4-year-old accident prompts crosswalk overhaul

Port Orchard isn’t known as a pedestrian-unfriendly town but, for city officials, one pedestrian hit in a city crosswalk is one too many.

That’s why, thanks to a $162,000 federal highway grant, the city plans to make the intersection of Bay Street and Frederick Avenue in downtown a paragon of pedestrian safety. Not only does the city plan to extend the sidewalk more than eight feet into the intersection — via a series of “bulb-outs” — it also successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation to let the city install embedded warning lights in the Bay crosswalks.

City engineer Larry Curles, who is overseeing the project, said the state typically isn’t crazy about having embedded lights in state highways, and Bay Street is technically Highway 160 on state maps.

“I don’t know how everything happened, but the stars lined up and we have permission to proceed,” Curles said.

The Bay/Frederick crosswalks came under city scrutiny after a woman was struck by a car there in 1999. According to old police records, the woman was crossing Bay south-to-north on the west side of the intersection when she was struck. The car involved apparently clipped her as she entered the westbound lane, mere feet from the sidewalk.

The woman was not badly injured, but the city was worried — crosswalks are supposed to be safe places to cross the street. City officials concluded visibility was a major factor in the collision and began planning ways to make crossing pedestrians more obvious to passing cars.

Embedded lights, which flash along the crosswalk when automatically tripped by a pedestrian in the intersection, Curles said, became a top choice. Flashing lights would attract a lot more driver attention than static lines painted on the pavement.

“A lot of people just blow right through (crosswalks) and ignore them,” he explained.

Automatic motion sensors eliminate the need for pedestrians to activate the lights themselves — simply stepping into the crosswalk will trip the circuit and set the lights flashing.

Bulb-outs, the other safety feature planned for the intersection, serve the dual purpose of slowing traffic and reducing the amount of time a pedestrian spends in the street. Curles said the islands keep pedestrians from blending in with other sidewalk traffic and eliminates the need for people to walk between parked cars — a visual distraction that can make them virtually invisible to motorists.

The bulbs also create a “choke-point,” he continued, which encourages cars to slow down and pay closer attention to the road.

The whole design was carefully engineered to ensure large trucks can still turn at the intersection, although Curles admitted they won’t have quite as much room to maneuver as they do now.

The city will solicit bids for the $180,000 project during the first two weeks of August. If everything goes as planned — Curles said the $18,000 that is the city’s share of the project cost was already included in the 2003 budget — the intersection improvements could be up and running by Christmas.

Curles said, despite the time it took to work through the design process, he doesn’t expect the actual construction to be that complicated.

“It’s straightforward,” he said. “It’s just taken time.”

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