New signs will replace the signals that allow pedestrians to stop traffic in mid-block.
Pedestrians no longer will be able to stop downtown traffic with the push of a button.
During the next two weeks, city crews will be dismantling mid-block pedestrian signals in the 700, 900 and 1000 blocks of Massachusetts Street. The signals will be replaced with brand-new pedestrian-crossing signs.
The first set of signs will be unveiled today in the mid-block crossing in the 800 block of Massachusetts, where pedestrian signals were removed more than a year ago after their wiring system failed.
Fixing the problem would have required tearing up the street, installing new wiring and spending thousands of dollars, said David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer. So officials devised a plan to replace all the signals with new signs, which will bring the crosswalks into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
Believe it or not, Woosley said, the crosswalks also will be safer for pedestrians. Studies have shown that push-button signals at mid-block crossings give walkers a false sense of security.
"The driver may or may not be looking at the light," Woosley said. "If the pedestrians become more aware -- and these signs will make them more aware -- it will be safer."
The new signs -- featuring a new fluorescent "yellow green" reflective sheeting approved by the Federal Highway Administration -- will be larger than the city's current crosswalk signs, Woosley said. The signs and mounting brackets cost the city about $1,000; the cost of removing signals has not been determined.
Hutchinson resident Kaydeen Girard took advantage of one of downtown's mid-block signals while shopping Thursday afternoon, and stopped traffic for 10 seconds as she crossed the street toward the Blue Heron.
She isn't sold on claims that the signs will improve safety. Signs won't stop traffic, Girard said.
"Maybe the people will see the cars," she said, "but will the cars see the people?"
City officials want to be sure people take note of the change, particularly with downtown's winter-holiday shopping season fast approaching. Among the reminders: By state law, pedestrians in a marked crosswalk always have the right-of-way.
"We're all going to have to be very careful," said Gayle Martin, the city's communications coordinator.
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