Protecting Pedestrians: Safety upgrade already in works at crosswalk

Site of fatal collision in December has had attention in past

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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The crosswalk near where a Vancouver man was hit and killed last month has seen several rounds of safety improvements in the past and is slated for another major safety upgrade in 2012.

On the evening of Dec. 29, Steve Hunt, 51, was hit by a car on or near an illuminated crosswalk on Mill Plain Boulevard that sits just west of Andresen Road. Hunt was transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and died in the hospital, police said. The driver of the car, Mary Riley, 60, of Vancouver, remained on the scene and cooperated with police.

The accident is under investigation by Officer Ryan Martin of the Vancouver Police Department’s Traffic Unit. No ticket has been issued, Martin said Wednesday.

It wasn’t the first crash near the crosswalk.

Collision data for the past five years show a pedestrian or bicycle accident was reported at the crosswalk March 20, 2010, said Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for Vancouver Public Works, but no further details are available.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp didn’t find any re

cord that police were called to that location on that day.

There was a fatal crash in the area (but not on the crosswalk) on Dec. 15, 1999. According to Columbian archives, a 59-year-old woman was hit by a vehicle while walking on East Mill Plain Boulevard. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland. Police didn’t identify the driver, but said she was not charged with wrongdoing.

“Following those accidents, changes were made to the crosswalk and the Mill Plain Traffic Safety Corridor was later designated, providing additional improvements and increased education and enforcement,” Callahan said in an email.

The city added overhead lights in 2000 to the flashing lights embedded in the road surface. In 2012, the city plans to install a hybrid crossing with a red-light system, using grant money from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

According to the WSDOT website, the $499,000 project will include two flashing signal beacons, timing adjustments, pedestrian and bicycle safety classes, public outreach and speed enforcement.

A similar crosswalk was installed in August 2010 at a mid-block crossing near Clark College on Fort Vancouver Way. When a pedestrian pushes the button, overhead yellow lights flash to warn drivers to stop. Then the overhead lights change to solid red. The pedestrian gets a “Walk” symbol and eventually a “Don’t Walk” with a countdown for time left to cross the street. Then, the overhead lights flash red, warning drivers to be careful.

Callahan said she didn’t know whether Hunt was in the crosswalk, whether it had been turned on or whether it was working.

“All of the types of crosswalk systems used in Vancouver require activation by pedestrians, who are urged to exercise caution when crossing, and compliance by drivers, who are legally required to stop,” she said.

It can be difficult for drivers to spot pedestrians at mid-block crosswalks, especially on large roads like Mill Plain Boulevard.

The city’s Pedestrian Crossing Improvement Policy says the severity of pedestrian collisions increases when it’s dark. Between 2005 and 2009, 25 pedestrian crashes in Vancouver caused disabling injuries, the document said. Nine of those happened during the day.

City workers including police officers, traffic engineers and others meet monthly to look at crash data and safety issues to consider possible improvements, Callahan said.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.