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Monday, September 30, 2013

Things that are cool in Israel: Crossing the Street

Sort of an upbeat counterpoint to my “Things that are weird about Israel” posts

Crossing a street is not a simple matter here.  Minor streets are crossed at zebra crossings, which is easy here in Kiryat Yam, which seems to house the only laid-back Israeli drivers, but challenging elsewhere.  Still, zebra crossings are a breeze next to major intersections with stoplights.

Major intersections are usually divided into a couple of different sections, and each section has its own pedestrian signals, and often, a button to request the crossing.  I have no idea if the buttons actually do anything to speed up the lights. 

At some intersections, the greens “line up,” so you have a second or two to run across the whole road; in some cases, however, you have a second or two to run halfway, followed by another delay on another median.  This was a lesson I learned very, very quickly, basically the first time we were almost killed expecting the intersection to let us cross peacefully, like in Toronto.

Here is a typical button at one intersection I was crossing today.

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Here are two others, at different stages of the same intersection.

 IMG_00002894 IMG_00002895 

So why is this cool?  Two reasons.

One is just a small personal victory:  a couple of weeks ago, I finally figured out what the button says when you push it.  Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that for all their complications, every attempt has been made to make these into “blind-person friendly” intersections.  Not sure they’ve succeeded, but anyway, the buttons talk when you push them.

What do they say, you ask?  A very stern, Israeli lady - who sounds like a longtime smoker yet fanatically correct ulpan teacher – announces, “בקשתך התקבלה – נא להמתין בירוק” - “bakashatcha hitkabla; na lehamtin bayarok.”  “Your request has been accepted; please wait for the green.”  (mea culpa; any errors are mine and NOT the stern Israeli lady’s)

But here’s the other cool part, which I also figured out very recently.  Every one of these buttons has a yellowish panel on the side with slide-in plastic bits that look like part of a Rubik’s cube or another sort of puzzle.

Here are two:

 IMG_00002897 IMG_00002898

In a couple of places, I’d even noticed the “puzzle” was missing one of the yellow pieces, meaning that the others could slide around freely.  Anyway, the cool part is that these are actually a LEGEND, in braille, describing the structure of the intersection so that a blind person could, theoretically, cross it without being killed. 

In the one on the left, for instance, the dot represents the pedestrian waiting to cross.  There are two lanes of traffic to cross (on the right), followed by another median (where the blind person can find the next map / button).  The one on the right shows a pedestrian, a single lane of traffic (on the left), and then another median.

Cool, huh?

The button boxes also make a noise.  Kind of a mellow ticking after you’ve pressed the button (accompanied by a light flashing, presumably for deaf people who might not hear the ticking); when the light finally turns green for that section, it makes a frantic loud “run!  run!  run!” tickticktick noise.

IMG_00002896

All of this crossing was, however, necessitated by a very worthy purpose:  Getting the Girl Dancing Again.  Somebody posted an ad for a dance “chug” – after school activity group – in nearby Kiryat Shmuel (aka “k-shmoo,” its rapper name). 

Anyway, the journey, street-crossings and all, was a great success, and Naomi Rivka is now officially enrolled in her first extracurricular activity here.  The price is reasonable, and although it was less dance-y than I would have liked, she loved the teacher and came home declaring, “it’s my thing.”  So that’s settled.

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