Olympia testing ways to make pedestrians safer — for less

Olympia is testing out ways to make pedestrians safer and get drivers to slow down, all at a lower cost and with a quicker turnaround.

In recent weeks, city crews added red paint markings at two intersections — Fifth Avenue at Cherry Street Southeast and Columbia Street at Ninth Avenue Southwest — intended to get drivers’ attention and make pedestrians more visible.

The cost for work at both intersections was less than $5,000. Compare that with installing concrete extensions for pedestrians at an intersection, which can cost $250,000 and requires extensive planning before you tear up a road, said Andrew Beagle, the city’s transportation engineering supervisor.

“If I can do (improvements) at 20 intersections for the same amount of money I’d spend at one, that’s the reason,” he said.

A third project added a raised pedestrian crossing on Conger Avenue Northwest outside Jefferson Middle School, a new design for Olympia that is about half the cost of flashing crosswalk beacons.

Beagle said these sites aren’t the city’s top intersections for crashes but were picked for other reasons. The hill on Columbia Street is a chance to see if the paint markings catch the attention of downhill drivers, for instance, while Fifth and Cherry’s proximity to City Hall means transportation staff can easily monitor the effect.

If the projects are deemed successful, there could be more of them. Olympia is working on its first road safety plan that analyzes conditions and risk factors at crash sites and ways to prevent them.

That plan is expected to be done in the next year.