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A safer plan for pedestrians in crosswalks

By Dennis Shaughnessey

LOWELL -- It's a bright idea.

Lights embedded in the roadway warn motorists that a pedestrian is crossing the street. If approved by the Lowell City Council tonight, the LIghtGuard System could be operational on Riverside Street as soon as tomorrow.

"We had some concerns about the visibility to pedestrians crossing the street, and we looked at what was available," said UMass Lowell engineer and project manager Roger Hall, referring to crosswalk-warning system that was installed at the crosswalk between Ball and Olsen Halls on the North Campus. "The LightGuard System looked like a good fit. We're just waiting for final approval from the city."

The system consists of two white poles, called bollards, on both sides of the street that are triggered when a pedestrian walks between the poles or pushes the activation button. Flashing amber LED lights are emitted from 10 metal plates, five in each direction, embedded in the crosswalk. The lights are aimed downward, but are clearly visible to approaching cars, giving motorists ample warning to slow down and stop.

Hall said that the system has been tested on Riverside Street and is currently in use at Amherst College in western Massachusetts.

"We've seen them work, and they're very effective," Hall said.

The university has been working with the city to obtain the needed easements. Tom Costello, UMass Lowell's chief of information and facilities, said the city has expressed interest in installing the system in other parts of the city.

"We want to see how this works out, but I have a very good feeling about this and I think it will be a success," Costello said, adding that plans for the new system were going forward well before Rachel Carnes, a UMass Lowell senior, was struck by a motorist on University Avenue in January, while waiting for a shuttle bus to take her to South Campus.

Costello said the university has been working with the Police and Fire departments, and with Ann Barton, the city's Deputy Director of the Division of Planning and Development, to make a number of changes on University Avenue and elsewhere in light of the Carnes accident. Some ideas include placing rubber rumble strips on University Avenue, Riverside Street and on Broadway Street on the South Campus.

There is also talk about changing the surface and color of the crosswalks on those streets and on Wilder Street on the South Campus. The city will also randomly place their radar-detection carts at various locations around the university and four additional officers are scheduled to patrol the area to check on speeders.

One of the major changes that will be instituted is the drop-off location for the North Campus shuttle bus. In the not-too-distant future, passengers will be dropped in front of Cumnock Hall, instead of the Lydon Library.

"It just makes more sense because that is where most of the students are heading anyway," said Costello. "It will clearly reduce the risk of students having to walk in front of the bus to cross the street."