WITT: Crosswalks need some attention
A few years ago the idea was floated to paint some of the downtown crosswalks in a zebra pattern. This is a pattern of narrowly spaced, wide white strips running completely across the width of the roadway. These zebra crosswalks are seen in many places in England, other countries and in many cities in America.
In furtherance of this goal, the Kentucky Department of Highways was contacted to try to coordinate the plan, and to determine whether the state or the city might be responsible for the painting.
Regrettably, KDOH refused to consider even allowing the city to do the painting, indicating that it — the department — would not approve them, at least on Kentucky roadways.
Since state and federal highways run through the heart of downtown — Main Street and Maple Street — those thoroughfares were considered to be off limits for the crosswalk revisions.
There should be little question that the current mid-block crosswalks, those located on Lexington Avenue at Wall Street and along North and South Main street are little noticed by motorists because they are defined by two four-inch-wide, white stripes running across the width of the street. These crosswalks are little noticed by motorists, even those who frequently drive the downtown streets.
So, here are a few suggestions, aimed solely at making the downtown streets safer for pedestrians.
One, the city should go ahead and repaint the crosswalks in a zebra pattern without the approval of the state highway department, and leave it up to that department to take action afterwards. About the worst that could happen would be that the city, under some form of coercion, would have to change them back to their previous condition.
Certainly, the city can paint these patterns at intersections which do not fall into the state or federal highway jurisdiction such as, for instance, the crosswalks on Cleveland and Court streets where they intersect Main Street.
Another suggestion — which might be harder to implement without approval of the state department — is to add signs bordered with lighting before each crosswalk on Lexington Avenue and Main Street to alert drivers to be aware of possible pedestrians in the area.
Such signage has been installed elsewhere in the state; it should be approved here.
Low-energy-use LED lighting would probably be a good option for this application.
Some localities have gone so far as to paint crosswalks in bright colors or patterns, all of which serve to more readily alert motorists.
Unfortunately, the state department of highways appears to have little vision about what can be easily accomplished to make the traffic/pedestrian interface safer for all.
As a final note, the newly-installed traffic lights at the intersection of Broadway and Main streets are definitely an improvement over the previous overhead clutter of unsightly wires. But there was an opportunity there to, instead of installing heavy overhanging support arms extending out over the intersection, install corner posts mounting the traffic lights. Such posts could have enhanced the historic street lighting downtown and negated the necessity of overhead systems.
Such traffic light configurations have been in use for decades in many cities in England and are being used in cities across the U.S.
It might have taken a period of adjustment for motorists to get accustomed to the system, but that is true of almost everything that is new and slightly different from what has gone before.
Maybe a little innovation would be welcomed.
Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.