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SHA to install ‘experimental’ signage along highway this month

(March 8, 2013) With an eye toward America’s upcoming annual celebration of alcohol abuse and Gaelic gaiety, the State Highway Administration says it is planning to implement a bevy of pedestrian-safety improvements within the next week, hopefully relieving last season’s high rate of pedestrian accidents.

“I’m hoping to have at least some of these down and in place before St. Patrick’s Day, and then, hopefully, be able to gauge if they’re having an impact, since that’ll be the first big day of the year when a lot of folks are in town,” SHA District Engineer Ken Cimino said this week.

The brunt of the administration’s upcoming work will be in creating signage directing pedestrians where and where not to cross Coastal Highway, between 52nd and 59th Streets.

“That was the highest percentage of accidents in any one location,” Cimino said. “Fourteen percent of the 41 accidents last year were in that stretch.”

Placards reading “No pedestrian crossing — use crosswalk” will be installed facing the side streets, “to discourage pede-

strians from mid-block crossings,” Cimino said.

Furthermore, curb top markings will be installed along the same stretch. Designed in-house by Cimino’s staff, the markings will cover the roughly six-inch top of the curb concrete, and stretch 36 inches in length. They will be affixed to the curb every 40 feet.

“They’re experimental pavement markings, but we want to put them down to support the regular signs,” Cimino said. He hopes to be able to follow crash data along the stretch for the next several years to gauge the markings’ effectiveness.

Although likely less noticeable than the upcoming signage and curb markers, Cimino noted that some of the SHA’s minor safety revisions are already in place. At the 94th and 130th Street intersections, the side road green lights have been separated between the east and west sides.

“We’ve split those side road phases, which is what we call them,” Cimino said. “It means that if you’re sitting at 94th and you’re coming from the bayside, you’ll get the green arrows to turn left, and the east side will have to wait, and then they’ll move separately.”

The same changed is planned for the 28th Street and Coastal Highway intersection, to begin March 15. Additionally, Cimino noted, he is seeking approval from the SHA’s central traffic safety office to eliminate the right turn on red for the side streets at the same three intersections, as well as at the 33rd, 123rd, and 127th Street lights.

“What we’re seeing in looking at the accident reports is pedestrians getting hit in the crosswalk when they’re walking with the green light and the crossing signal,” Cimino said. “We’ve had a couple people get clipped there by folks making a right turn on red.”

Pedestrians will also now be given approximately seven seconds of exclusive walk time when crossing Coastal Highway, prior to the side road traffic getting the green.

At 13 intersections, between 17th and 59th Streets on Coastal Highway, Cimino is also planning to implement what is called a “pedestrian recall” function between the most dangerous hours of 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. This will activate the pedestrian crossings whenever the side road phases are activated, allowing for safe crossings even if less-than-sober pedestrians forget to press the button.

“Even if the pedestrian doesn’t push the crosswalk button, if there’s a car there, the signal controller will activate the pedestrian icon,” Cimino said.

Despite the host of signal alterations, Cimino said “we’re not expecting it to add a lot of additional delay along Coastal Highway.”

The SHA is along working on longer-term improvements, the most noticeable of which will be an additional stoplight and pedestrian crossing at 54th Street. This would cut in half the highway’s longest stretch of uncontrolled road, between the lights at 52nd and 56th Streets.

“The new pedestrian signal will hopefully be in by next season,” Cimino said. “It’ll be similar to the one at Seacrets, where it’s just a crossing for pedestrians [and not an intersection].”

Matthew Jude Cheswick, 22, a Towson University student from Cooksville, was killed May 28 while in the bus lane at 54th Street, having almost made it across the highway. He was struck by a drunk driver, Diogo Miller Facchini, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison.

On June 15, an eerily similar incident occurred at the same location, in which a crewmember of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds – in town for the OC Air Show – was struck.

Later this month, Cimino said he will be conducting one of the first preliminary meetings “to discuss the different alternatives for Coastal Highway” in the long-term. Such alternatives, proposed in November, would include major structural changes, such as the installation of a median barrier that would prevent mid-block crossings, or the removal of one traffic lane to install larger bike lanes and sidewalks.

Considerable feasibility studies will have to be done before such options move forward, Cimino said, meaning they are several years out from implementation.

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