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You Ask ... Patch Answers: Why Are Needham Center Crosswalk Bells So Loud?

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If you've ever spent time in downtown Needham, you're familiar with the crosswalks at busy intersections—and the loud bells that alert pedestrians when it is time to cross the street.

But are they too loud?

Hillside Avenue resident Mike D'Ambrosio recently reached out to Needham Patch with exactly that complaint, wondering why the bells are so loud and whether there is anything the town can do to turn them down.

D'Ambrosio writes:

Does Needham, MA have the loudest, most obnoxious crosswalk bells in the country? I thought it was my just by my house on Hillside Avenue, but it’s now every crosswalk in Needham. I have been complaining to the city for over a year now to lower the volume or change the bell to, say, a bird chirp or something—anything—else.

It’s really crazy to think such a nice, quiet town would install on purpose the most awful noise for a crosswalk you could imagine.

To find the answer, to D'Ambrosio's question, Needham Patch reached out to Needham Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick, who said that the short answer to "why" is that the audible signal is designed to alert those with limited vision to when it is safe to cross the street.

In fact, the town has recently received complaints that one of the signals in town was not working, from a resident who relies on the bells to cross the street, Fitzpatrick said. The town is working to fix that problem.

As for why the bells are so loud, Fitzpatrick provided this answer, courtesy of Highway Superintendent Rhain Hoyland:

The old style bells that we use are not adjustable. Our traffic inspector 'tapes' the new bells to reduce the decibel. The bells replaced in the Heights and the downtown last week have not yet been taped. That work is scheduled for this week.

That means the bells could get quieter soon, although how quiet remains to be seen. After all, they must still be loud enough to alert pedestrians, particularly those with special needs.

What do you think? Are Needham's crosswalk bells the "most obnoxious in the country"? Would a bird chirp or alternative sound be better than the alarm currently used? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And send your questions about anything Needham-related to "You Ask ... Patch Answers" via becca.manning@patch.com. We'll do our best to dig up the answer for you.

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