An organization for the blind has sued the city of Chicago for failing to install pedestrian signals that emit sounds signaling when it is safe to cross the street.
The American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, a nonprofit advocacy group, along with three blind people who live or work in the city, filed a suit in federal court this week, alleging that the lack of so-called accessible pedestrian signals “dangerously diminishes” the ability of blind pedestrians to safely navigate the city.
“I’m pretty much constantly worried,” said Ann Brash, one of the plaintiffs and a member of the council, who lives in La Grange but has worked downtown since 1975.
Brash said in an interview that she was almost hit by a bus two years ago while trying to cross at the corner of Madison and Jefferson streets. Other pedestrians pulled her back in the nick of time, but her white cane was split in two.
“It was a really terrifying incident,” said Brash, who has been blind since birth. “If there had been an accessible traffic signal I wouldn’t have gone across the street at the wrong time.”
Jelena Kolic, a lawyer for the council and the three people, said that they tried for years to get the city to commit to a plan for installing the signals and filed the suit because there was little progress. The suit seeks no money, but demands that the city install the signals.
Out of about 2,672 intersections with traffic signals in Chicago, only 11 convey any information to people with vision-related disabilities, the lawsuit alleges. An example of an older type of signal can be found at Roosevelt Road and Wood Street, and gives out a chirping sound, the suit said.
The suit alleges that in 2015, Chicago received a grant from the Regional Transportation Authority to install accessible pedestrian signals at Clinton, Canal, Washington and Madison streets in the Loop, but they have not been installed and a timeline for putting them in remains unclear.
Blind pedestrians are forced to resort to “workarounds” such as asking help from strangers, or attempting to follow sighted pedestrians, who may cross against the lights, the suit alleges.
Transportation department spokesman Michael Claffey said the city does not comment on pending litigation. However, he said the department is working with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to incorporate accessible pedestrian signals into new construction projects.
The department announced in July that it will add accessible pedestrian signals at at least 100 intersections over the next two years.
Brash said that downtown streets have become more complicated and busier in the last 40 years, making it even more difficult for the blind. She said that other cities, such as Phoenix and Los Angeles, have accessible signals.