What's Up With That? Overhead lights replace embedded ones at crosswalk

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I am writing to inquire why the embedded lights in the crosswalk across East 39th Street near Leverich Park were removed. Visibility is not good in that location, and crossing 39th Street is somewhat hazardous for pedestrians with many cars rushing through to connect between I-5 and SR500.

— Robert Sposili, Rose Village

You’re right, Robert, it’s a busy and slightly confusing spot. Vancouver is aware of that, and says it replaced the costly and not-too-effective crosswalk lights with overhead lights that are easier to maintain and more visible to everyone — including motorists who’re stacked up in a line. Ground-level lights, on the other hand, are only visible to the motorist at the front of the line.

Phasing out embedded crosswalk lights and replacing them with overhead ones is now citywide policy, according to an email from Loretta Callahan, the city’s public works spokeswoman. The work will take place only when other road resurfacing is under way.

“The embedded pedestrian crosswalk lights are being phased out by the city due to their high maintenance needs,” she wrote. “Because overhead flashers are easier to maintain, that means lower maintenance costs. We have also seen effective compliance with overhead flashers, which are visible to drivers even more so when there are other vehicles in front of theirs, and tend to be viewed by drivers as a more serious traffic control device.

“The crossing on 39th Street was recently changed from the embedded crosswalk to an overhead lighting system with additional signage as part of the 39th Street Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Project. The flashers must be activated by pedestrians, who push the button and wait (seconds) for the flashing lights to cross,” Callahan wrote.

Columbian archives show the city started installing embedded lights as a safety experiment in 2000; in 2004, while the embedded lights were broken and awaiting repairs, a teenaged girl was struck by a car and badly injured at this very intersection, 39th Street near Leverich Park. By 2007 the city was talking about phasing out embedded crosswalk lights.

Scott Hewitt

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