Celebrating Local Success: Accessible Pedestrian Signals

A sign reading "push button to turn on warning lights" mounted above a button on a street light.
An accessible pedestrian signal placed at an intersection features a large arrow button to turn on audio cues to cross the street.

Three Wisconsin residents who are visually impaired recognized a need for Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) to be installed in their communities. Penny Happli of Rib Mountain, Joseph Smet of Fond Du Lac, and Denise Jess of Madison, are celebrating the success of their APS installation requests. All three community members mobilized and took initiative to get an APS in their community, and they each have a unique experience to share. We hope their stories motivate you to advocate for greater safety and accessibility for everyone in your community–whether that be requesting an APS where safety is a concern, or some other form of advocacy on an issue important to you.

Rib Mountain, Wisconsin (Population: 6,887)

Intersection Location: Robin Lane at County Road R (a.k.a. Hummingbird Road)

A Google Map of Rib Mountain.
 The intersection of County Road R (Hummingbird Road) and Robin Lane, is northeast of Rib Mountain State Park and just west of the Wisconsin River.

When starting the APS request process, it is important to find out who the correct person is to talk to. If the road in question is a county road, it is necessary to go to the county, and if the road is owned by the town, it is necessary to go to the town to make a request.

Penny Happli started by talking to the Public Safety Committee in her hometown of Rib Mountain. Penny made two requests in January 2018, to have APSs installed along Robin Lane.

When town officials told Happli there was not enough money in the local budget to cover both signals, she tried to find alternative ways to secure the necessary funding. Since County Road R is owned by both Marathon County and the town of Rib Mountain, Happli enlisted the help of her state representatives to advocate for county support of the signal.

As a result of her outreach, Marathon County designated half of the funding required to the County Road R signal. The Town of Rib Mountain was then able to provide the remaining funding needed for the APS from the 2019 budget. The intersection will have an APS sometime in 2019. Happli says she hopes this installation will result in more Accessible Pedestrian Signals implementation throughout her community in the future.

Key Take-Away: Find out who owns each road in the intersection.

  • If the road is privately owned, talk to the individual owner.
  • If the road is owned by a city, town or village, talk to your alderperson.
  • If the road is owned by the county, talk to the county supervisor.
  • If the road is a state highway, submit requests to the Department of Transportation.

As Penny’s example illustrates, it is not always easy to determine who the right person to contact is. It is helpful to ask municipal, county and state officials who is the right person to talk to about installing an APS.

Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin (Population: 42,809)

Intersection Locations: Merrill Avenue at Main Street; Main Street at Johnson Street.

Man with cane sitting on bench next to intersection
Joseph Smet sits near the intersection where the APS will be installed. Photo by: Doug Raflik/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, Fond du Lac Reporter

In June 2018, Fond Du Lac resident Joseph Smet requested two APS be installed along Main Street. The City Council approved this request for the 2019 budget, and both APS will be installed in 2019 as a pilot for other intersections in the community. Smet says talking to people from other organizations, both in his community and outside of it, played an instrumental role in the success of the project.

“I contacted Leader Dogs for the Blind because they are very passionate about making communities accessible,” says Smet. “They gave me a lot of helpful resources. The City of Fond Du Lac officials called them and they were willing to help explain the importance of APS.”

To raise awareness, Smet contacted the Fond Du Lac Reporter, and was featured in an article in July 2018. This brought his message about the importance of APS to a wider audience–gaining more supporters for the APS requests.

Key Take-Away: Engage external groups and raise awareness in the community.

  • Talk to people who have successfully installed APS in their communities.
  • Contact people from BVI-related groups at the local or state level to support your cause.
  • Make a list of other groups of people in your community who could benefit from an APS; reach out to them.
  • Think about what channels could be used to raise awareness, including traditional media and social media.

Madison, Wisconsin (Population: 255,214)

Intersection Location: Williamson Street at Livingston Street

A yellow pedestrian sign with flashing lights attached to a pole.
Williamson and Livingston is not a stoplight-equipped intersection, meaning traffic is stopped only when a pedestrian needs to cross. This APS is the first of its kind in the city of Madison. When someone wishes to cross the street, they push the button on the beeping pole, as with most other APS. The APS flashes yellow when the button is pressed, requiring drivers to yield. An announcement is made in both English and Spanish that the signal is on. The signal is then silent so pedestrians can listen to traffic and determine vehicles have stopped, making it safe to cross the street.

Because funding and installation relies on the request and data-gathering process of your community, knowledge of the method is critical in requesting and installing an APS.

“It is a lengthy process,” says Jess. “It took a year-and-a-half to get from the request to the signal installation.”

In Spring 2017, Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess began raising concerns about an unsafe intersection at Williamson Street and Livingston Street. She contacted Madison Alder Marsha Rummel, and they worked together with Madison Traffic Engineers and Madison Police to find a solution.

Through the summer of 2017, the Madison Police Department did a traffic study to measure volume, then a concentrated study to track the number of drivers who failed to yield, even with pedestrians using canes and service animals crossing the street. A walk audit can be requested by community members at this stage of the process to determine the walkability and safety of the intersection.

By September 2017, the data showed it was an intersection that would benefit from an APS, but Madison officials still needed a direct request from an individual impacted by the intersection. Since Jess lives in the Williamson Street neighborhood, she was the best person to make the request for an APS.

By that time, the city had run out of funding for 2017. The request was approved and budgeted for in 2018, and the APS was installed in October 2018.

“It takes diligence to persevere and monitor the process,” says Jess. “Put your best self forward throughout each conversation; be your best ambassador. Be patient and persistent and talk to others in your community.

Key Take-Away: Be aware of the request process in your community and other factors that influence timing.

  • Find out the specific request process in your community.
  • Ask what data needs to be gathered for a decision to be reached, such as a walk audit (to measure the walkability of an intersection) or traffic study (to measure traffic volume).
  • Inquire as to what time of year these types of construction projects typically take place in your community.
  • Brainstorm a list of activities you can do to raise awareness while waiting for a decision.

Summary:

Some commonalities exist in the three stories. However, each situation is unique based on who owns the roads involved, community awareness and support, and the request and data-gathering process for APS in each community. Do research and start the conversation, so you can figure out the best way to proceed in your community.

For more information about the process to request an APS, check out the Council’s August 2018 Legislative Update.

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