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Controversial Crosswalks for Blind Receive Community Support

UPPER EAST SIDE — A Community Board 8 committee voted unanimously Wednesday to support accessible pedestrian signals to help blind residents safely cross streets in the neighborhood.

The decision by the transportation committee comes several months after the proposal was attacked by opponents for causing "noise pollution." 

The group also demanded the Department of Transportation, which plans on installing 25 audible pedestrian signals throughout the five boroughs, to put some of  Manhattan's allotted signals on the Upper East Side — and to do so as soon as possible.

The committee's choice reflects recent pressure from disabled rights activists, who had fought opposition to APS as an affront to their "basic dignity" that would "take away their independence."

Though there was some debate at the meeting over the APS' placement — and confusion over how loud they are — committee members welcomed the signals so long as they adjusted to ambient noise levels in the street.

"There should be an APS on every corner that has a traffic light," said Rita Popper, CB8 member. "Everybody is entitled to cross the same way whether you're a sighted person or whether you're not a sighted person.

"It should be blanketed throughout the city," she added. "We have to start someplace, but we shouldn't hold anything up. We should back this 100 percent."

Karen Gourgey, who chairs PASS Coalition, an accessibility advocacy group, said the broad community support for APS is "thrilling."

"The fact that you all appear to be in support of APS is phenomenal," she said.

Still, the meeting's developments were not without some controversy.

One member of the public — who declined to be named upon learning that comments made at CB8 meetings are public record and can be published by the press — was not happy with the night's developments.

Like others, he worried the APS would be too loud for residential neighborhoods.

"I oppose it," he said of the subcommittee's decision. "Dear lord, I have children. I need sleep."

The supporters, however, said opposition to the plan goes beyond noise and is an outright discrimination against the blind.

"I don't understand why we're still talking about this," said Todd Walerstein, who is vision and hearing-impaired. "It's bigoted, really. Why are you telling me I can't cross the street? Why don't I have the same rights as everyone else?"