Chirping Crosswalk Changes Its Tune; Safety Matters

Jeanne Armstrong
National Post , Dec. 23, 2010

Canadian municipalities are finding themselves on opposite sides of an odd debate: whether to change the sound used to help the visually impaired
safely cross the street.

The reason for the proposed change? The chirping sound that has become commonplace at crosswalks from coast to coast sounds too much like the
northern cardinal.

A report by the Transportation Association of Canada recommends that cities replace the high-pitched bird chirp signal because it was causing visually
impaired pedestrians to stray from the crosswalk path.

Halifax announced at the beginning of December it would refit its 27 audible pedestrian signals (APS) with a four-note tune, otherwise known as the
“Canadian Melody,” becoming the most recent Canadian municipality to scrap the chirp.

The Canadian Melody was first heard in Montreal, where it was dubbed the “Montreal Melody.”

The name was changed in 2008 by the Transportation Association to reflect a national push for the new tune.

A spokesperson for the city of Ottawa, which has 500 APS systems in place, said that 25% have been refitted to play the Canadian Melody.

Hamilton has also reportedly begun making the change.

But for a tune that is being dubbed the “Canadian Melody,” it’s being implemented inconsistently from coast to coast. Roberto Stopnicki, director
of Toronto traffic management, said the city is not about to stop the sound of birds chirping on its streets anytime soon.

Toronto has received few complaints about the issue, Mr. Stopnicki said. “If we were to start to change the sound we would have to … start a very large
education advisory program,” he said. Of the approximate 2,200 pedestrian
signals Toronto has in place, about 20%, or 450 of the signals, are APS operated, Mr. Stopnicki said.

Calgary, which has 73 APS signals, and Vancouver, which has 400, have said they have not yet considered switching their APS signals to play the
Canadian Melody.

Robin East, president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians and a blind person himself, said he has no problem with the chirp, nor has he
heard of any formal complaints.

“There’s really no serious confusion in my mind…. It’s quite distinct from other birds,” he said.

Mr. East said visually impaired Canadians need consistency at their crosswalks, no matter the tune. “Just make it one way or the other — we’ll
understand and get by with it.”

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