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Portland, Oregon

History and background
The City of Portland has had some form of audible pedestrian signal for over 20 years. In installing these devices, staff worked closely with the requester to identify specific needs.
  • In the late 1970's City staff installed buzzer-like devices at three intersections on request basis. These buzzers were inexpensive devices purchased from a local electronics store. The buzzer was only activated with a normal pedestrian push button call.
  • During the late 1980's the City began using an inexpensive Mallory chime as an audible device. It was installed in some fixed timed intersections as well as actuated intersections.
  • By 1995 the City had ten signalized intersections with audible devices.
  • In 1996 the City decided that a more formal policy was necessary and a process was implemented, which was revised in 1999 by a Citizens Advisory Committee.
During the past five years the City has greatly expanded its program.
By mid-2003, the City had 53 signalized intersections with some form
of audible signal.

The City of Portland was awarded a Pedestrian Project Award for 2003 from ITE and the Partnership for a Walkable America. The award was for the Elderly and Mobility category for Portland's project to retrofit existing signals with APS.

  APS mounted over 12 feet high on the pole broadcast speech messages at this location in Portland. 
            City engineers expressed concerns about intellibibility of the message.
APS mounted over 12 feet high on the pole broadcast speech messages at this location in Portland. City engineers expressed concerns about intelligibility of the message.

Process and procedure
A formal policy was established in 1996.
  • City staff assembled a stakeholders group, which included representation from the Oregon Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, the Oregon Commission for the Blind, Independent Living Resources, and other groups representing both the visually impaired community and mobility instructors.
  • The policy was developed over a series of three meetings (see City of Portland procedures and evaluation form in Appendix D).
Key points of policy:
  • Audible signals are installed only on a request basis.
  • The intersection has to have some unique or unusual characteristics that warrant the addition of an audible signal.
  • Referral to a mobility specialist is required; this service is provided through an agreement with Oregon Commission for the Blind. In some instances the crossing problems may be related to a lack of user skills that might be better addressed by further training.
In mid-1999 the requests for audible signals outstripped City resources for the program. A citizens advisory committee (CAC) was activated to review and rank the requests.
  • The CAC and City staff started with a ranking process similar to that used in the City of Los Angeles.
  • Staff applied the criteria to ten intersections on the request list. CAC made some revisions to the scoring criteria (See Appendix D).
  • Scoring materials were developed. The electrician responsible for the installations and a mobility instructor from the Oregon Commission for the Blind meet the requester at the candidate intersection to better understand the user’s needs and concerns. After agreeing that some sort of audible signal is a viable solution, the City staff person and mobility instructor complete field aspects of the scoring form. Information such as volumes and accidents is gathered by office staff from existing City records and added to the scoring form.
  • CAC meets semi-annually to rank the requests.
From 1996 through 2000, the City used approximately $150,000 in general transportation funds to install APS. That funding source for APS has been lost. To continue with new installations, the City received over $200,000 in transit mobility funds from the local transit agency. However, that grant expires in July 2004 and no replacement funding source has been identified yet.

  Vibrawalk pushbutton installed in Portland includes a locator tone.
            The arrow vibrates during the WALK interval and walk indication is provided from pushbutton or speaker mounted on the pedhead.
Vibrawalk pushbutton installed in Portland includes a locator tone. The arrow vibrates during the WALK interval and walk indication is provided from pushbutton or speaker mounted on the pedhead.
APS types and features
Pedhead-mounted at numerous intersections. Pushbutton-integrated at two intersections.

Pedhead-mounted device manufactured by Novax and Mallory.

Pedhead-mounted APS features
  • Walk indication - cuckoo/chirp, beep, chime
Extended button press to call accessible features on some devices (no locator tone is used.)

Pushbutton-integrated devices, manufactured by Polara Engineering
and Campbell Company, have been installed recently with locator tones and additional features.

The City of Portland has also evaluated the Vibrawalk pushbutton manufactured by Novax Industries.

Special features
Portland staff has worked with manufacturers on developing features:
  • After 1996, in deference to requests of members of the National Federation of the Blind, a technology was used that requires the user
    to hold the button for at least one second to place a call for an audible signal to make the technology ‘refuseable’. Button Activated Timer (BAT), from Novax Industries of British Columbia, requires that the button be depressed for at least one second to call the audible indication.
  • Staff worked with Novax and McCain to take the speaker and electronics out of the exterior Novax housing and mount them directly in the pedhead to afford more protection from vandalism and place the speaker closer to the users' ears.
In 1999, the CAC and City staff expressed a desire to find lower cost options so that more intersections could be treated. City staff received approval from the CAC to install lower cost Mallory devices. Since the Mallory device has neither automatic volume adjustment nor Button Activated Timer, city staff is careful to use the device only in locations
that are that are not close to residences.

Date installed
Between 1970’s and present

Installation varies greatly from intersection to intersection. Portland transportation engineering staff reports that the largest problem faced is with existing infrastructure. The aging transportation system makes installing new wires in old, undersized conduits a challenge. Location of existing poles also poses a problem. As intersections evolve throughout their life span, poles for pushbutton locations are often located in areas that are less than desirable for accessible pedestrian installations.

Obstructions, such as utility and sign poles, also are a significant challenge. These obstacles often make placement of pushbutton locations difficult, translating into higher installation costs.

Proximity of poles, in relation to one another, also has to be taken to account. Volume level of the “WALK” cue and locator tone must be loud enough to tell pedestrians to go, but quiet enough to not give a false “WALK” cue to someone at a conflicting ped lane. This can be difficult at intersections with odd configurations, such as islands with separately actuated ped lanes.


Maintenance of equipment has been almost a non-issue. There have been few maintenance problems although it should be noted that most of the equipment with electronics mounted in the pedhead or pushbutton, is relatively new. These installations are only one to six years old so there
is not a long maintenance history on those devices.

Portland tested a variety of WALK indications
  • Earliest sounds for the WALK were a buzzer and Mallory chime.
  • A trial installation used voice messages. The voice message typically said “The WALK light is now on to cross 41st Street”. Although equipped with ambient sound adjustment to increase the output as background noise increased, the voice message was often difficult to hear.
  • Tones seem to be better for cutting through background noise in an urban street environment. After the initial test with voice and tones, the City decided to use the cuckoo and chirp sounds.
Community Response/reactions:
  • Buzzer - Staff received some calls regarding the annoying sound and usually responded by placing some sort of baffling material around
    the buzzer.
  • Mallory chime - The chime was a more pleasing sound and the City seldom received any noise complaints, even though the chime was installed in some fixed time intersections.
Bill Kloos, Signal and Street Lighting Manager
Portland Department of Transportation
1120 SW 5th Avenue / Suite 800
Portland, OR 97204-1971
Phone: 503-823-5382
E-mail: Bill.Kloos@pdxtrans.org

Jason McRobbie, District Electrician
Portland Department of Transportation
1120 SW 5th Avenue / Suite 800
Portland, OR 97204-1971
Phone: 503-823-1773
E-mail: Jason.McRobbie@pdxtrans.org

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