After years of near misses and at least one death on West Richland's busy Van Giesen Street, flashing lights are being added at two busy crosswalks.
Pedestrians will be able to activate the bright yellow lights to alert drivers that someone's trying to cross.
They're being installed on Van Giesen at 38th and 40th avenues -- the only places in the downtown area with crosswalks.
Those few blocks also have several stores and restaurants on both sides of one of the city's main thoroughfares. And West Richland city offices and the library are at the corner of 38th and Van Giesen.
"They all encourage foot traffic in that area," said Public Works Director Roscoe C. Slade III.
"The problem is we have a downtown area with a state highway (Van Giesen) running through the middle of it. Van Giesen at these points is five lanes wide, and the road makes a slight curve too," he said.
In 2004, a 10-year-old boy was killed near 38th and Van Giesen when a minibike he was riding on shot onto the street into the path of a flatbed truck. Even though police said the driver was traveling about 5 mph below the posted speed limit of 30 mph, he was unable to stop.
The new warning lights can't stop all accidents, but city officials hope they raise awareness.
"We've had a lot of near misses, and the city staff crossing Van Giesen to go eat lunch at Ty's or the diner have noticed it's tough to cross. There's a lot of traffic," Slade said.
Earlier this year, the city council asked city staff to propose different options to improve pedestrian safety in the downtown area.
"We called other cities, found out what worked well and what didn't," Slade said. They found the flashing lights are very good at catching a driver's attention. "They're highly visible, day and night," he said.
The council approved buying and installing four of the flashing lights at a cost of $50,000, including installation.
The bases already are in place and the poles and lights will be up and working by next week.
They're solar powered so there's even a green aspect to the project, Slade said.
The next step is education.
"We still have to train pedestrians that just because you push the button and the lights flash, you still have to look before you step out," Slade said.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org