Rights and responsibilities: the case of the pedestrian crossing

Auckland, recently: the authorities turned off the sound/buzz on pedestrian crossings in busy roads, for at best dubious reasons. But sound really matters in cities

Here’s the piece on Stuff. A Twitter user and nearby apartment resident Max Tweedie kept calling in the crossing sound to auckland Transport, thinking it broken. But no:

AT’s operations centre told Tweedie: “In regards to the intersection on Victoria Street and High Street, the audible feature was turned down as there have been a number of complaints by residents in the area claiming that the pedestrian audio feature is too loud and has been turned off by our contractors.”

This sounds….. what? Really?

“Just no.”

“But,” said my friend, look the AT guy [media manager Mark Hannan] says it was buzzing and vibrating all the time except when car was coming”.

“The buzzer there has been muted for safety reasons because it would be going off continually and could confuse pedestrians who are crossing the much busier Victoria St,” Hannan said.

Hmmm. The confused pedestrians… and yet the Blind Foundation’s access and awareness adviser Chris Orr was unimpressed.

Pedestrian crossing sounds had different settings, such as ones that were sensitive to ambient sound, which Orr said he thought could be a good alternative to muting the sound

That’s not even a question to ask. It’s literally life and death for people who are blind, and at absolutely worst a bit of mild extra background noise for people living in the central city. It’s a city. People need to do things there. Councils should be comfortable pushing back against complaints that are patently against the public good and life of the city (especially where people’s very ability to walk the streets is at stake).

We’re reminded of the lack of rehearsal space starving Wellington’s music community, principally (we gather) because more people are living near the places bands rehearse, and complaining.

Isn’t this “coming to the nuisance” like tort law would have it? Or can we have decent robust protections for the ambient noisiness of city life?

If the town went partially carfree like Pontevedra things would be very different: it’d be much quieter because motor vehicles are reaponsible for the overwhelming majority of ambient noise in towns. (And walkers are a lot safer crossing the road too!)

Related reading:

What do you reckon about pedestrian safe crossing buzzers?
Or about noise in cities? What about towns, and how small is “quiet neighbourhood”?

4 comments on “Rights and responsibilities: the case of the pedestrian crossing”

  • Ben says:

    I stumbled across this while doing some research about this issue as I’m actually one of the residents who lives in the building and has had issues with the buzzers.

    To provide some context, I absolutely believe the buzzers need to be enabled, and in general AT/Council need to be focused on making the city centre better for pedestrians and residents and remove the focus from cars.

    That being said, the buzzers have been a problem. You characterise it as “a bit of mild extra background noise for people living in the central city” but that’s simply not true. These buzzers are extremely loud at all times, there’s four of them going off at the same time, and after buses they are probably the single biggest source of noise pollution on this section of road – I’m not exaggerating.

    You can be in our bedroom, and you won’t hear the cars or the people going through the intersection but you can very clearly hear the buzzers – constantly, 24 hours a day. You’re correct that people living in the city expect noise, but a consistent beeping on a pattern, followed by a louder beeping (during crossing time) drills into your brain and eats away at you. There’s a reason it has been used as a form of torture by various militaries.

    Ultimately I hope there’s a solution like Chris Orr mentioned, where the buzzers can automatically adjust volume based on ambient sound, or perhaps enclosing them in some sort of shielding to better control the direction of the sound.

    We need people to live in the city, it’s a more efficient use of land, it’s better for the environment and it’s better for congestion/transport, but being hostile towards them doesn’t help. A solution that gives pedestrians (especially those with impairments) what they need without driving residents insane is surely possible.

    • Isabella Cawthorn says:

      Thanks for that context Ben, really valuable. How mainstream is the ambient- level-adjustment tech?

      • Ben says:

        That’s a great question, and unfortunately I’m not sure yet. That was the research I was doing when I found this post! I’m not hopeful at this stage as I doubt there’s huge demand and getting AT/Council to move on anything like that is slow going.

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