Your Village: What is the crosswalk signal on Clinton Street saying?

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The corner of Clinton Street and Washington. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

I cannot understand what the voice is saying at the downtown crosswalks after it announces the street name. It bugs me every time I hear it. It says something like “Clinton, Clinton, walk standing on the blocks.” – Anonymous, Iowa City, via email

Well, the “Clinton, Clinton” part is right. The rest is… close. Sort of.

“Clinton. Walk sign is on to cross. Clinton,” repeated three times, is what the talking crosswalk signal at the corner of Clinton and Washington is saying. It also says, “Wait, wait,” before the walk sign lights up.

Talking crosswalk signals were first introduced in Los Angeles 20 years ago to help visually impaired pedestrians. They were quickly embraced as a major improvement over the older “noise-making” crosswalk signals. Those older signals used bird-like sounds (“cuckoo” for a north-south intersection and “peep, peep” for an east-west crossing) or a “fast tick” sound to indict the walk sign was lit.

Like other outdoor speakers, the ones built into the crosswalk signals have to withstand a wide range of weather conditions, which means parts must be durable. And that can cut into sound quality (think about fast food drive-through speakers), meaning that some people might think they are being asked to stand on blocks when it’s time to cross the street.