A City of Columbus initiative is aiming to help keep kids heading to and from school, as well as all pedestrians, a little safer in town.
The City recently installed the first Rapid Flash High Visibility Crosswalk at the intersection of 27th Street and 18th Avenue, just in time for the start of the new school year. The flashers at that crosswalk, fairly close to Columbus Middle School, North Park Elementary and Columbus Municipal Airport, were replaced after the previous system had fallen by the wayside and Loup Power District requested to take care of the nearby disconnect. Rather than spending money to do that, City officials opted to install one of the new crosswalk systems it already had on hand.
Each set of high-visibility flashers is solar-powered and features voice activation to alert pedestrians when to cross (each one comes with a battery pack to ensure it doesn’t stop working). They're accessible from both sides of the road.
The upgraded pedestrian crosswalk might be a new feature, but it has been in the works for quite some time. City Engineer Rick Bogus said he and colleagues met with various officials from the local school districts prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss crosswalks near schools and get their input on where the new ones could go after many of the existing ones started showing significant wear.
Over the last two fiscal years, City officials budgeted for 28 sets of upgraded pedestrian crosswalks ($5,000 per flasher) to install in various parts of town and are getting ready to do so following new meetings with leaders from the local school districts. Bogus said they won’t be able to put them in everywhere because of state and federal regulations, but the City will consider school officials’ input and target the best 27 additional intersections to start within the coming months.
City Public Works Director Chuck Sliva was out at the new crosswalk on 18th Avenue on a recent morning testing out the system. He said following the meetings between City and school officials, he anticipates the Public Works crew getting to work to install them in various places throughout town that make the most sense.
“The install time is based on if crossing meets ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards and the location of pole mounts,” Sliva said. “The installation for each one could take anywhere from one-three weeks per crossing pending work and improvements needed.”
Sliva and Bogus said they’re excited for the new crosswalks to get installed as pedestrian safety is paramount. Sliva pushed the button on the flasher one early August morning and heard the voice activation tell him to cross while watching the flashers light up. Still fairly new, several cars ignored the flashers and drove through while waving at Sliva. Admittedly, the public works director found it humorous that people saw him standing there with the flashers going off and waved without stopping. He said he anticipates there will be a learning curve.
“It would probably be a lot different if you see a kid standing here during the school year,” Sliva said. “It will just take people learning how this works.”
Bogus said the 28 sets of flashers will be the first phase of the project, noting he anticipates more being purchased and installed in the coming years as Columbus continues to grow.
“We definitely want kids to be safe walking to and from school,” Bogus said. “We want all our pedestrians to be safe.”
You can see how the new upgraded pedestrian crosswalk already installed works by watching the video tour in English and Spanish on our YouTube channel by clicking here.