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Flashing speed signs aid in safety

By ELISABETH MURRAY Whidbey Examiner Staff
November 16, 2012 · 8:07 AM
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When Lee James, a longtime resident of Coupeville, hears a loud bang, he knows right away what it is: a car accident has occurred on Highway 20 just north of Coupeville.

A recent speed-limit sign upgrade near his home might help reduce these costly – and sometimes fatal – traffic encounters.

The solar-powered flashing LED speed-limit signs are designed to alert motorists to the reduction in speed from 55 miles per hour to 44 miles per hour as they near the Coupeville town limits, said Dustin Terpening of the Washington State Department of Transportation. It is a new traffic tool to bring more attention to the speed-limit sign, he said.

The northbound and southbound lanes both received the same upgrade.

“I am glad to see it up and working,” said James, a longtime advocate for improving traffic safety in the area.

Walkers, bikers and drivers all try to cross Highway 20 to get from South Ebey Road to N.W. Broadway Street to get downtown and back again, said James.

This is often hard to cross, making it a dangerous intersection, he said.

The south-bound flashing speed limit sign was installed near this intersection.

Last November, Coupeville resident Toni Chapman, 61, was struck and killed as she was walking in the southbound lane near the intersection after dark. It is believed the woman was trying to cross Highway 20 at the time. Chapman was the second pedestrian killed in two years.

There is no pedestrian crosswalk at this intersection and the nearest one is three-tenths of a mile away at the Main Street and Highway 20 intersection.

James said he has witnessed an increase in traffic over the years, and he recognizes that government officials face a real dilemma about improving safety and traffic flow.

“This area is not rural anymore,” James said Tuesday morning as a long string of cars sped by on the highway within view of his home.

Putting in a traffic light would make it easier for cross-traffic, he said, but it would also increase the traffic congestion in the area.

James said  he applauds the speed limit reduction, which occurred last fall, and he believes this has helped make the area safer.

As data is collected, the state will be able to determine if this is the case.

According to Terpening, speed studies have found that so far people have been observing the reduced speed limit.

James said he is hopeful the flashing lights to alert motorists of the speed reduction will help too.

The flashing, solar powered lights were installed in early October by the Washington Department of Transportation. Each solar powered unit cost about $5,000 and came out of the operations budget.

More flashing signs

The Town of Coupeville also plans to install flashing speed limit signs.

The new radar/speed signs will alert motorists and also inform them of their speed.

The Coupeville Marshal’s Office expects to purchase two stationary electronic units with money from a $15,000 grant from the Skagit/Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization, a voluntary organization of local governments for the purpose of coordinating transportation planning.

The town currently deploys a mobile unit to alert motorists of their speed and this large unit is frequently seen near the Coupeville schools on South Main.

“We are excited to be afforded the opportunity to provide safer roadways for our citizens and visitors, as well as the opportunity to take a more proactive approach to addressing neighborhood concerns about speeding vehicles,” Coupeville Marshal Lance Davenport said.

Like the mobile unit, the much smaller stationary units will include an electronic portion that will display a vehicle’s speed when the driver is observing the speed limit – and flash the rate of speed when they are going faster than they should.

A black-and-white posted speed-limit sign will also be present.

The electronic device will also record the speed of passing vehicles.

“This is great for law enforcement to study traffic,” Councilmember Bob Clay said.

Based on the data collected, the Marshal’s Office may decide to implement additional monitoring to cut-down on speeding.

Davenport said he is currently evaluating suitable locations for the devices.

 


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