Alder Street is lookin’ good with its smooth, black, pothole free asphalt and new diagonal parking. It’s so chic from Spokane Street to Fourth Avenue that even the traffic signals are showing off. You can’t shut them up — literally.

What’s up with that?

The talking signals are high tech, designed to let people with impaired vision know when it’s safe to cross. In addition, when the button is pressed and held, the signals offer info on the direction the street is going, the exact location and how much time is left to cross. Pretty impressive.

But the constant chatter combined with the requirement the button on the signal be pushed to activate the walk signal has some folks who spend time crossing downtown streets annoyed.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait” — seemingly forever — is heard when the don’t cross signal is on even when the light for cars is green. The monotone, computerized voice is a usual topic of conversation when people are well, waiting, waiting, waiting at the intersection.

They also aren’t thrilled about seeing the light for traffic turn green but not the walk sign because the button wasn’t pushed.

Some wonder if there is a way to reduce the chatter and get an automatic cross signal when the light for cars turns green.

It probably could be done, but it won’t be. The upgrades are necessary to meet the current standards for accommodating those with disabilities.

Doug Eaton, a city of Walla Walla civil engineer and project manager in the Public Works Department, said the new signals have been set using the information provided by the city’s consultant.

The time allotted for crossing and other specifics can — and likely will — be tweaked over time as the city gets input from the public, but the goal of providing needed information for those with diminished sight remains, Eaton said.

Getting the walk sign to come on automatically when the traffic light turns green is probably not going to happen, Eaton said. People are going to have to remember to push the button, and they might have to wait for a cycle of the traffic signals.

However, if the button had been pushed at some point earlier in the cycle the cross signal will appear when the traffic light changes. It’s not magic, just fortunate timing.

As the city upgrades intersections and installs new signals, this will be the new normal. Right now, the state-of-the-art signals are only on Alder Street and at Second Avenue and Main Street.

The signals on Alder were in desperate need of upgrade, and not just because they were low tech. They were also very difficult to see.

The traffic signals did not hang over the road as is common, but were mounted to the side at First Avenue and Alder Street. As a result, drivers — particularly visitors — looked past them to the next intersection and failed to stop at the red light.

These intersections are clearly safer. And worth the wait, wait, wait.

Rick Eskil can be reached at rickeskil@wwub.com or 509-526-8309. If you, too, wonder what’s up with that, let Eskil know about it and maybe he can find out.

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