind New Yorkers safely cross streets have been attacked for causing "noise pollution" on the Upper East Side.

Some neighborhood residents spoke out against Department of Transportation plans that would add two dozen disabled-accessible signals at yet-to-be finalized locations across the five borough.

The critics called them a "colossal waste of money" and are threatening to circulate a petition to stop it. 

"How much noise pollution do we need? It repeats over and over again, a drone of an announcement," Peter Renehan, who lives on the Upper East Side, said at Wednesday's Community Board 8 meeting.

"I've never once seen a blind person cross the street by themselves. These people are assisted because we are a neighborhood. We don't need more noise to assist people to cross the street," he added.

He said he would "bring petitions in from people from other buildings around the neighborhood" to stop it.

According to the DOT, there are currently 48 such aids in place at intersections across the city, including one at 59th Street near Lexington Avenue. Some of the proposed Upper East Side locations include East 72nd, 79th, 86th and 96th streets.

But Renehan said the signals are unnecessary, especially at night when he said there are few people using the crosswalks.

"At 2 or 3 in the morning, how many blind people do you see walking down the street in our neighborhood?" he asked.

"This is the worst proposal I've ever heard of for a neighborhood that doesn't need it. This is a colossal waste of money."

Josh Orzech, a community liaison for the DOT, explained at the meeting that the signals placed in residential areas would likely not be as loud as near East 59th and Lexington Avenue, a commercial area.

"The sounds adjust based on ambient noise," he said.  "Obviously, it's louder because of the trucks and cars."

However, Orzech said that signals would make some noise, even if they were quieter.

"They have to click so that a sight-impaired person can find it," he said.

Michele Birnbaum, a CB8 board member, opposed the signals on the grounds that "residents will be very much affected by this" and warned of getting "carried away with what seems to be a good thing." 

"Whether or not it has merit for some is not necessarily the reason to have them installed," she said.

"You can prove to me that this would be good on many street corners, but that doesn't mean that the majority of people in the community want it."

Dr. John Jacoby, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said he opposed the signals because there's already too much noise in the neighborhood.

"This is just horrible," he said. "We can't sleep enough on this corner already."

Some CB8 members disagreed.

Rita Popper said she understood noise concerns, but said busy intersections like East 71st Street and First Avenue are a real danger for the visually impaired.

"I think this is very dangerous," she said.

"I think we're sending them into a problem. If you send a sight-impaired person from north to south or south to north, you're not taking into consideration that cars are turning in," she said.

"We're sending them into traffic. It's not that all the traffic stops and that the person can cross safely."