British Columbia

Pedestrian ditty replaces bird chirp alert at Prince George crosswalks

B.C. company helped compose the new tune that's becoming the standard audible alert at Canadian crosswalks from coast to coast.

B.C. company helped compose Canadian Melody that's becoming the standard audible alert at crosswalks

The Canadian Melody makes its Prince George debut at a downtown crosswalk. (Andrew Kurjata, CBC )

Despite its grandiose name, the Canadian Melody sounds more like a pedestrian ditty than a symphonic passage.

But the four-tone tune is getting more and more air play at crosswalks from coast to coast, and this week marks its debut in Prince George, B.C..

The melody was created to set a new standard for audible intersection alerts. Audibles, as they are called, help visually impaired people cross streets more safely by alerting them to the walk signal and providing directional sounds to move towards, known as way finding. 

Melody replaces bird chirp 

Canada's traditional crosswalk audible is a chirping sound.

But safety officials feared that sound was too easily mimicked by real birds, which could mislead pedestrians.

So, the chirp is being replaced by the Canadian Melody.

Delta, B.C. company Novax Industries, in concert with the University of Ottawa and the Institut Nazareth et Louis Braille, started developing the tune in the 1990s.

Also popular at American intersections

"We've got tens of thousands of accessible signals we've put around Canada and the U.S. and abroad," said Douglas Gubbe, Novax's vice-president and chief technical officer. 

"It's always nice to hear them. It just makes intersections friendlier."

Green-lighted by government officials years ago, the Canadian Melody already plays at crossings in places like Halifax and Ottawa. But its road side roll out has been slow.

Gubbe says Greater Vancouver's crosswalks still feature the old chirping bird.

The Canadian Melody has just been installed at this major intersection in downtown Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata, CBC )

'Loud, clear, annoying...'

In Prince George, pedestrians in downtown compared the new tune to an ice cream truck or the horn of a clown car. 

"It's ear splittingly annoying," said Alex Skipper, as he crossed Victoria Street to the accompaniment of Canadian Melody. "But at least it's loud and clear." 

Gubbe says audible crossing alerts help not just the visually impaired, but also texting teenagers who sometimes have their eyes glued to iPhones, and distracted walkers, all of whom can benefit from an audible cue to start crossing the street.

With files from Daybreak North

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Pedestrian ditty replaces bird chirp alert at local crosswalks.