New Traffic Experiment Planned for SM

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons will be installed on Santa Monica Blvd. over the next year.

Last holiday season, City Traffic Engineer Sam Morrissey tried an experiment: He had a diagonal crosswalk installed at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Second St.

Unfortunately, the "all-way-pedestrian scramble" lived up to its name. Many pedestrians were confused and didn't follow the crosswalk instructions.

"It was a mixed bag," Morrissey said, adding that the results could have been an anomaly, since the experiment wasn't tested elsewhere.

While Morrissey isn't planning to give diagonal crosswalks a go again anytime soon, he is launching a new traffic experiment, one he seems more confident about.

Over the next year, Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons will be installed on Santa Monica Blvd. The user-actuated device is intended to provide enhanced visibility to motorists of pedestrians at unsignalized crosswalks. Also, RRFBs are more cost-effective than in-pavement lights, which serve the same purpose.

An RRFB looks like a typical pedestrian crosswalk sign: It's yellowish, with the figure of a pedestrian featured on it. Mounted below the sign, on each side, is a rectangular bar that has two high-intensity, LED strobe lights that drivers can see at eye level. The lights flash irregularly, similar to some police cruisers.

Like in-pavement light systems, RRFBs—which are often solar-powered—are mounted at either side of a crosswalk. They can be activated when a pedestrian pushes a button or is detected, via video or infrared, at a crosswalk.

RRFBs have been in use across the U.S.—including Oregon, Florida and elsewhere—since 2009. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, yielding rose from 18 to 81 percent at crosswalks that went from having no beacons to two beacons. Yielding increased to 88 percent at crosswalks with a four-beacon arrangement.

RRFBs are more cost-effective than in-pavement lights, which don't last long, as they're often irreparably damaged by large vehicles that run over them. According to the FHWA, it costs $10,000 to $15,000 to buy and install two solar-powered RRFBs. The Nevada-based vendor Spot Devices is supplying Santa Monica with the devices.

Morrissey's experiment has been approved by the California Traffic Control Device Committee, and he's working with the FHWA on a related evaluation and report.

"If these experiments work well, I think we can see an application for that kind of device on Wilshire or elsewhere," Morrissey said.

Morrissey also spoke with Santa Monica Patch about measures the city is taking to increase pedestrian safety—and why adding more traffic signals isn't as simple a solution as it may seem. Click on the link to read the related article.

More on pedestrian safety in Santa Monica: 


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