Signaling a path to safety

Signaling a path to safety
The rectangular rapid flashing beacon on Oak Avenue alerts drivers that pedestrians are trying to cross. Senior Traffic Engineer Doug Bilse said the sign was a pilot program to test drivers’ reactions. No complaints have been received about the sign. Photo by Ellen Wright

Traffic commission recommends more flashing pedestrian signs

CARLSBAD — The Traffic Commission approved a recommendation to install six rectangular rapid flashing beacons in the Village, just like the one on Oak Avenue and Carlsbad Boulevard, at a meeting on Feb. 2.

The push-activated beacons light up and alert drivers that pedestrians are waiting to cross.

The beacon on Oak Avenue was used as a pilot program in 2013 to assess safety of the relatively new traffic device.

“This was a pilot program to evaluate whether additional (beacon) systems would be appropriate at other enhanced crosswalk locations on Carlsbad Boulevard,” said Senior Traffic Engineer Doug Bilse.

Bilse said the council was worried the flashing lights would distract drivers.

A pedestrian with a bike and paddleboard is clipped by a truck failing to yield at a crosswalk on Carlsbad Boulevard and Hemlock Avenue this week. The pedestrian wasn’t injured in the accident. Photo by Tony Cagala

A pedestrian with a bike and paddleboard is clipped by a truck failing to yield at a crosswalk on Carlsbad Boulevard and Hemlock Avenue this week. The pedestrian wasn’t injured in the accident. Photo by Tony Cagala

The city has not received any complaints about the beacons on Oak Avenue.

The Federal Highway Administration released a study on the rapid flashing beacons and found that the beacons influence drivers to stop and yield to pedestrians more.

“The drivers comply with a pedestrian going out into the crosswalk and (the driver) stops and yields the right of way,” said Bilse.

On Tuesday around 7 p.m., a pedestrian’s bike was hit while he was crossing at the existing crosswalk on Carlsbad Avenue and Hemlock Avenue, one of the proposed sites for the flashing beacons.

Nobody was injured but the driver was charged with not yielding the right-of-way to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, according to Jodee Sasway, public information officer with the Carlsbad Police Department.

The commission recommended city council approve the six beacons, at four existing crosswalks along Carlsbad Boulevard and at two uncontrolled mid-block locations on Grand Avenue.

The recommended sites to install the flashing beacons are at existing crosswalks along Carlsbad Boulevard at Hemlock Avenue, Cherry Avenue, Maple Avenue and Sycamore Avenue.

The two on Grand Avenue would be located mid-block between Garfield Street and Carlsbad Boulevard near the senior apartments and one west of the intersection between Grand Avenue and State Street.

Bilse said there were multiple requests for a flashing beacon near the retirement community.

The signs are a lower cost alternative to installing traffic lights, Bilse told the council.

“Traffic signals (are) an alternative but then you have the incredible cost, the distraction and you have a lot of maintenance and malfunctioning, so we feel that the (beacons) are a good alternative,” Bilse said.

The beacons aren’t approved at the federal level but are approved in California.

According to Bilse, California has a history of testing out new traffic practices.

“Typically, what happens is the federal will come in with a low bar and Californians will raise the bar and require a higher level and then that will become the level eventually on the federal point,” Bilse said.

Traffic Commissioner Mychal Dourson expressed his concern that the beacons don’t have timers, which could impact traffic during times when a lot of pedestrians are crossing, such as in the summer.

Bilse told him that the beacons are meant more to alert drivers that pedestrians are looking to cross and if the lack of timers becomes a problem, city staff can look into implementing a timer.

It is not yet decided whether the signs will be solar powered or if they’ll tap into existing electricity sources.

Bilse said solar power is more expensive.

If city council approves the beacons, Bilse said, the city will likely begin installing them by summer.

Update: A past version of the story said a rapid flashing beacon was planned between Christiansen Avenue and Grand Avenue. Pending city council approval, the crosswalk is planned to be located on Grand Avenue mid-block between Garfield Street and Carlsbad Boulevard.

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