New flashing beacons will be installed this spring at a school crosswalk in Olympia after two recent collisions involving teenage pedestrians.
Students from nearby Pioneer Elementary School, Washington Middle School and Olympia High School regularly use the crosswalk at Henderson Boulevard Southeast and Carlyon Avenue Southeast.
However, the pedestrian accidents last fall prompted city and school officials to re-examine the crosswalk’s safety.
The flashing beacons will cost about $12,000 and the Olympia School District will pick up half the cost, said Mark Russell, the city’s director of transportation. Examples of flashing beacons can be found at crosswalks on Fourth Avenue East near Ralph’s Thriftway, or on Harrison Avenue at Rogers Street on the city’s west side.
“It will help pedestrians at all times, not just during school times,” Russell told The Olympian.
Christine Brewer, whose children attend Washington Middle School and Pioneer Elementary, said she would have preferred a traffic light at the busy intersection — but was still glad to see progress.
“I appreciate they recognize more awareness is needed to make sure that intersection is safer,” she told The Olympian. “My sons cross there every day.”
In addition to the beacons, the city will make the following changes at the intersection in 2015:
• Update signage for school zones and speed limits.
• Mark the road’s center island area with yellow “cross-hatching” stripes to create a narrowing effect that influences drivers to slow down.
• Install a buffered bike lane on southbound Henderson Boulevard, just before the crosswalk at Carlyon, to create a narrowing effect.
• Repaint pavement markings near the crosswalk that indicate the school zone.
• Increase speed enforcement in the school zone by Olympia police.
Two pedestrians struck by vehicles
Concerned parents had been calling for a traffic signal after two high school students were hit by vehicles while crossing Henderson earlier in the school year.
The first collision occurred about 2:30 p.m. Sept. 5. A 16-year-old student was crossing on foot when a truck, traveling southbound, struck the teen in the middle of the crosswalk. The teen went up on the hood before rolling off the truck, and his injuries included a fractured femur, according to the collision report.
The 68-year-old driver was cited for speeding and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The report notes that the vehicle left skid marks of 52 feet and 47 feet. By calculating the combined length of the skid marks at 100 feet, without taking weather or pavement conditions into consideration, the driver’s initial speed was approaching 50 mph.
The speed limit for the school zone is posted at 20 mph.
The other pedestrian-involved collision occurred about 7:53 a.m. Oct. 2. A vehicle had struck a 14-year-old student on a bicycle in the crosswalk, according to the collision report. The driver had been distracted by a rear-end collision that had just happened in the northbound lane near the crosswalk, the report said.
No injuries were reported in either case, and the 33-year-old driver was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The driver was traveling about 10 mph when hitting the bicyclist, the report said.
The city has made several efforts since 2005 to enhance safety at the crosswalk. Improvements have included signage, a flashing speed radar, pavement markings, sidewalks and an “island” that allows pedestrians to pause halfway across Henderson. The city has also increased the flash times for notifying drivers when the 20 mph school zone speed limit is in effect.
In response to the pedestrian collisions, the Olympia School District has increased the amount of crossing guards work at the location. Crossing guards now spend one hour extra in the morning and 30 minutes extra in the afternoon, said district spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet. Previously, the crossing guards were on duty only during elementary school walking times, Japhet said.
The crosswalk improvements are meant to give more guidance and visual cues for drivers, said Randy Wesselman, the city’s transportation engineering and planning manager.
To qualify for a traffic light, the intersection would need to meet at least one of nine benchmarks — called warrants — based on data for traffic volume, pedestrian volume, collision history and more. The intersection meets none of these warrants, Wesselman said.
Russell said that installation of a traffic light at the intersection could lead to problems such as more rear-end collisions, for example. Wesselman said the city will continue to monitor the intersection to determine whether a traffic signal is needed.
“We don’t think it’s an unsafe crossing,” Wesselman told The Olympian.
The city reports that just one collision was recorded at the intersection from 2011-2013. In 2014, there were five total collisions at the intersection: two rear-end collisions, one right-angle collision and two collisions involving pedestrians.
The average daily traffic count on Henderson Boulevard at Carlyon Avenue is 6,420 vehicles, the city reports. Carlyon Avenue sees about 2,590 vehicles daily at the same intersection. The city reports that about 85 percent of vehicles are traveling at 34 mph or less.
Other entities have taken notice of safety issues at the Henderson-Carlyon intersection.
Last fall, Intercity Transit collected traffic data to show the effect of International Walk to School Day. During the week of Oct. 6, 2014, the effort tracked the number of vehicles dropping off and picking up students at Pioneer Elementary and Washington Middle School.
The average daily count was 739 vehicles at Pioneer and 728 vehicles at Washington, according to Intercity Transit, which collected the data between 7-9 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. each day.
The numbers decreased by double digits on Oct. 8, which was Walk to School Day. The annual program encourages students to walk or bike to school. On that date, there were 543 vehicles counted at Pioneer and 638 vehicles counted at Washington. That shows a decrease of about 27 percent and 13 percent, respectively, from the average daily vehicle count at the two schools.