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.