City grapples with crosswalk chirping sounds on Main Street in Aspen |

City grapples with crosswalk chirping sounds on Main Street in Aspen

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Pedestrians on Monday mosey through one of Aspen's four crosswalks on Main Street with traffic signals that now have audible alerts. The city has been hit with numerous complaints that the chirp-like sounds are loud and distracting.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

While those chirping sounds on Main Street aren’t spring mating calls from Aspen’s fowl life, they certainly have gotten a number of residents hot and bothered.

Since Thursday, Main Street’s four intersections with traffic signals have created an audible nuisance for Main Street businesses and pedestrians who have complained that the chirps are loud and disruptive.

The traffic signals on Main Street, which is part State Highway 82, fall under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT last week installed what are called “audible pedestrian signals” in response to a visually impaired person who sought aid for crossing the street because of safety reasons, city officials said. The audible alerts allow him to cross the street safely, they said.

But to such others as Aspen resident Mike Maple, the “chirping crosswalk indicators are completely over the top in terms of volume and penetrating tone. They can be heard inside office spaces over a block from intersections,” he wrote in a letter to The Aspen Times.

City officials, however, said federal law supersedes concerns of those afflicted by the tweets.

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“This gentleman is legally blind and he was basically unable to cross Main Street without the help of the audible crosswalk,” said Justin Forman, the city’s senior project manager.

The matter had to be addressed because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, City Engineer Tricia Aragon said.

“Once you get a request like this, then you need to get in compliance,” she said, noting the city originally fielded the request and then forwarded it to CDOT.

That a single individual requested the audible signals while so many others deal with it isn’t the point, Aragon said.

“Many people have asked why they should endure this type of noise for just one request from one person,” she said. “When you boil it down, my answer is ‘because it’s the law.’”

Even so, the city wants to find a way to turn down the noise.

Before a work session Monday on a separate manner, Mayor Steve Skadron asked for some explanation about the Main Street chirps, which originally were activated each time the traffic signals changed. Councilman Adam Frisch added that he had received 47 email complaints since the system debuted.

“CDOT installed them and now we are working with them to get them working at a level that we can live with,” Public Works Director Scott Miller said.

The audible signals have been tweaked so they that go off each time a pedestrian presses the walkway-signal buttons.

For the past two years, an audible pedestrian signal has been operating at the intersection of Mill and Main streets, “though not nearly as loud as these,” Miller said. That signal also was put up at the behest of the legally blind man who asked for the expanded system.

The city has notified CDOT of the complaints, but it’s not high on the state’s list of priorities, city officials said.

In the meantime, the city plans to send recommendations to CDOT to make the situation palatable for all involved. Miller noted the solution is not as simple as turning down a volume button.

“It’s on a computer and we don’t have access to it,” he said.

An alternative or customized system by the could be implemented, but Councilwoman Ann Mullins cautioned that “we need to be careful with this.”

“Once we start customizing, we might run into more problems than we anticipate,” she said.

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