Selectmen Criticize Effectiveness, Aesthetics of Pedestrian-Activated Flashing Beacons


There's a push-button activated flashing beacon for the crosswalk at Weed and Wahackme. Credit: Michael Dinan

The Board of Selectmen at its most recent meeting approved a contract with a Newtown-based company for pedestrian-activated flashing beacons on Gower Road at South School and Elm Street at Kimberly Place.

Motorists are “not necessarily paying attention to the students in the crosswalk” or crossing guards and monitors at South School trying to ensure their safety, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann.

“We put in additional ‘no parking’ signs to try to free up the area and we’re still having a problem,” Mann told the selectmen at their March 5 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.

There also are many people on Kimberly Place who seek to cross Elm Street at the intersection, he said.

“It’s been a longstanding request,” Mann said.

Both installations have been approved by the Police Commission.

First Selectman Dionna Carlson and Selectmen Steve Karl and Amy Murphy Carroll voted 3-0 in favor of a $23,900 contract with East Coast Signs & Supply.

The selectmen also raised questions about the effectiveness of the “rapid rectangular flashing beacons” or RRFBs.

“Do we know how effective these are?” Murphy Carroll said. “You certainly want to do anything to make people slow down. People just don’t think of pedestrian crossings.”

Mann said the adherence rate of the beacons is 92% and that the figure “doesn’t necessarily drop off.”

Other measures, such as signs, see a dramatic dropoff in the adherence rate post-installation, he said.

“The rapid rectangular flashing beacon probably has the greatest adherence rate out of all the measures that we’ve been installing,” Mann said.

Murphy Carroll said she sees motorists running through the pedestrian crossing at Weed and Elm Streets “a lot.”

“And I see a lot of people not realizing people are trying to cross, even with the flashing,” she said.

Carlson said she sees the same problem on Farm Road.

“So New Canaan is at a 50% [adherence rate] and the rest of the world is at 92%?” she said. 

The first selectman added, “I don’t love flashing signs. I think they’re kind of ugly. And it really is visual pollution in the town. And so if we can find something that’s more attractive and more effective, I understand it might not be out there now, but I do really not like to see all kinds of blaring, flashing lights.”

To Carlson’s point, Police Chief John DiFederico noted that one advantage of the RRFBs is that they only activate when a pedestrian pushes a button to use a crosswalk.

Karl said he has seen motorists pay better attention to the RRFB on South Avenue near the YMCA, and noted that the crosswalk there additionally has a pedestrian stanchion in the middle of the road.

Carlson said she often sees those stanchions out-of-place, meaning they likely have been struck by a motor vehicle.

Mann conceded that “they get struck quite often” and that it raises serious pedestrian safety concerns.

Carlson said that “kind of begs the question: How effective is it? Because I’m watching them get hit all the time.”

She asked why stop signs cannot be used in some cases, instead of the crosswalks and flashing beacons.

Mann said that some areas are not appropriate for stop signs because—depending on factors including sight lines, speeds and grades—motorists sometimes do not anticipate them, which endangers the pedestrians who count on cars stopping. For example, while stop signs may be appropriate for Weed and Elm Streets, the Wahackme and Weed Streets intersection is not.

“That one would be a situation where you would not get adherence to the stop sign, which would then have people blowing through it, which you would then, at that point, in essence, cause an accident elsewhere because you’re expecting or anticipating the person stopping, and they don’t,” he said. “So we can’t, at every one of our mid block crosswalks, we can’t place a stop sign. So we’re stuck with these, and in our high-pedestrian areas, they’re proven effective.”

5 thoughts on “Selectmen Criticize Effectiveness, Aesthetics of Pedestrian-Activated Flashing Beacons

  1. When we were closing on our house our lawyer said make sure you don’t park on elm longer than allowed as the parking enforcement in New Canaan is very diligent with tickets. Perhaps it is time for the Police to focus on giving traffic tickets for what appears to be a general problem, based on this article, of people not following traffic rules. We are very aware of speeding, going through school bus lights and through cross walks where we live yet I very rarely see motorists stopped but I almost always see parking enforcement out in town.

  2. Re: weed/elm
    Pedestrians waiting to cross from the west to east of Weed are difficult to see if you are driving north on Weed Street. I’ve had the town trim back trees and I still have had situations when there is an oncoming driver headed south slowing down at the intersection with their blinker on. I think they are slowing down to make the turn in front of me into Elm (since I can’t see the pedestrians in the shadows of the trees if they are wearing dark clothes and the flashing lights are covered w branches and or dappled light). I am watching to see if the car will be turning onto elm in front of me (so I’m focused on the moving car, not looking for people waiting to cross) and when I realize the car is not going to turn, I start to make my right into elm and that’s when I see the pedestrians in the crosswalk. I live here and know this intersection but still find myself caught off guard, I’m sure it’s worse with drivers passing through town unaware (and often flying down Weed street) I think there should be a stop light there before something tragic happens.

  3. It is often difficult to see a pedestrian waiting to cross an intersection, particularly at dusk, and flashing beacon signs dramatically improve the chances that the driver will realize that there’s a person in the crosswalk. Flashing beacons lights may not always be effective, but they are far better than nothing. Calling them light pollution is absurd. They only flash for a few seconds, they’re visible only to approaching drivers and they don’t obscure views of the sky.
    I would very much appreciate one at the corner of South and Maple, across from the Library, which has a good deal of pedestrian traffic.

  4. An educational campaign by the town and more indept press reporting on the issue and steps taken to mitigate the hazards and encourage motorist compliance with the laws and regulations that give pedestrians the right of was would certainly be appropriate. And enforcement could certainly contribute as well.

    Speaking of enforcement, the New Canaanite regularly publishes a count and the location of motorists passing stopped school busses with red lights flashing. This is inexcusable behavior and should carry much stiffer penalties than are currently imposed.

    It seems to me it would be better reporting and a more effective deterrent if as well the New Canaanite also published 1) the number of motorists and/or vehicle owners identified — by virtue of the cameras on school busses designed to detect just such things and/or (one might hope) reporting by other motorists who might witness such bad behavior — and 2) the fines imposed.

  5. Nearly everywhere else I’ve visited, domestically or internationally, either has no signaling at crosswalks or has a first-class button activated red-yellow-green signal.

    If safety and compliance are important issues, can we add signals? I’d guess the adherence rate for a red light is nearly 100%. How are children supposed to judge which 8% of the time traffic isn’t going to stop on the flashing signal?

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