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Bash, bang, bother: Pedestrian signs face vehicular assault

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 28, 2011
What it is: One of Janesville's midblock pedestrian crossing signs. Janesville has two of them, both on Main Street.

One helps pedestrians cross near the Olde Towne Mall.


The other is not actually in midblock. It's near Holmes Street, near the main entrance to the Hedberg Public Library and a city bus stop.


Why it's important: The signs are intended to warn drivers of crosswalks that are not at street corners.
What's the problem: The signs take a beating from motorists who can't seem to avoid hitting them, even though they're only inches wider than the centerline.

"That has been a problem for our staff, trying to keep those things in place," said Carl Weber, the city of Janesville's director of public works.


Public works staff estimates the sign near the library needs maintenance five to 10 times a year.


The library-crossing sign is susceptible to being hit by vehicles turning from Holmes Street to southbound Main Street, Weber said.


Costs for repairs vary from $100 to $500, depending on how much of the materials can be salvaged. The signs are spring mounted, so light hits can be absorbed.


The Olde Towne crossing sign needs repairs less frequently, likely due to its midblock location, Weber said.


The city used to have one of these signs on East Milwaukee Street near Parker Place, where traffic typically speeds around a corner and downhill, often startling pedestrians into a sprint.


"The Parker Court signs required repair or replacement even more frequently than the Main Street locations and so were discontinued," Weber said.


Don't expect these signs to proliferate.


"Our maintenance staff discourages use of these signs due to their high maintenance costs," Weber said.


The city council recently heard a proposal from council member Yuri Rashkin for a "red-flag program," which involves flags on wooden dowels that are available at certain crossings.


Pedestrians take a flag and extend it as they cross the street, for increased visibility.


There is no law requiring motorists to stop for someone holding a red flag, Weber said, but the flags would be "visual aids," akin to yellow or orange vests worn by road crews.


One potential problem is that the red flags could give pedestrians a false sense of security, Weber said, but the program has been fairly successful in Salt Lake City, which has quite a number of red-flag crossings.


"If it makes you see someone trying to cross the street, and you stop, then it worked," Weber said. "And if you don't stop, then the pedestrian had better wait."



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