Walkers find ‘bug in system’at audible crosswalks

LIHU’E — They came from all parts of the island to hear the birds.

Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawai’i, Kauai Chapter (NFBH), celebrated their monthly meeting to listen to the birds at one of two intersections where audible signals have been installed by workers with the state Department of Transportation Highways Division.

“They’ve been fighting for this for so long,” Christina Pilkington, the county’s ADA (federal Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator said as she joined the group in experiencing the new phenomenon Thursday.

The audible lights, in addition to signaling the familiar “Walk/Don’t Walk” lighted traffic icons, are now equipped with two small speakers above the lights from which bird-like sounds emit.

Pilkington said the audible lights have been installed at the intersections of Haleko and Nawiliwili roads, as well as at Pikake Street and Nawiliwili Road.

“These are not just for blind people,” said Heather Farmer, vice president of the NFBH. “They provide help for those who cannot see all the way across the street. It’s for all the people who do a lot of walking.”

The audible light works by emitting bird-like chimes, with a different one for each crossing so blind people do not confuse the streets when trying to cross roadways.

In the case of the Haleko and Nawiliwili intersection, a chirp sounds when walkers are able to make the Nawiliwili Road crossing. This changes to a cuckoo sound when pedestrians are able to safely cross Haleko Road.

The sound ceases when it is not safe to cross, and on Thursday morning that condition left members of a group of blind walkers stranded in the “island” between the four lanes of Nawiliwili Road.

“There’s a bug in the system,” Farmer informed Glenn Yamamoto, the assistant district engineer for the state DOT-Highways Division on Kaua’i.

“It leaves you stranded in the middle of the road. It should be just a little longer so people can cross the road,” Farmer said.

Yamamoto was also on hand to experience the new signals with the visually-impaired and blind walkers, as was Larry Littleton, the co-chairman of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee For Equal Access (MACFEA).

Yamamoto was with the group members when they were “stranded” in the middle of the busy Nawiliwili Road, so had first-hand experience with Farmer’s suggestion of adding a little more time to the crossing.

The audible signals are the first two to be installed on the island, and are part of the state’s $2.9 million traffic signals improvement project, Yamamoto explained.

There are other parts of the island where traffic-signal improvements are taking place, but the Lihu’e intersections are the only two where the audible signals were installed.

Planning for the signals started about two years ago, Yamamoto said. Construction took about a year, and the signals became operational within the past six months.

Currently, there are no more installations for the audible lights planned, but Yamamoto said they will be doing more research depending on the success of the two Lihu’e lights.

Glen Nakagawara of the state’s Department of Human Services Vocational Rehabilitation & Services for the Blind Division was also on hand, noting that members of the group who met Thursday was formerly known as the Aloha Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Recently, though, he said, they voted to change their name to the NFBH, but have retained their familiar red T-shirts.

Nakagawara, who is a teacher for the group, said people who are not part of the organization are welcome to join in with the group members who concern themselves with community members and their disabilities.

Meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month, and Farmer said the location varies because they have members from all parts of the island.

Following the successful crossing of the busy four-lane highway, Carl Moller, one of the NFBH members, joked, “Now, as a photographer, you can say, ‘Listen to the birdie!'”

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