Chirping crosswalk signals on Main Street are quieted

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Equipment senses background noise

City of Aspen officials continue to work with the Colorado Department of Transportation to tone down new auditory signals intended to make it safer for the visually impaired to cross Main Street, while a local disabled man who requested the signals has told the city he, too, was shocked by the noise when they first went up.

When the signals first arrived earlier this month, they broadcast constant chirping and beeping, oftentimes at volumes loud enough to be heard a block away or more.

On Thursday, the audio signals seemed quieter and lasted for shorter durations of about three beeps, being activated only when a pedestrian pushed the button at the Main Street intersections requesting a walk signal.

Aspen city engineer Trish Aragon said that her lobbying, along with numerous calls and complaints from local residents to CDOT, which manages the pavement and streetlights on Highway 82 that includes Main Street, led to the changes.

The signals, she said, measure the background noise and project a sound that is 5 to 10 decibels above the baseline, which is why the signal volume differs from intersection to intersection and time to time.

The city would like CDOT to adjust the equipment so that the signals are 2 to 5 decibels above background noise, which Aragon said would still be in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Audible pedestrian cues first came to Aspen two years ago at the Main and Mill streets intersection, but that signal was at a reasonable volume and caused no complaints. The same visually impaired person who requested those signals followed up last year asking that they be expanded to the other three traffic lights on Main Street. The person thought the new signals would be the same as the old one, Aragon said.

“It’s a shame for this person to be vilified,” she said, adding that the man has reached out and apologized.

“I told him he didn’t need to apologize. It’s our job to make sure the streets are safe for all users. … [The man] should be able to feel safe crossing Main Street.”

The city continues to investigate taking over “signal maintenance” from CDOT of the traffic lights and associated crossings.

Aragon noted that while CDOT informed the city three months ago it would make changes to the traffic-light crossings, it did not say when the changes would take place nor did it consult with the city on the type of equipment that was used.

As CDOT spokesperson did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Aragon said that if the city were in control of the traffic signals on Main Street, it would likely have pursued a different, quieter signal.

She said there would be benefits if the city assumed signal maintenance on the state highway in the city jurisdiction and that her office is investigating the details.

“I think we can be more responsive and have a little more control,” she said. For example, CDOT has limited resources and times projects based on wider scheduling logistics, sometimes conflicting with local needs.

While the city would get some state funding to maintain signals on the state highway, it likely would fall short of the total cost. Calculating that differential is among the questions the city is looking into, Aragon said, adding she hopes to have clear answers in a few months.  

curtis@aspendailynews.com