Blind man upset with crosswalk upgrades; changes being made in Union City

A man from Union City who is blind said he was caught off guard when the buttons to activate crosswalks in his neighborhood seemed to disappear.

Dennis Gassaway has lived his Union City apartment off Alvarado Boulevard for 34 years and said he was instrumental in getting audible alerts added to crosswalks in the 1980s. Now, some of those same intersections are undergoing construction and renovations.

“I can’t find where the button is and I searched around with my cane and all that so I don’t know what they’ve done but it’s not safe,” Gassaway said. “It’s not good, just one day out of the blue. I had no idea what was going on. They just did it.”

2 Investigates questioned leaders with the city an learned six of 10 similar intersections are being revamped to reduce the risk of rear end crashes.

“There’s always a transition period and it can be a little confusing at first, especially if you weren't’t notified in advance,” spokesperson Lauren Burch said. 

Specifically, the left turning traffic lights and signals are located on islands in the middle of the street. The lower height in relation to the other lights creates a potentially more dangerous setup. Union City is working on fixing the intersections by a new design with a longer arm to hold the traffic lights high above traffic.

At Alvarado Boulevard and Dyer Street, the location of the crosswalk signals has been changed and moved also. As a result, Gassaway couldn't’t figure out how to cross the street. He even had a sign made in hopes others would help him across.

“It’s dangerous because you need to hear the beepers and you need to be able to hit the button,” he said. “I feel ignored. I feel slighted.”

Gassaway added, “There was no communication. I had no idea what they were doing.”

Union City responded to 2 Investigates and said Gassaway was not in the immediate notification area. Burch said the city planned to do a better job to inform neighbors of nearby construction projects.

“We try to do our best and we’re going to take that into account with any of the further traffic signal improvements,” spokesperson Lauren Burch said. “We’re also working with him to put some brail in some of those areas to make it really clear to our visually impaired residents to know exactly where to cross the right intersection.”

A state grant is funding the project and is expected to complete with the first six intersections very soon.

Gassaway later met with a city engineer and tweaks are being made to the intersection near his apartment.

“I need these signals to work,” he said. “It needs to be safe.”