ST. PETERSBURG — Those rapid-flashing lights that have been showing up at crosswalks throughout the city soon will be doing their job nationwide.
The city of St. Petersburg was the first in the country to install the lights. Now, after a successful testing period, the federal government is poised to authorize the warning lights for use around the nation, said Michael Frederick, manager of neighborhood transportation.
The beacons, as Frederick calls them, started going up on busy city roads in 2006 and now are at 18 locations. He said they've improved pedestrian safety.
"We've done over 100 studies at the various locations and determined that over 82 percent of the motorists are yielding, compared to a base rate of 2 percent. The only thing that gets better compliance than that is a red signal. We've actually found something that makes the crosswalks safe,'' he said.
In the simplest form, the warning lights flash when pedestrians press a button. However, since the equipment was first installed two years ago, the technology has evolved.
Newer equipment includes an infrared detector that sets off a recording of instructions when pedestrians get within 5 feet of the crosswalk. It tells them to press the button to activate the lights and goes on to say: "You've just activated the crosswalk button. Wait for traffic to stop before crossing. Thank drivers with a wave.''
"It's really great for the kids, the fact that it detects them and talks to them. It trains everybody,'' Frederick said. "Unfortunately, the beacons have worked so well, at locations where we don't have them, motorists think they don't have to stop.''
Earlier this week, police issued 50 warnings to drivers who didn't stop for pedestrians at a new crosswalk at Coffee Pot Boulevard and 20th Avenue N. The crosswalk does not have flashing lights.
The crossing, which is near the Snell Isle Bridge, will eventually be a link on the North Bay Trail, Frederick said.
The North Bay Trail is a bicycle and pedestrian path that will run from the end of the Pinellas Trail at Demens Landing, along the waterfront to First Street at 30th Avenue N, where it will continue on First Street N to San Martin Boulevard N and then connect to the Friendship Trail across the old Gandy Bridge.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.