What's Up With That? Embedded, broken crossing lights waiting for change

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

There are "Crosswalk Closed" signs attached to saw horses on the east and west sidewalks of 29th Street as it crosses Main between Shumway and Carter Park. They have been there for a few months now. This crosswalk is used frequently by residents and students. Will it be opened soon? Any plans to upgrade that crossing to make it safer? Cars usually speed through it, ignoring the flashing lights in the street.

— Michele Wollert, Vancouver

The city is on it, Michele. But that doesn't mean anything will happen anytime soon.

This is one of those troubled in-pavement lighting systems that seemed like a great idea a decade ago. The city installed a bunch of them in the early 2000s, thinking they'd be extra-visible at tricky midblock crossings like this one -- and then watched as the lights malfunctioned and failed to avert accidents. As you point out, Michele, drivers tend not to notice them even when they do work.

The most troubling incident was in 2004, when a teenage girl was struck and badly injured by a car while crossing 39th Street near Leverich Park; the embedded lights at the crossing were broken and awaiting repairs at the time.

Last year, responding to a similar question, public works spokeswoman Loretta Callahan said the city had decided to phase out embedded crossing lights. Due to budget constraints, that work will only take place when other road resurfacing is underway. The preference is now overhead flashers, which are easier to maintain and much more noticeable.

Last week, Callahan responded to the question about 29th and Main. The city's operations center has been alerted and took a look, she said in an email.

"What's been determined is that the city will need to remove the in-pavement lighting, due to unavailability of replacement materials, and install a different technology," Callahan said. "Design and details are still being worked out. In the meantime, signs have been placed to alert pedestrians that the existing system is not working and to exercise appropriate caution. Please note there is also a crossing nearby at the intersection of 33rd and Main streets." That one's a good old-fashioned traffic signal.

The city has more than 1,800 "lane miles" of streets, 17,000 streetlights and something like 240 signalized intersections, Callahan said. "If you spot an issue -- streetlight, pothole, signal, etc. -- call our Operations Center at 487-8177 or report the problem online at City of Vancouver. Don't forget to provide the location or address.

— Scott Hewitt