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‘Rapid flash beacons’ coming soon to a crossing near you

Posted by on November 17th, 2009 at 11:34 am

Rapid flash beacons, which have been very effective in evaluations in Florida, will help Portlanders cross busy streets.
(Photos: Stop Experts, Inc.)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is finishing up installation of the Portland’s first “rapid flash beacon.” The crossing treatment, coming soon on SE 82nd at SE Francis and other locations, is aimed at improving safety of non-motorized traffic.

The rapid flash beacons passed an evaluation by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with flying colors. In one intersection in St. Petersburg, Florida, the yield/stop rate increased from 1.5% before the beacons were installed, to 85% after. Based on that, the devices have “interim approval” for use by the FHWA and are noted as being good for crossing four-lane highways.

Story continues below


Unlike conventional yellow crossing beacons (wonks call them “wig-wag” beacons”), the rapid flash beacons have a high-intensity LED light source that can be programmed to flash a variable patterns and speeds to catch road users’ attention.

Don’t forget to “thank the driver.”

Super bright.

PBOT pedestrian coordinator April Bertelsen is a fan. “It gets people’s attention.”

Rapid flash beacons are expected to be adopted into the all-important Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices next time it’s updated, a move that will clear the way for cities across the country to start using them.

PBOT already has plans to install them at three intersections along NE 33rd next year (Going, Klickitat, and Holman) at a price of $35,000 a piece. If these crossing beacons prove successful in Portland it will help fill a gap for traffic engineers between the $150,000 HAWK (High Intensity Actuated Walk) signals (which are relatively expensive) and standard beacons (which are not highly effective).

More photos and information at StopExperts.com.

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  • Jacob November 17, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Not bad except the “thank the driver” part is a little condescending.

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  • hanmade November 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Yeah, the diver should thank us for not driving a car 🙂

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  • Cargo November 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Street Films has a movie about one of these LED Crosswalks installed on the Seattle waterfront that is activated by stepping on the yellow traction pad at the crosswalk.


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  • Dave November 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    @Jacob: yeah, my thought as well 🙂

    Let’s hope this really can improve compliance with the law that dramatically.

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  • kww November 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    How about installing them on Powell Blvd, and where the pedestrian was killed on Foster? You don’t need a study to tell you that you should put there people have died crossing the street…

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  • Jordan November 17, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I like the “Thank the Driver” bit. It helps create a feeling of mutual respect between all road users. Share the road. It’s great!

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  • El Biciclero November 17, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    “Thanks, Mr. Driver for not killing me!”

    “What? Oh, I just saw this annoying flashy thing out of the corner of my eye as I was texting and didn’t know what it meant, so I stopped. You’re welcome.”

    It’s great that signals like this raise driver awareness. While I am always in favor of increased safety via taming the “bull”, the flip side of installing signals like this is that drivers have one less reason to pay attention. Will these flashers be considered a pedestrian “traffic control device”? I.e., no flasher, no ped ROW? If someone crosses without the flashers going, are they subject to citation? Does it lift the burden of responsibility off of any driver that runs over a crossing ped? Those are the interpretations that I would be afraid of.

    “Sure, he was in the crosswalk, officer, but the flashers weren’t on!”

    “Oh, well, in that case…have a nice day; we’ll call the coroner to clean up this mess.”

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  • Oh Word? November 17, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    El Biciclero – in your scenario the officer should’ve thanked the driver for stopping after hitting the pedestrian!

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  • Ross November 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    These flashers work great. Drivers really don’t want to hit folks crossing the road. It will help out with the issue of only one car stopping while the car in the other lane zooms by. It will also alert all drivers that there is a pedrestrian wanting to cross and is one more tool to help out in the grand scheme of sharing the road. They greatly increase the yield rate and I look forwared to a followup report once these are up and running. These things really work both great…both day and night.

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  • Elliot November 17, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Very exciting! Does PBOT have an estimated completion date for 82nd and Francis? I saw a median refuge island being installed several months ago, but I wondered what was to become of it since I hadn’t seen any activity for at least a month.

    This definitely looks like a welcome addition for the entire length of 82nd… perhaps one of these in between every major signalized intersection would do the trick. Powell and Foster could use these too.

    $35,000 seems very affordable; a very small price to pay for the chance to save a life. It’s odd to put a price on life, but recent studies estimate a fatal traffic collision to have an economic cost to society of $6-8 million. We could install 200 of these rapid flash beacons for $7 million. Even if only one life is saved, we’d recoup our cost in full. And considering there probably aren’t even 200 high-risk intersections in the while city, preventing at least one fatal crash over the baseline conditions seems inevitable.

    This is absolutely a no-brainer investment.

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  • Travis November 17, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Other locations?

    NE Sandy & 45th. One of these days… me and my Grocery Outlet goodies will be smeared all the way to Bike Gallery.

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  • Velocentric November 17, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    On a rainy night you can’t see anyone at the edge of a crosswalk due to glare from competing light sources.
    An indication that a pedestrian wishes to use the crosswalk is welcome.

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  • matt picio November 17, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    If people would remember common courtesies, “Thank the Driver” wouldn’t be necessary.

    If we wait for the world to be perfect before we’re nice to motorists, nothing will ever change. Someone has to take the initiative. Is it fair that that someone is us? (cyclists and pedestrians) Of course not – but life isn’t fair.

    It’s all about personal responsibility, and going the extra mile. It makes all the difference in what comes back to you later – you reap what you sow. Sow nothing, you’ll get nothing in return.

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  • Dave November 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I have nothing against friendliness between people walking and people driving, and I generally wave acknowledgment to people who stop for me when I’m walking or biking, I just think putting it on the signal is a little like saying “now dear, say thank you to the nice driver who went out of his way to obey the law.”

    I agree, we should be friendly, for some reason that presentation just strikes me the wrong way.

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  • J November 17, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    In Boulder, CO, devices like these have caused some issues. Namely:

    1) Some of these devices flash for way too long after a pedestrian has left the crosswalk. As a result, many drivers seem to be indifferent to the flashing lights and drive on through without looking.

    2) Some drivers just don’t know what the flashing means and drive right on through. I know, it’s dumb. Sadly though, it’s true.

    3) Some people have concluded that if a pedestrian does not push the button to activate the lights then the pedestrian does not have a right to the crosswalk.

    …. Anyway, I’m not a fan.

    Here are a some example news stories in Boulder about accidents in these types of crosswalks:





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  • Andrew Holtz November 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I’d love to see something like this at the Sylvan overpass over Hwy 26… where I almost get right-hooked a couple of times a week by drivers who aren’t paying attention to people in the crosswalks (many of whom are cyclists connecting to the paths along 26.)

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  • Erik Sandblom November 17, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Wouldn’t it be better to put in some conventional traffic-calming measures at the cross walk?

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  • Brad November 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    +1 Matt Picio #13

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  • Scott November 17, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Vegas already has these.
    Come on, Portland, try to keep up.

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  • Joe Adamski November 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    while its not the ‘in the pavement’ type markers shown here, the pedestrian actuated flashing lights that accompany this installation are installed here on N Willamette next to the U of P. As it is a dark narrow section of road that typically has drivers coming around a corner at higher speeds, it seems to be very good at getting drivers attention. I do like the in ground markers too, but if economy is driving the decision, even the flashing light poles are pretty helpful.
    The installation in Seattle is close to the ferry terminal, lots of waterfront tourist activities. I am betting there was some pressure from the businesses to do something, it would not do to have your patrons mowed down.
    In short, pricey. But all it has to do is stop ONE pedestrian being hit, and its payed for itself.

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  • El Biciclero November 17, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    From the Boulder, CO stories that “J” linked to above, it almost seems like we can expect a spike in compliance when one is first installed, due to the shake-up of a traffic control change, but then a drop-off as people get used to seeing them and figure out they can usually still beat the pedestrian to the crosswalk in most cases. Or assume that any ped has already crossed and the lights are still just flashing. I also wonder what driver behavior is at the point in time when the lights have just stopped flashing–do they speed up as though a traffic signal has just turned green? Or would they slow and look first to make sure that everyone was out of the road before continuing?

    The danger of signalizing is that drivers will respond (or not) only to the signal, not to the actual circumstances the signal is designed to draw attention to. We tend to mistake the finger for the moon, as it were.

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  • Dave November 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    @El Biciclero: That’s why this whole issue is so hard – regulating and creating infrastructure-specific designs distract attention from the real issues, but the problem is, nobody thinks about the real issues anyway, so we have to kind of treat the symptoms in a lot of ways, in order to sort of band-aid it.

    I still think education and law enforcement are our primary failures with regard to road safety.

    If people actually knew the rules, and knew they would be enforced, they’d probably pay a lot more attention to the real issues – that is, that there are vulnerable people on the roads who they can seriously damage simply by apathy or ego or impatience. This doesn’t just apply to people driving cars either, though they have a somewhat increased responsibility, in my view. No matter what mode of transportation we choose, I think we all have a burden to know how to interact, and to hold the safety of others as essential.

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  • Victor November 17, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Hmm… Not really sure I’m getting all the hype here. All they did was adjust the flash pattern on existing LED beacons and installed LED street lighting. All good things, but I hope the city isn’t paying this company for this specific product. Most of this stuff could be done in house by tweaking LED beacons we already use at some crosswalks. Any type of LED can ‘rapid flash’ just by their nature.

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  • suburban November 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Yes Dave 22
    why not install a gate with flashing lights that lowers in front of traffic while bells ring, and raises again once the crosswalk is clear? Is this not the modern standard for safety? It is proven to save lives.

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  • joe November 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I was thinking about this while snowshoeing this past weekend.

    why do cars get a flashing light set and an automatic gate that prevents them from going over train tracks while people get white paint and maybe, maybe in the future, some blinking lights? how can the city/state or whatever justify the cost of securing the car/train intersection but not car/people intersections?

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  • Heidi November 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Right on, suburban #24! I have had this thought, too. Maybe when rails get turned into trails or otherwise removed from service, the superseded crossing gates should go to a needy crosswalk….

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  • driving that train November 17, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    The problem with this thing is that the lights are yellow. They should be red.

    Red= Stop
    Yellow= Speed-up to make the light

    The hawk signals have a similar problem. First they flash yellow, then solid yellow, then red. The problem is that flashing yellows don’t normally change to anything else, so people ignore them and run the light without even realizing it.

    This is the kind of thing that confuses, frustrates and eventually angers drivers; pedestrians getting there own signal with special rules like “stop on yellow”

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  • Kt November 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Actually, Driving That Train (not high on cocaine, I hope! 🙂 ), in Oregon, the law treats the yellow traffic signal the same as the red traffic signal.

    Running a yellow is just like running a red– there just hasn’t been as much enforcement, and therefore not many people know this.

    So yes: STOP ON YELLOW. I do, unless I feel that the guy behind me is too close and cannot stop in time without running into me.

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  • Jackattak November 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    These certainly look interesting.

    Guess I know what my next suggestion to PBoT SAFE is for my dreaded SW Park Ave and Market crosswalk!

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  • drew November 17, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Thank the driver. good grief. reminds me of a recent article in the NY times about how in China school kids are required to salute any passing cars to “promote safety and citizenship”.
    Drivers yield to pedestrians; you don’t have to thank them; they don’t own the road. Unlike pedestrians, drivers have no right to use the road (it’s a privilege for a motorist). The exhortation to thank them is stupid and degrading to citizens walking on our public roadways.

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  • Snowflake Seven November 17, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Whomever has jurisdication over the SW 178th Ave & TV Hwy intersection needs to put one of these up.

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  • Jim O'Horo November 17, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    @ Andrew Holtz #16

    I agree that these signals should be a big help to cyclists using the crosswalks too. There are many more of them who do than one might think. This is a prime example of a situation in which cyclists and pedestrians have a common interest and why I’m delighted to see bikeportland taking an interest in pedestrian issues – thanks.

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  • Opus the Poet November 17, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    How about 6″ steel bollards with 1/2″ wall, filled with concrete, 8′ long set to rise 4′ from the center of the lane and the lane marker when the pedestrian pushes the crossing button? Set too narrow to squeeze between and robust enough to protect against anything short of a M1 Abrams, pedestrians would be safe from scofflaw motorists. Have them powder coated a non-reflective grey to blend in with the background so that drivers can’t tell which crosswalks are protected unless they stop to look. You would only need to install at most 3 but tell people you bought hundreds and place paint that looks like the bollard-protected crosswalks at all crosswalks. I predict that after the first fatal wreck that protected a pedestrian crosswalk compliance would be in excess of 99% (there will always be that small minority that don’t get the message). And yes, I had a near miss with a driver when crossing with the walk signal recently.

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  • Doug Klotz November 17, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    #24 through 26

    We put crossing gates up to stop cars at railroad crossings because the auto drivers and passengers would be hurt by the train. We don’t put them for pedestrian crossings because the auto travelers wouldn’t be hurt, only the pedestrian. Crossing gates are only for when the auto user is in danger.
    (Or so one could cynically conclude!)

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  • jim November 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    No matter what kind of flashing lights there are bikes are still not going to stop for pedestrians crossing at a crosswalk

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  • wsbob November 17, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    “PBOT already has plans to install them at three intersections along NE 33rd next year (Going, Klickitat, and Holman) at a price of $35,000 a piece. If these crossing beacons prove successful in Portland it will help fill a gap for traffic engineers between the $150,000 HAWK (High Intensity Actuated Walk) signals (which are relatively expensive) and standard beacons (which are not highly effective).” maus/bikeportland

    By far, over the two signals mentioned above, R-Y-G signals send the clearer instruction to road users about what they’re supposed to do: ‘Red means STOP’ ‘Green means go’. Why isn’t the cost of standard Red-Yellow-Green light signals also offered here?

    Yellow lights mean ‘Get ready to stop at the Red, or (aside from the obvious need to stop to avoid hitting a person or another vehicle), Smokey might just be waiting there to give you a ticket’.

    The Federal Highway Administration study cited in this bikeportland article does not even attempt to arrive at an efficacy comparison between R-Y-G traffic signals and Rapid Flash Beacons.

    From the study:

    “Any alternative traffic control device that is not a traffic signal has historically had minimal effect on motorist yielding behavior on multilane roads. Because of the high cost of traffic signals their installation is restricted to intersections with high motor vehicle and pedestrian usage. The traffic signal warrant also limits the application of such devices to high pedestrian volume areas.”

    What type signal would S.E. 80th and Foster qualify for? I’d think it should have a R-Y-G signal, but the expense means the people that cross there will probably be lucky to get a one of the alternative lights.

    R-Y-G’s are what I would consider capable of providing a much better level of safety. At least some of them can be programmed to aid traffic flow in low demand non-rush hour times of the day. Those that offer a countdown of seconds remaining for pedestrians cross are an excellent safety feature. So is the voiced information for people with hearing impairments.

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  • Anonymous November 18, 2009 at 12:03 am

    yeah, thats it…
    jingle some keys in the drivers faces to wake them up… its not like we need a vehicular homicide law or anything!
    also known as “blaming the victim”

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  • Anonymous November 18, 2009 at 12:09 am

    everyone should just get a boat horn… for emergency situations. i just hung one on my handlebars and it definitely makes me feel safer knowing it is there. you can get one for like 10 bucks at andy and bax. they are tiny but LOUD
    (just pretend you’re a car!)

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  • Timbo November 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I like this light up crosswalk idea.

    I’ve wondered why It hasn’t been done before.

    The “Thank the driver” portion is an excellent idea also. This reinforces good behavior and good will. It’s a logical friendly act.

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  • Jackattak November 18, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Timbo, some of us aren’t “friendly” when it comes to those in cars.


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  • jim November 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    this sounds like the light on willamette by the U

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  • wsbob November 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Check out this story in Tuesday’s Oregonian:

    Fatal hit-and-run driver who went home to vacuum up evidence sentenced to 18 months

    Here’s an excerpt that has some relevance to this thread:

    “Douglas Eric Green, 39, struck James A. Stover, 79, about 1:30 a.m. July 18. Stover had just stepped into the crosswalk at Southeast Powell Boulevard and 36th Place.”


    “Green was driving 37 mph in a 35 mph zone. The paint in the crosswalk was worn, and a sign alerting drivers of the crosswalk wasn’t well lit.”

    Seems to suggest that the crosswalk/intersection…(not sure, but believe this crosswalk/intersection is near a Safeway.)…doesn’t have a traffic light or crosswalk light of any kind. Is this true, or did the Oregonian writer just not notice that a light was there? (by the way, story reports that the pedestrian was as drunk as the driver)

    This crosswalk/intersection seems as though it needs some kind of light to make it adequately safe for people to cross when they’re sober, at the very least. A rapid flash beacon would be far better than no light, or an antiquated, dim light.

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  • J January 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

    More news out of Boulder CO on these flashing crosswalks. A gander through the comment section indicates the number of problems with these things including negligence and confusion…


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