- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
It's not quite the red-carpet treatment, but pedestrians crossing busy Wilson Boulevard are getting a bright-light escort across the road.
Arlington County has installed sensors at a busy crosswalk in front of Ballston Commons Mall to detect a pedestrian's presence. When a person enters the crosswalk, a series of flashing lights embedded into the roadway activate, alerting drivers to slow down.
The "intelligent crosswalk system," as it is called, was installed last weekend and is being monitored to see if it slows drivers' speeds and cuts back on accidents, said Terry Bellamy, chief of the traffic engineering division for the county's Department of Public Works.
Mr. Bellamy said the system is popular in parts of Europe and is starting to make its way into American cities as well. It's not clear whether any other Virginia communities are using the system, but Arlington County officials say theirs is the first system in the Washington area.
It costs about $9,800 to install at each crosswalk, which Mr. Bellamy said is more than a standard "walk/don't walk" sign but less than some other pedestrian crossing signals.
The system works best at crosswalks that are located midblock, as opposed to intersections, Mr. Bellamy said. That's the case with the Wilson Boulevard crosswalk, which has heavy foot traffic throughout the day.
Pearl M. Hicks, who eats lunch in the area a few times a week, said it appears that more drivers are stopping for pedestrians now that the lights have been installed.
"I think it's good, especially at nighttime, because you'll be able to very quickly see someone who's coming across the street," she said.
Arlington resident Nancy O'Brien said she has witnessed several near-accidents at the crosswalk.
"I don't think the new lights will be enough, but we're hoping it will help," she said. "It should make a little bit of a difference."
The lights are visible both day and night but stand out more at night. Invisible infrared beams at the edge of the curb detect when pedestrians are about to enter the crosswalk. The lights then flash for 30 seconds.
"In the two days we've had it up and running, I've already had people calling saying they want them in their neighborhood," Mr. Bellamy said.
While pedestrians are expected to exercise caution, it is the driver's responsibility to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers cited for a failure to yield can be given fines of $100 to $500.


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