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Rocky switches on a bright idea at crosswalk

Blinking yellow lights to make streets safer

Mayor Rocky Anderson, who introduced orange flags on a stick to make pedestrians in crosswalks more visible, has now put into service the city's first set of flashing yellow warning lights at one of the most dangerous intersections, 900 West and 600 South.

Downtown Salt Lake City, once described by a transportation expert as "a house that is all hallways" because of its wide and abundant street space, has been a vehicle-friendly place that needs to get more pedestrian-friendly, Anderson said.

"City transportation has had a long history of being about moving vehicles, not people," Anderson said Saturday after he and a group of area residents gave the lights a test walk.

Edie Trimmer, chairwoman of the Poplar Community Council, said she appreciates the city's efforts to promote the idea that pedestrians have rights on the street as well as cars. "I think this and the flags at intersections are really changing people's attitudes."

The 900 West intersection is a place where driver attitudes need adjusting. The speed limit is 40 mph, there are relatively few stoplights and there have been two pedestrian-auto acci-

dents the past year — the most recent Feb. 21 — as well as numerous near-hits, said residents who gathered on the corner to check out the new lights.

Irene Zerbel said the lights may have prevented the accident that broke her 15-year-old daughter's legs Feb. 17, 2000.

"The kids get used to crossing here, but cars don't get used to stopping, so this will be an extra incentive for both to be more careful," Zerbel said.

The eight flashing yellow lights are the first pedestrian-activated warning lights in Salt Lake City and only operate after pedestrians engage them by pressing a button attached to a light pole.

Anderson said transportation officials believe motorists pay more attention to intermittent warning lights than they do to lights that blink constantly. He said they had considered using red lights but decided that making motorists stop rather than yield would disrupt traffic more than it would increase safety.

Similar warning lights are to be installed at 200 South and Regent Street this spring, Anderson said, adding that a total of 90 such lights are planned throughout the city.

"We are committed to protecting everyone, especially children, who cross our streets," Anderson said, noting that motorist behavior at crosswalks will continue to be closely monitored by police. He added, however, that no matter how many warning lights get installed, "pedestrians must practice defensive walking and be careful themselves; these signs will alert drivers, but it won't make them stop."