Cloverdale on Friday got a new flashing crosswalk at a dangerous intersection that was the scene of death and injury last year.
The LightGuard system, with road-embedded, flashing amber lights on each side of the crosswalk, is touted as one of the most effective systems for getting motorists to notice pedestrians and stop.
"This is a big deal for us," said Mayor Carol Russell as she watched the $60,000 crosswalk activated. "I'm getting good feedback from people who say it's great."
"Here comes a kid on a bike now," said City Manager Paul Cayler as he watched the boy trigger the in-road flashing lights. Cars stopped as the child safely crossed the wide swath of South Cloverdale Boulevard.
The small cluster of Cloverdale officials and engineers gathered Friday in the bright afternoon sunshine and expressed their satisfaction. But the real difference will be apparent at night.
That's when the most serious incidents, including a fatality, occurred at the crosswalk, located at Healdsburg Avenue, just south of the Citrus Fairgrounds.
After dark on July 7, Maria Ponce, 68, of Cloverdale was struck and fatally injured in the crosswalk.
The 83-year-old driver said he didn't see her, although police said he was not wearing required corrective lenses.
Then on Halloween night, two cousins aged 12 and 13 were struck by a pickup driver who said he didn't see them. One of the boys spent weeks in the hospital as the result of his badly broken legs and surgeries.
The incidents generated a strong outcry from the family of Ponce and other members of the community, who begged the City Council to put in more lighting and safety measures.
Flower bouquets and votive candles still remain on one end of the crosswalk as a poignant memorial to Ponce, who was a great grandmother and matriarch of a large family.
When the council in November approved the new crosswalk safety measures and addition of an overhead streetlight, Ponce family members said it gave them a small measure of peace.
"The idea is to grab attention, make sure they're checking the crosswalk for pedestrians," City Manager Cayler said Friday of the in-road, pulsating LED lights and flashing warning signs.
He said the crosswalk represents a "belt and suspenders approach" because it starts flashing either when a pedestrian pushes a button, or automatically activates a motion sensor.
"It's fail-safe," he said.
The crosswalk gets heavy use from children traveling to and from nearby Washington School
According to Cloverdale Police, the intersection where the crosswalk is located has been the scene of five accidents over the past year involving pedestrians or bicyclists struck by vehicles.
"Making improvements that can potentially save lives like this is good; it's rewarding," said Tim Carter, a supervisor with DC Electric Group Inc., which was subcontracted to install the system.
The money for the crosswalk and overhead streetlight came from Measure M funds, derived from a 20-year sales tax measure Sonoma County voters approved 10 years ago to pay for road improvements.
There are approximately 2,000 LightGuard systems in place nationwide and most cities in Sonoma County have at least one.
Carter said it is important that pedestrians don't get a false sense of security in any crosswalk, regardless of the safety measures in place.