Tag Archives: flashing

Flashing stop signs come at a high price

The in basket: Sharell Lee read the Road Warrior column about drivers not realizing McWilliams Road in Central Kitsap ends at East Boulevard and crashing into what’s across the T intersection, and she had a suggestion.

“In California they sometimes use stop signs

mounted with a small solar panel,” she said. “The stop sign itself has bright flashing lights around the circumference.  Such stop signs are very noticeable and attention getting.

“I’m wondering if this type of sign is ever used in Washington,” she said. “I realize our climate is less sunny, but small solar panels don’t really require that much sun. Where I work, we run a small electric car with them, which I’m sure requires a lot more power than lights on a sign would.’

The out basket: I’m told there is such a stop sign inside the industrial area at Bangor’s sub base, and Sharell says the one she saw also was on a military base. She wondered if vandalism discourages there use outside a secure area.

Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer says, “Yes. The cost of one stop sign with blinking lights and solar panel is $1,700.  A regular stop sign is $80.

“There are over 3,000 stop signs in Kitsap County. Replacing all the stop signs in the county with this type of device would cost more than $5,000,000.

“The challenge,” Jeff said, “is determining which intersections warrant this type of upgrade, so that deploying this device is consistent throughout the county. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices does not currently contain a warrant that sets that level.

“We would consider this as another tool in our toolbox for a solution to a problem location.  A tool like this would be used where a documented number of motorists are simply not seeing the sign, and less costly countermeasures have not worked.

“There are other factors considered when installing new signs. Each year we replace about 2,000 signs that are damaged through accidents and vandalism. The more unique the sign, the more likely vandalism occurs. You see this with street name signs that are popular.

“Adding an electric feature to a device requires additional maintenance and inspection to ensure solar panel and batteries operate correctly.

“We also have to consider how this type of application impacts neighbors. After installing flashing devices, we do get complaints from nearby neighbors that the constant flashing is a nuisance,” Jeff said..


Cougar Valley’s flashing school zone sign raises questions

The in basket: Barbara Burns of Olympic View Road in Central Kitsap wonders about the effective hours of the school zone at Cougar Valley Elementary School, which she must pass going to and from her home.

“The signs on either end of the school zone have flashing yellow lights with the directive: ‘School Speed Limit 20mph When Flashing.’  Trouble is,” she said, “I’ve never seen the lights flashing except when buses are obviously loading and unloading children at regular times during the weekday. Other times of the day and night the lights are dark.

“Question 1,” she said. “In the evening, throughout the night, and on weekends when school is clearly not in session, are people still expected to do 20 mph or is 35 okay?” Thirty-five is the speed limit on the rest of the road.

“Question 2,” she continued. “The school parking lot is occasionally full to overflowing in the late afternoon/early evening for soccer practice, parent/teacher night and special events, forcing parents to park up and down both sides of the road.  The school is on a bend, which complicates matters, yet the flashing lights are rarely activated. Why?

“No conscientious driver would go through there doing 35 when vehicles and people are abundant, but according to the sign, 35 is acceptable because the lights aren’t flashing. Is it?”

And, finally, “if the lights aren’t being activated during times that obviously could benefit from it, I can only guess that the programming is complex, or the school relies on someone manually turning them on and off, which frankly doesn’t happen. Why have signs with lights at all?”

The out basket: Among the variety of school zone speed limit triggers (when children are present, during certain hours and, around Bremerton High School, 24/7), I think the flashing lights are far and away the best choice, except they cost a lot, require electricity and, Barbara is right – they are complex.

Some are controlled remotely by the county’s electronics shop, either by radio or hard wired. The one on Sedgwick Road was installed by the state (it’s a state highway) and may be operated by the school. A cursory survey of other schools tells me the ones on Pinecrest Elementary in Bremerton and Pearson Elementary in North Kitsap are run by the county after the school tells it what it wants, often for the entire school year in advance.

But the flashing lights eliminate the uncertainty that plagues the other zone formats to one degree or another, and what I have come to suspect is something less than a strict insistence on a child being present before a ticket is written in one of the zones specifying that, especially during emphasis patrols.

But to address Barbara’s specific questions, Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer says, “The 20 mph school zone speed limit is only in force at the times the flashers are activated.

“At other times the maximum speed limit is 35 mph. Motorists should always drive at a safe speed for the conditions, which can be below the posted speed limit.

“The signs cannot be activated other than by reprogramming them with a computer and connecting cord,” Jeff said. “That makes them very difficult to use for special events. During most events though, there is normally adult supervision which minimizes children alone along or crossing the road.  Even then, most prudent drivers are slowing down when the road gets congested like that.”

“The flashers are primarily for the school areas and crossings where young school age children are prevalent and don’t always have adult supervision.” Jeff concluded.

Explaining variety of school warning signs

The in basket:  David Dahlke asks, “What is with those who design road signs in the county? Do they think that changing the designs on signs shows their ingenuity or is there some other rhyme to their reasoning?

“I refer to a new school bus stop sign on Garfield Avenue in Port Orchard. It has no words on it but is designed to point out a bus stop ahead. Is this due to the inability of some to read English that the common “School Bus Stop Ahead” is now obsolete?

“I mention this because I have an issue with the different school zone signs,” David said. “Why can’t they all be the same instead of ‘When children are present,’ having a time frame on them or when light flashing?”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County, replies to say, “Signs on county-maintained roads comply with the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  Washington state adopted the manual and mandated us to follow its guidance and requirements.

“The ‘School Bus Stop Ahead’ sign changed to a symbol recently, much like other signs have through the years. Signs with symbols are more quickly understood and easier to recognize at greater distances.than word messages.

“The less time motorists spend reading a sign, the more focused they can be on the road and driving. The Manual allows a period of several years to replace old signs with new, and we normally wait until the old sign wears out before replacing it with the new sign.

“The MUTCD provides three options for school speed limit zones—specific times, when lights are flashing, and when children are present,” Jeff said. “Managing the time of day restrictions is difficult.  When school schedules vary, which they do a lot, it is nearly impossible to adjust the times (on the signs). Also, the times indicated are often in a small font and can be difficult to read.

“The ‘When Children are Present’ option is probably the best, in theory. Motorists don’t have to slow down unless children are visible in the area.  The law is very specific about where this option applies— 300 feet from an active school property or a school crosswalk. (But) enforcing the restrictions is challenging. Many tickets are thrown out in court because motorists complained that they didn’t see children obscured by cars, vegetation or other obstacles.

“That said, this is what we use for remote school crosswalks.  It is difficult to put times on these because of the varying times it takes school children to get to these crossings.

“The flashing lights are the current sign of choice for school zones. Studies show that motorists understand these signs best, and are more likely to comply. Flashing signals are easier to program with changing times, and remove any ambiguity about if the law applies at that particular time and place.”

Jeff didn’t mention iot, but the flashing signs also are more expensive to install and have ongoing operating expense.

Another Sedgwick Road school zone raises questions

The in basket: “What am I going to do with you?” old friend Jack Gaudette asked me on the phone the other day. 

I had included Jack among those  named in an earlier Road Warrior column who were puzzled by the length of the school zone on newly widened Sedgwick Road at Converse Avenue.

But he wasn’t asking about that school zone, Jack told me. He had been asking about the school zone at Sedgwick Junior High a few miles down the highway to the east. 

In that earlier column, a state official had said the end a school zone can be indicated by an “End of School Zone” sign or a speed limit sign setting a higher speed. They had chosen the latter at Converse.

But there is neither at the junior high, Jack said. The only speed limit sign one encounters going either way on Sedgwick is a long way down the road. Do they have to stay at 20 mph all that way when the school zone lights are flashing, he wondered.

The Sedgwick zone got flashing lights just last year to indicate when the 20 mph speed limit is in effect.

That same day Jack called to straighten me out, Mary Gay phoned to make the same point. “I think the state forgot to put in an ‘end school  zone’ sign,” she said. Most people figure they’re out of the school zone when they pass the sign with the flashing light for traffic going in the opposite direction, she said. But with the regular speed limit of 45 mph, you’re risking a whopper of a ticket risky making that assumption. 

The out basket: I drove it and found that there are 1.3 miles between speed limit signs on either side of the school zone. 

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olymmpic Regi0n of state highways, said there definitely should be some indication that the school zone had ended once one is past the school, and the state will install 45 mph speed limit signs where the school zone ends at each opposing flashing light.