Flashing lights alert motorists at fatal Foster Road crossing

Find out why the first of these “Rapid-Flash Beacon” systems was installed here – you’ll be seeing more of them popping up around Portland. And, you’ll learn the results of a “Pedestrian Crossing Mission” conducted at the site just one week later. It’s all right here …

After activating the “Rapid-Flash Beacon” system, these pedestrians find crossing SE Foster Road at SE 80th Avenue much easier than before.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Regardless the weather, or the time of day, motorists on SE Foster Road approaching the pedestrian crosswalk at SE 80th Avenue will no longer need to guess whether or not a pedestrian is about to cross this busy thoroughfare, thanks to a newly-installed signal system.

When it was unveiled on March 5, Peter Koonce, the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Signals and Street Light Manager, was on hand to talk about this new generation of crossing signal.

“It’s called a Rapid-Flash Beacon,” Koonce explained. “The device helps pedestrians communicate that they are about to across the street. Any street intersection, whether or not it’s marked, should be treated as a crosswalk. The Rapid-Flash Beacon makes it especially clear to drivers that they should be yielding to pedestrians who want to cross the street.”

Because the lights operate only when triggered by a pedestrian pushing a button that’s mounted on the signal pole, these solar-powered units – with battery backup for nighttime operation – require no utility hook-up.

Nancy Chapin, President of the Foster Area Business Association, and Walt Nichols, Chair of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association, welcome Portland Mayor Sam Adams, as he inaugurates the new “Rapid-Flash Beacon” system on SE Foster Road at SE 80th Avenue.

Mayor Adams inaugurates signal installation
Portland’s top official, Mayor Sam Adams, came to inspect the new installation.

“Here on SE Foster Road, on November 1, just four months ago, two young Portlanders – Lindsay Leonard and Jessica Finley – lost their lives,” Adams recalled. “They were struck by a car as they were attempting to cross this very section of street.”

Adams indicated it was the tragic death of the two women that caused him to direct PBOT to install the new beacons here.

“Today, you’re seeing only the third or fourth installation of this new kind of walking beacon in the state of Oregon,” Adams said. “Our hope is, with the additional money from the State, you’ll see a lot more of these kinds of safe-walking beacons all over the City of Portland. They will be cost-effective – and they will save lives.”

A typical signalized crossing – utilizing the traditional overhead “red-yellow-green” traffic signals – costs about $125,000 per installation, continueed Adams. “But these beacon installations cost only about $25,000.”

Business, neighborhood representatives praise beacons
Nancy Chapin, President of the Foster Area Business Association, welcomed Mayor Adams on behalf of the 450 businesses and property owners in the area.

“The ability to cross the street safely,” Chapin said, “is one of the necessities for Foster-area businesses to safely provide the services and products that bring on the wave of prosperity that’s needed to continue the renaissance of this community.”

Turning to Adams, she continued, “Thank you again for moving swiftly in the face of serious need, and we look forward to working with you on the next steps to improve pedestrian safety here in Southeast Portland.”

“This is fantastic,” was the reaction of Walt Nichols, Chair of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association, to the installation. “It’s right on the corner of our neighborhood. This is such a dangerous crossing; I have nearly been hit here myself.”

Mayor Sam Adams listens as Willamette Pedestrian Coalition’s Steph Routh offering thanks the City of Portland for taking action at this hazardous pedestrian crossing.

The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition’s Steph Routh – she led a silent protest, a week after the two women were struck at the crosswalk – was also pleased to see the beacon system in place and working.

“I think this proves, once again, the commitment that City Hall has to pedestrian safety,” Routh told us. “As Mayor Adams said, there will be a lot more of these signals. Our group looks forward to them.”

Police conduct “enforcement and education mission”

Under the watchful eye of Police Traffic Division officers, PBOT’s Sharon White serves as the “designated walker” during an “enforcement and education mission” less than a week after the new beacons became operational.

It was a sunny afternoon when the beacons were inaugurated, but it was pouring-down rain when the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division conducted an “enforcement and education mission” at the same place, less than a week later, on Thursday, March 11th.

“Mayor Sam Adams asked that the mission be conducted here,” explained PDOT’s Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership program coordinator Sharon White, as she prepared once again to cross S.E. Foster Road by activating the Rapid-Flash Beacon system.

Frequent crossers, Scott Clark and Amy Sandness, say they’ve already found that the beacon helps them safely make their way across busy SE Foster Road.

While White headed south across Foster Road – under the watchful eye of Traffic Division officers – while Scott Clark and Amy Sandness headed north. “It’s definitely a good idea to have the signals here,” Clark told us. “When the traffic is heavy, sometimes it’s very difficult to cross the street – even with a marked crosswalk.”

“From my observation,” White added, a few minutes later, when she crossed the road again, “it appears that this new beacon system really is helping. Many pedestrians who use this crosswalk have been walking here for months or years. So, we plan to do more outreach and education in this area, because a lot of pedestrians don’t yet know they can activate the beacons by pushing the buttons.”

In general, White said, the drivers that afternoon were being very compliant. “They’re paying attention to the new flashing beacons, and paying attention to the crosswalk even when the beacons are not flashing.”

Still, even with the addition of rapidly flashing beacons and a well-marked pedestrian walkway, a few motorists apparently still refuse to yield to pedestrians. “During the three hour mission, officers wrote nine citations and three warnings,” White later reported.

Look for more of these new solar powered crossing beacons popping up around town – and keep an eye open for pedestrians as you drive!

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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