May 4, 2023 - News

New accessible crosswalk tech debuts in downtown

Workers spent the past week installing the new technology in downtown. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Works

New crosswalk technology recently installed in downtown Houston aims to help people with blindness or low vision.

Driving the news: Houston Public Works installed dozens of new accessible pedestrian signals at intersections around the George R. Brown Convention Center ahead of the National Federation of the Blind's convention starting July 1, when thousands of people will descend on downtown for the annual event.

  • The convention will feature exhibits, a job fair, a Braille book fair and official federation business.

How it works: The new signals add audio, vibrations and tactile functions to crosswalk buttons.

  • When pressed, the user can feel an arrow pointing in the direction of travel.
  • A sound plays and the button vibrates when it's time to cross.

What they're saying: "We really appreciate the spirit," federation spokesperson Chris Danielsen tells Axios. "Some blind people find these signals more helpful than others. Blind people are pretty used to listening to traffic to get a good idea of when it’s safe to move through an intersection."

  • "They're useful," Danielsen says. "They're not essential, but they are useful."

The big picture: The move is part of a push by the Mayor's Office for People With Disabilities for a better Houston, according to office director Angel Ponce.

  • "Houston is working to create more inclusive and accessible infrastructure, facilities, programs and services," Ponce tells Axios. "Accessibility and inclusive strategies is something that [in] this administration, we really find support. We are hoping that the next administration that comes on also has that mission in mind."

Meanwhile, Houston Public Works is looking into other areas of town that could benefit from the enhanced buttons, Ponce says.

What we're watching: "What we're looking forward to is experiencing these installations," Danielsen says. "I'm sure we'll have plenty of constructive feedback for the city on how well they’re working for us."

  • "It is great that the city is thinking proactively about the fact that they’re going to have 3,000 blind people in town."

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