Pedestrian warning flashers an answer to crosswalk prayers


Who said the city doesn’t respond to a wake-up call? It may take a while to figure out how to shut off the alarm clock –– like maybe more than 2½ years –– but eventually it all comes together, in this case thanks to the traffic engineers in the city of Las Vegas’ Public Works Department.

And the beneficiaries may be those pedestrians who are accustomed to saying a prayer or two before taking their lives in their hands every time they attempt to cross any of the designated crosswalks along Lake Mead Boulevard in Summerlin.

That’s because help may soon be on the way for some of those crosswalks, in the form of yellow pedestrian warning flashers. Three crosswalks on Lake Mead Boulevard are being tested by the city, and if they meet the threshold for pedestrian activity, they’ll get what assistant city traffic engineer Mike Janssen called “pedestrian-activated crosswalk warning flashers.”

The crosswalk flashers consist of two traffic signal poles separated by an arm across the top that includes the yellow flashing lights. They can be activated only by pedestrians who are looking to cross at the designated area.

“Of course, the pedestrian still has to depend on cars to stop,” Janssen cautioned.

But let’s get back to the wake-up call. The topic of my Sept. 7, 2010, column in View had been prompted by some poor soul who stood valiantly at one of the designated crosswalks, hoping to get to the other side of Lake Mead Boulevard as vehicles paid no attention.

The thoroughfare is a 45-mph zone, but don’t let that fool you. In the 2010 column, I referred to a conversation with Ward 4 City Councilman Stavros Anthony about the situation. Anthony, a former police officer and a natural enemy of reckless drivers, requested that the city engineer conduct a traffic study. According to the results, the average vehicular speed along Summerlin’s portion of Lake Mead Boulevard was found to be seven miles over the limit, or 52 mph.

But that only means that any pedestrian looking to cross at one of the seven designated Lake Mead crosswalks in Summerlin –– where those big, bright, yellow crosswalk signs are posted –– can expect to be confronted with the average driver traveling 52 mph. Now, that’s not very comforting, even for pedestrians carrying Bibles.

And, of course, since that’s only the average, it doesn’t even begin to take into account drivers who use Lake Mead Boulevard as if it were some NASCAR speedway.

Unfortunately, the pedestrian warning flashers cannot be installed at all seven Lake Mead Boulevard crosswalks because of the expense, coupled with the disruption that would be caused in traffic flow.

“We have Lake Mead Boulevard under review at three crossing points: Laguna Mist Drive, Springfield Street and Greenspring Way,” Janssen said.

He explained that pedestrians who use those crossings asked the city to look into some means of assisting them. They’ve had the big, yellow posters designating crosswalks for some time, but the signs seem to serve little purpose without something more forceful, like flashers.

“We use a camera on a pole to determine the amount of use at a crosswalk during a typical five-day period,” Janssen said.

“The threshold is usually 20 pedestrians an hour during certain times of the day to determine if a flasher is needed. When we ask the city for money to construct those units, we need the videotapes to verify the need.”

He added that the biggest problem with installing the units is cost.

“They can be very expensive,” he noted. “Putting them up could run as high as $90,000 for each unit.

“But we can’t complain too much. We happen to be blessed with so much sunshine in Las Vegas that it allows for solar energy to enter the equation. So, the cost in many cases has been reduced to about $75,000 per unit.”

Many dozens of yellow flasher units have already been installed throughout the city, in areas where designated crosswalks have heavy pedestrian use. Among the more recent units in Summerlin was one installed along Hualapai Way, between Alta Drive and Summerlin Hospital Medical Center.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, “All For Nothing,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.