Submitted by Steve Curtin
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Weston Road runs through a densely populated residential area in Wellesley. The road connects Route 9 and Route 135 and receives heavy to moderate vehicle traffic throughout the day with definite increases in volume from 6:30 – 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. The flashing pedestrian beacons and crosswalk are located directly in front of the Hardy Elementary School and are in close proximity to a playground and public library. The location of the crossing results in it being heavily used by pedestrians, especially children. In the area near the flashing pedestrian beacons, Weston Road has curves, hills, trees, and bushes that limit a pedestrian’s line of sight and make it difficult to cross.
The intended function of the flashing pedestrian beacons is to provide a safe place to cross Weston Road. There is a pushbutton activated flashing pedestrian beacon located on each side of the crossing, with the crosswalk being painted in the high visibility, “zebra” style. Several design features of the flashing pedestrian beacons make them function well. The flashing yellow lights are large and bright enough to be seen from a long distance away during the day or night. The 3 foot by 3 foot yellow signs clearly indicate that vehicles need to stop when the lights are flashing because a pedestrian is crossing. The lights never flash unless a pedestrian has pushed the button to turn them on. This helps to increase the compliance of vehicles because drivers know that if the lights are flashing a pedestrian will be crossing the road. If the lights were not push button activated and instead turned on at set intervals, there would be many instances where the lights are flashing but a pedestrian is not crossing. Drivers that use the road frequently would notice this and may begin to disobey the order to stop because they believe that there will not be a pedestrian crossing. The high visibility, zebra style marking of the crosswalk between the beacons is the easiest style of marking for moving motorists to see. The location of the beacons also helps to increase motorist compliance. Motorists tend to drive slowly and carefully in the area of the beacons because they are located in front of an elementary school. In addition, the high granite curbing and narrowness of the street further cause motorists to drive slowly.
The actual use is almost exactly the same as the intended use of the flashing pedestrian beacons on Weston Road. Pedestrians rarely attempt to cross the street anywhere other than where the flashing pedestrian beacons are, and the pedestrians always push the button to activate the flashing lights before crossing. Motorists almost never proceed through the flashing pedestrian beacons without coming to a complete stop and allowing all pedestrians to cross.
The flashing pedestrian beacons function exactly as intended in this location; however, if the beacons were not in a school zone and on a narrow street they may not function as well. Motorists would likely drive faster and pay less attention if the beacons were on a wide street in a normal residential area, not a school zone. Pedestrians sometimes misuse the beacons by pushing the buttons and then crossing without looking to see if oncoming cars are present and/or coming to a stop. If pedestrians do not check to see if cars are coming and instead begin to cross immediately after pushing the button, oncoming cars may not have enough time to stop before reaching the crosswalk. This problem could be alleviated by educating pedestrians on how to properly use these beacons. The beacons are supposed to aid pedestrians in crossing the street; they do not physically protect pedestrians from collisions with vehicles.