A FLASHING IDEA: City staff, manager propose LEDs embedded in road for crosswalk in front of post office
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Sept. 19, 2006 -- Plans were announced Tuesday that will make crossing Church Street in front of the post office safer for pedestrians.

Awareness of the dangers for people walking across the street was heightened last year when a woman was seriously injured when struck by a car. The accident prompted a number of requests and a petition to the Sulphur Springs City Council to install devices to warn drivers of the crosswalk.

Flashing lights were the most obvious choice, but the city is going to make the entire crosswalk flash.

"I think we can have flashing lights and a flashing crosswalk," City Manager Marc Maxwell said. "There is new technology available that allows us to place flashing lights in the crosswalk itself, so we will have both, it looks like -- at least that's what we will be proposing."

Bright light emitting diodes -- LEDs -- will be embedded in the pavement and will signal when someone is attempting to cross.

"As an added bonus, they won't flash all the time," Maxwell said. "They will flash when a pedestrian steps into the crosswalk, so people don't become accustomed to seeing the lights on all the time and become accustomed to ignoring them. When the lights are on, there will be a pedestrian in the crosswalk."

Sensors will be installed on each side of the street to activate the warning lights before a person could step into lanes of traffic.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, the amber LED lights would be set to flash at a rate designed for maximum driver recognition and will be visible both during the day and at night.

The flashing lights are only activated when a pedestrian wants to cross and are automatically shut off after a set period of time, i.e., the time required for a pedestrian to safely cross the street. If installed in conjunction with the means to detect the presence of pedestrians while in the crosswalk, the crossing interval can be extended, in which case the lights would continue to flash and allow slower pedestrians to safely cross.

The city manager gave credit to his staff for coming up with the idea of a flashing crosswalk rather than just flashing lights on either side.

The new safety technology will be somewhat more expensive than conventional flashing lights, but Maxwell said that extra cost was easily justified.

"It will cost about $30,000, but what is the value of a human life?" he said.

The project will be a part of the annual Capital Improvement Project budget that will be presented to the council in the regular October meeting. Assuming favorable action from the council, the project will be completed in the near future.

"It will certainly be done in the coming year, and I would imagine fairly rapidly," Maxwell said.

Still another technology twist will power the planned warning system. Solar cells will be placed nearby to convert light from the sun into electricity to power the lights.

The LEDs do not require a lot of power to generate their bright lights. Similar lights are now available for bicycles that will provide flashing tail lights for two to four months using only one AAA battery.

The LEDs are capable of generating extremely bright light, as evidenced by their use in signal lights on Davis Street at the MainStreet and Connally Street intersections. Even with direct sunlight, the LEDs are easily seen.

An actual date for the installation of the new safety system will be set if council members give final approval to the project when they meet on Oct. 2.

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