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GUEST OPINION: Making Sonoma County's dangerous crosswalks safer

  • 8/28/2011: B2:
    PC: Armando Jimenez, 13, and his sister, Ashley Jimenez, 7, stop to look at the memorial site for 4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe, while Armando walks Ashley home from Lincoln Elementary School, in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, August 23, 2011. Rowe was struck by a vehicle while crossing West Ninth Street, at Rockwell Place, on Thursday, August 18, and died Friday.

Sonoma County has experienced several tragic deaths in recent months as a result of individuals struck while in a crosswalk. When such events occur, there is understandably outrage and a demand for the local agency to do something.

The typical government response is to "study" the problem and in some cases commission a traffic engineering analysis in the belief that the city will somehow discover some glaring deficiency not previously known to them. Absent such deficiencies, the cause of such tragedies should not be a mystery; crosswalks at certain locations are inherently dangerous.

There is no difficulty in determining where such events are likely to occur. Mid-block crosswalks, crosswalks near schools and crosswalks where no stop signs or traffic signals exist across four lanes of traffic are all locations where such events are almost predictable. Motorists at these locations are either not anticipating pedestrians, are not prepared for hard-to-see school age children who enter crosswalks without checking traffic or are unaware that a stopped vehicle in the adjoining lane is waiting for a pedestrian.

Add to this the increasing number of vehicles traveling on local roadways and the increase in distractions a driver faces and the consequences are evident.

<NO1>Sadly there are yet a number of such tragedies likely to happen.

<NO>There is an old adage that what is predictable is preventable. We may not be able to predict where every pedestrian injury or fatality will occur, but we can reduce the likelihood it will be at one of the aforementioned locations.

<NO1>Any analysis of these collisions reveals that the driver was unaware of the pedestrian in or about to enter a crosswalk.<NO>The best method for avoiding more tragedies is to immediately install a system that will alert motorists to the presence of pedestrians, in or about to enter a crosswalk at these higher risk locations.

A proven solution exists. Troubled by a series of pedestrian crosswalk fatalities in the early 1990s, a Sonoma County inventor and professional pilot developed, tested and ultimately manufactured a system of illuminated in-roadway devices that aimed flashing light toward approaching vehicles when activated by the presence of a pedestrian about to enter or in a crosswalk. These cost-effective, discreet and highly effective lights are arrayed along the edge of the crosswalk, one in each lane of approaching vehicles and either can be activated by push buttons or, more effectively, by sensors at the curb. The pedestrian in most cases does not know such devices are operating, thus avoiding a false sense of security by the pedestrian.

A number of law enforcement professionals found the concept so compelling they invested their own funds to help the inventor complete the tests and develop the system for ultimate use, this writer included.

After years of testing and engineering improvements to overcome initial design challenges, the concept was approved by state and federal governments as a standard traffic control device and now is installed in a variety of locations across the country. Among those satisfied customers locally are the cities of Petaluma, and Windsor. The only such system in Santa Rosa is a recent installation operating flawlessly on Highway 12 at Jack London Drive, installed at the request of the California Department of Transportation.


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