Archive for Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Safety first

Are crosswalks safer with signal lights or without?

February 25, 2009


The city should do whatever is necessary to increase the safety of pedestrians in a crosswalk that connects the parking garage and the Lawrence Arts Center in the 900 block of New Hampshire.

But what is that? City traffic officials don’t seem to be able to make up their minds.

In an effort to get drivers to pay more attention to the crosswalk, a pedestrian-activated signal light was installed last week. That would seem to provide an added measure of safety for pedestrians, but city officials said the exact opposite a decade ago when they decided to dismantle pedestrian signals in the mid-block crosswalks on Massachusetts Street between Seventh and 11th streets.

Beginning in November 1998, city officials began replacing the signals with fluorescent, reflective pedestrian-crossing signs. At the time, the city’s traffic engineer, David Woosley, told the Journal-World that the signs actually were safer for pedestrians than the signals. Studies had shown, he said, that signals provided a false sense of security for pedestrians who see the light change and step into the crosswalk assuming traffic will stop when, in fact, they need to be more aware of vehicles whose drivers might not have seen the light.

Perhaps there have been some new studies, but in retrospect, it could make one wonder if the decision to remove the pedestrian signals might have been influenced by the fact that the wiring for the signals was beginning to fail and would have cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Whether crosswalks are marked with signal lights or fluorescent signs, it certainly is true that pedestrians must be on the lookout when they prepare to cross the street in mid-block or even at intersections. Far too many drivers slide, or sometimes speed, through crosswalks paying little or no attention to pedestrians who are preparing to cross the street.

Hopefully, the new pedestrian light will do the trick at the arts center crosswalk, which is used by many children and their parents walking to preschool classes and other children’s activities. Seeing how drivers often approach that crosswalk — which has limited visibility, especially on the west side for southbound drivers — it’s a miracle that there haven’t been more accidents at the site.

It’s a mystery why the city would choose to install lighted signals at that location if its traffic officials really think signs alone provide more safety. Perhaps the lesson is that pedestrians should adopt a “trust but verify” policy — trust the light but verify that motorists are stopping — as they approach even light-controlled crosswalks.


hawkperchedatriverfront 5 years, 1 month ago

City hall is an experiment in governing. They have so much money available to them, that the experiment continues every day. When and if, money is really tight, then common sense might come back. The same with the school district also. Money isn't really tight, but only in some cases and city hall is one place where the money flows in.


Multidisciplinary 5 years, 1 month ago


You are correct about the 'over the hill' danger. The same problem happens going the other direction for those who stop to turn on north on Michigan. If they have to stop for oncoming traffic to pass, they get rear-ended by the east bound coming over the hill, and no pedestrian crossing or light is involved.

Also, there are times of the year going west over that hill you mention when the sun is in everyone's eyes, and they will not be able to see cars stopped in front..they just keep going and wait until they tilt to where they can see again. They'll deny they do that, but if people didn't just drive on, the street would shut down at those times.

On Clinton Pkwy, they installed a sign that flashes red when the stop light just over the slight hill is red. Perhaps this will be another place to put one.

I also find it interesting, the LJW chose to not print this until AFTER the light was installed, when they clearly knew this was in the works, and many people had commented on the removal of the Mass St. signals.


OonlyBonly 5 years, 1 month ago

You want crosswalks to work? The answer is simple - start ticketing drivers ignoring the "stop for pedestrian" rule!


JackRipper 5 years, 1 month ago

Well valgrlku you bring up the excellent point that most people driving should be walking since they don't have the skills to be driving. Why exactly is it that the walker who has to walk far out of their way to cross the street when you in your car will certainly be getting where you are going just about as fast after a letting someone cross the street who is walking.


demonfury 5 years, 1 month ago

As a pedestrian, I don't have to be a Drunken State University graduate to know that I will almost certainly lose the battle between me and an oncoming Buick. However, Lawrence foolishly puts a priority on the pedestrian's right of way. Obviously picked that up from KU's freshman orientation day. If you want traffic to stop, put in a stop light, moron. How many tax dollars are we going to spend to solve this issue? It's a no brainer people.......


valgrlku 5 years, 1 month ago

I'm much more concerned about the new pedestrian crossing light recently installed at the top of the 9th Street hill near Hillcrest Elementary. Heading west up this blind hill always requires caution, as drivers cannot see cars stopped at the top who are waiting to turn left (no left turn either north or south would make more sense).

The crossing has been placed at the top of the hill, and I wonder how many cars will rear end one another when the light is red, or worse yet, rear end another car and push it into the crosswalk when it is occupied.

I'm wondering why the crossing was necessary, since I rarely, if ever, have seen anyone cross the street on that stretch. I'm also curious at to why it wasn't placed at least two blocks farther west.


Chris Ogle 5 years, 1 month ago

City traffic officials don’t seem to be able to make up their minds

Oh yes... to spend, or not to spend.... SPEND... final answer.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes there are guidelines to follow but they are only guidelines. Each situation must be considered individually.

The city needs to activate these Art Center signals pronto. People are pushing the buttons to make traffic stop NOT realizing the lights are not operating as yet.

Citizens beware.

Drivers need to beware when approaching this crosswalk instead of NOT realizing there is a busy crosswalk.

Do drivers know what the symbols on the signs mean?

Are drivers aware of the downtown speed limits?

Are cell phones a distraction for too many drivers?

Too many Mass Street drivers do not stop or maybe do not realize the crosswalks are there or maybe simply do not notice the crosswalk signs.


make_a_difference 5 years, 1 month ago

This is how I taught my kids to cross streets when they were little. And later to drive defensively. Doesn't matter if the other person was in error if you end up getting hurt.


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