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Wayne Parsons
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The Hawaii Pedestrian Crosswalk Safety Chronicles: Innovative Solution for Crosswalk Safety

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A primary mission of these articles is to promote safety and make Hawaii a safer place for all of us. Everyone in the Islands is concerned about crosswalk deaths and pedestrian injuries. I have come across an innovative system that may help prevent these tragic events: In-Roadway Warning Light (IRWL) systems.The system is called Smart Crosswalk™ and it looks pretty good to me. Motorists don’t hit people in crosswalks on purpose, nor do pedestrians step in front of cars on purpose. On both sides of a crosswalk collision is a person who is not paying attention to some degree. So how do we get both the driver and the pedestrian to be more alert? This article focuses on the inattentive driver. Yes, I’m talking about cell phones, Ipods, French Fries and bad street lighting.

It used to be that crossing the road was as simple as looking both ways before stepping out into the street. Often it seems that the only option is to dash and pray. But these days there are a myriad of technologies available to aid this passage from one side of the road to the next.

There are flashing beacons placed at the side of the road or positioned in an overhead mast. There are countdown signal signs letting you know how long you have to make it across the street. Some cities have even resorted to handing out bight yellow pennant style flags you can wave as you make your crossing.

Although these technologies may help to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities, those fatalities remain a serious concern. For example, according to the National Pedestrian Crash Report, June 2008, in Hawaii, from 1997 to 2006, there were 276 pedestrian fatalities with 37% of these occurring in Honolulu.

An AARP Hawaii survey of more than 50 of the state’s busiest intersections confirms what many residents have suspected for years: Hawaii is one of the most dangerous places in the nation to be a pedestrian.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser "By The Numbers":

“For every pedestrian killed in Hawai’i, about nine others were hospitalized and as many as 80 were treated in emergency rooms. Ages of those killed ranged from infancy to 94, but 60 percent were 65 or older, even though that age group represents only 11 percent of the state’s population.”

Fortunately, advances in technology and American ingenuity have come together with the invention of In-Roadway Warning Light (IRWL) systems, now federally approved for use on our streets and highways. They were invented by Michael Harrison in 1993, a former corporate pilot and President of LightGuard Systems, Inc. of Santa Rosa, California. In 1995, he received a US Patent for IRWL enhanced crosswalk systems (Patent Number 6,384,742 B1).

These systems, now called the Smart Crosswalk™, are in-pavement signal lights embedded across the lanes of traffic approximately two feet in front of a crosswalk. When not flashing, they are virtually invisible to the approaching motorist.

When a pedestrian activates the devices, either manually or by automatic detection, the lights begin flashing outward toward the approaching motorist in a bright amber color. The system is designed specifically not to be seen by the pedestrian to avoid the potential for inducing a false sense of security.

The in-pavement signal lights flash in just such a pattern and rate that they capture and hold the attention of the approaching motorist. This flash pattern/rate, called the Enlighten 1™, was developed in cooperation with the University Vision Detection Laboratory in Berkeley California.

These signal lights from the Smart Crosswalk™ system are designed to merge in a “zone of convergence” at the eye level of the approaching motorist. When this Enlighten 1™ light enters into the eye, it travels to the primitive part of the brain that notices motion and movement.

Even inattentive motorists will “notice” something has changed and bring their attention to wards the in-pavement lights.

LED enhanced signs are recommended to be installed along with the Smart Crosswalk™. These illuminated signs provide a full array effect, adding to the effectiveness of these in-pavement signaling systems.

Multiple independent studies have shown these IRWL enhanced crosswalk systems are highly effective in reducing motorist/pedestrian crosswalk conflict. “Sensibility in the streets” is a phrase that comes to mind when walking through one of these illuminated pedestrian crosswalks.

I have been writing on crosswalk injuries and deaths in Hawaii for months and seeking ideas for a solution:

Hawaii Pedestrians Face Crosswalk Threats by Wayne Parsons

Another Pedestrian Death In Beretania Street Crosswalk by Wayne Parsons

Honolulu Alert: Another Pedestrian Struck Down In A Crosswalk by Wayne Parsons

And Hawaii isn’t the only place where these horrible tragedies happen:

Wichita Teen Killed; Sun May Be Factor In Crash by Chrissie Cole

Hawaii journalists report on the deaths and injuries on the nightly news and the newspapers like I have done in my articles. Perhaps we all should focus on preventing these injuries and deaths by asking why innovative solutions like Smart Crosswalk™ aren’t being used in Hawaii? I am hoping to hear from Hawaii legislators, State and County employees and safety experts in Hawaii about whether systems like Smart Crosswalk™ might save lives and make our streets safer. Have they been considered by the state and county governments? Are journalists aware of these devices?