WDEL's Road Scholar: Rapid Flash Beacons arrive in Delaware for improved safety at pedestrian crossings

A Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB) application in Bellevue, WA (YouTube)

A busy roadway near Newark becomes the state's first location for an enhanced pedestrian crosswalk.

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) designated the crossing area for improvements--at the intersection of the Tri-Valley Trail and Polly Drummond Hill Road--after considering public input.

"One of the complaints from the bikers and the pedestrians crossing there," revealed Mark Luszcz, a DelDOT chief traffic engineer, "is that they feel they have an excessive amount of wait time. If there's an excessive amount of wait time, that may lead to people making poor decisions and jumping out in front of traffic."

Though the current crossing--extending between the DNREC community yard waste drop-off site and the Judge Morris Estate--has standard warning signs and crosswalk markings, the decision to upgrade was more preemptive than reactive.

An aerial view of the location near Newark for Delaware's first RRFB pedestrian crossing (Google Maps)

"Fortunately, there's not a big experience of crash problems at this location," Luszcz conceded, "but we look(ed) at the high speeds (from vehicular traffic) and also the delays."

Since the location is not ideal for a full traffic signal, or even the HAWK (High Intensity Activated Crosswalk) pedestrian hybrid beacon that's been used elsewhere in the state, DelDOT chose to install a device new to Delaware called the Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB).

"This new treatment has been experimented with in Florida since the early 2000's," Luszcz explained, "(and) the Federal Highway Administration gave it an interim approval in 2008. So we've been keeping up with this since that time and watching where other agencies have been placing (them)."

This inaugural placement for Delaware will enable users of the extensive trail system through the White Clay Creek State Park and Middle Run Valley Natural Area to safely get across Polly Drummond Hill Road in separate, focused efforts.

"In addition to the RRFB," Luszcz illustrated, "we're also installing a center median island. It'll be approximately 6 feet wide and-- as a pedestrian or biker trying to cross there--it'll allow you to really focus on one direction of traffic, get to the center island, and then focus on the other direction of traffic before getting all the way across the street."

The RRFB--a solar-powered, LED fixture--idles as a dark signal until it is activated by users via a push button. The beacon faces oncoming traffic and, mounted below a pedestrian/bicycle warning sign, begins to flash in a rapid, stutter pattern.

"It reminds you of what you would see on a police or emergency vehicle."

Research has shown that driver yielding rates are improved significantly (up to 90 percent) with the implementation of these rapid flash beacons, versus 10 to 20 percent in applications where either no beacon or a standard flashing yellow beacon exists.

"The irregular, stutter flash is what appears to better draw driver's attention," Luszcz summarized.

The project began preliminary work in November and hopes to meet a determined timeline.

"It'll just depend on how the weather goes (through the winter) and if we run into any unanticipated utility problems," Luszcz disclosed. "We should have everything up and running by the end of February 2016, which would hopefully be in time for when we get into spring and the pedestrian and biker volumes pick up."

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Contact Andrew Sgroi with Road Scholar story ideas to andrew@dbcmedia.com or follow him on Twitter at @Cuse92.