By Lonnie Huhman, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Why can’t the city just put in the RRFB’s?”
The Sun Times News posed that question to Dexter Mayor Shawn Keough recently and his answer was to the point, which is an important one for the city.
“Because there is a process that needs to be followed whenever traffic control devices, signs or pavement markings are installed or changed,” Keough said.
The question to Keough and the city was posed in an attempt to take a deeper look at the pedestrian safety issue around the city, which has the Dexter Community School district playing a big part. The schools are located on city streets, so in Dexter there’s a need for the two organizations to work closely together on issues such as this.
Keough said the city of Dexter, and formerly the village of Dexter, has been working to improve pedestrian safety for a long time.
“This is a process that continues each year because things are always changing,” he said.
The U.S Department pf Transportation Federal Highway Administration said the purpose of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon LED or an RRFB, “is they can enhance safety by reducing crashes between vehicles and pedestrians at unsignalized intersections and mid-block pedestrian crossings by increasing driver awareness of potential pedestrian conflicts.”
They’re defined by the Federal Highway Administration as user-actuated amber LEDs that supplement warning signs at unsignalized intersections or mid-block crosswalks. They can be activated by pedestrians manually by a push button or passively by a pedestrian detection system.
RRFBs use an irregular flash pattern that is similar to emergency flashers on police vehicles and may be installed on either two-lane or multi-lane roadways, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
To set the background for the city and school district’s recent discussions on pedestrian safety, Keough said DCS recently engaged a consultant to evaluate four crosswalk locations.
The school district has said it’s concerned about Baker Road between Creekside and Bates, Dexter-Ann Arbor Road at Kensington and two locations on Dan Hoey.
Keough said the first draft of the school report was submitted to the city on Oct. 29, 2018. He said the city’s engineering consultant, OHM, reviewed the draft and a conference call was conducted on Oct. 31, where the city provided some questions and comments.
The city also asked for some back up documentation that was referenced in the report. Keough said on Dec. 17, 2018, the consultants for the schools completed an updated report. The city and schools were set to meet on Jan. 11, to discuss the latest version of their report.
“The city follows the rules of the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the schools understand this,” Keough said.
He said the latest version of that document is from the year 2009, “and there is very little guidance information on Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons in that document.” The State of Michigan issued a document titled “Guidance for Installation of Pedestrian Crosswalks” in July 2014.
This guidance states the type of crossing treatment should be determined after considering the physical roadway conditions, vehicle volumes, pedestrian volumes and posted speed limit at the potential crossing location.
“This is the document that the city’s engineers have been using to evaluate, at first, the draft report, and now the more recent December 17, 2018 report,” Keough said prior to the Jan. 11 meeting. “City council is aware that a draft report was issued and that the schools have been working for the past several weeks on an updated report. City council has not reviewed or seen the report or any comments from our engineers yet, as they are working to review it and will be getting some questions answered during the upcoming meeting with the school district.”
So how about the RRFB at Grand Street and Baker Road?
Keough said, “The beacon was provided as a public benefit during the City Planning Commission approval and city council approval of the new Grandview Commons project. That project was approved by means of a Planned Unit Development process, which is available in the city’s ordinance as an approval process for projects that don’t fit the zoning perfectly.”
“One requirement of using the PUD process is that the new development has to provide public benefits,” he said. “For this project, the RRFB was one benefit incorporated into the project to help improve the existing crosswalk that spans three lanes of Baker Road traffic. As an aside, the second public benefit to be provided by this project is a shared use no-motorized path from Grand Street that will connect to a future non-motorized path that we are calling Phase 2 of the Mill Creek Park project. This project is still in the planning/early design stage.”
Keough said the city’s engineers believed that the installation of a RRFB near the intersection of Grand and Baker was a good location for a RRFB because it helped pedestrians cross three lanes of traffic in the vicinity of an awkwardly shaped intersection.
“It was installed for all users and the city has been trying to promote and educate our residents and the community about the proper care, caution and use that should occur when using this new crosswalk treatment,” he said and that he believes that there are some lighting improvements and possible signage improvements that also will be discussed in the near future.
“I appreciate that everyone has good intentions here and I believe we all share the same goal of trying to make the crosswalk locations the safest possible, but the city needs time to evaluate the report that has been submitted,” Keough said. “There has been communication between the city staff and the school staff, as well as between the city’s consultants and the schools consultants and construction manager. This communication will continue.”
He said he also expects, “that as soon as our engineers and staff are comfortable that the schools report is complete, it will be discussed by city council.”
“That is on the horizon,” Keough said.