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Safety concerns spur upgrade to Hwy. 101 crosswalk

 

For years Redwood Theater owner Tim Patterson has seen many close calls in the crosswalk outside his downtown Brookings business.

“It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously hurt,” Patterson said.

 

He’d like to see the current crosswalk signals – constantly flashing yellow lights – replaced with a regular stop light or, at least, a bright signal light embedded in the ground that catches motorists’ attention.

For now, though, he and others will have to settle for an upgrade to the existing signal that will allow pedestrians to activate the flashing yellow lights before crossing the street.

On Monday, the Brookings City Council approved a $15,000 crosswalk upgrade, with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) paying for $4,500 of the cost. The city will pay $10,500 using streets system replacement funds. The modification is expected to happen in about six months.

Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman told the council that “staff has had requests to improve the Chetco Avenue pedestrian crosswalk ... due to past collisions and continued concern over pedestrian visibility and safety.”

After talking with ODOT officials about the situation, ODOT recommended modifying the existing flashing lights mounted above the street to flash faster but only when activated by a pedestrian.

“This will get the attention of motorists much better than a constantly flashing light,” Milliman said.

ODOT spokesman Dan Latham said the new, rapid-flashing lights have proven to be about 80 percent more effective than the current system.

Oregon law requires that motorists stop when a person enters a crosswalk and remain stopped until that person is no longer in front of the vehicle’s lane and the adjacent lane. This is different than California law, which requires motorists to remain stopped until the pedestrian is completely out of the crosswalk.Originally, the city wanted to have a flashing red light, but “ODOT will not entertain a flashing red light at this time,” Latham said.

In 2000, at the urging of city officials, ODOT installed  a new crosswalk and signs in front of the Redwood Theater.

That helped, but didn’t go far enough, Patterson said. He likes the idea of installing “in-pavement lights” across the highway, like the signal he observed recently in the city of Ukiah, Calif.

“It lights up the sky. There’s no question that someone is crossing the street,” he said.

Milliman said the city originally requested that ODOT install such a light signal, but the agency “said it is not an approved traffic control device on state highways in Oregon.

Milliman said the devices have been approved in California, including Fort Bragg, where one was installed 15 years ago. Milliman was city manager of Fort Bragg at the time.

Latham said ODOT chief engineer has not approve the in-pavement system due to lack of evidence that it is more efficient than existing systems.

“It looks neat, but we have yet to see enough documentation to justify the expense,” he said.

In addition to spending $15,000 to $25,000 to install such a system, it then has to be maintained and kept clear of debris, he said.

The rapid-flashing system is “is not expensive and has  been proven to be effective,” he added.

Brookings Public Works Director Loree Pryce said the city has not given up on installing in-pavement warning lights, but maintenance costs are an issue.

“We were considering in-pavement pedestrian activated flashing beacons for Railroad Street crosswalk but research with other cities has shown there are higher than expected maintenance costs,” Pryce said.

“I can’t say I have given up on the idea of installing these types of lights in the future, but I wanted to make sure the city doesn't get into a longer term financial commitment to keep them working. 

Staff wants to look into it more before recommending them to the council,” she said.

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