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City’s Crosswalk System Out of Order

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 30 -- Only two of Santa Monica's 15 flashing crosswalks designed to alert motorists of a pedestrian in the road are functioning, the Lookout News has learned. The rest have been out of order, many for at least a year, including one at an intersection where an elderly man was killed last week.

Police Sunday identified Yakov Krivulin, 80, as the pedestrian who died soon after being hit Wednesday at around 3:10 p.m. in the middle of an out-of-order flashing crosswalk on Santa Monica Boulevard and Euclid Street.

No charges have been filed in the accident, which police have initially attributed to "driver inattention."

Although it is unclear if the broken crosswalk may have contributed to the accident, the Lookout News has confirmed that nearly the entire citywide system -- known commonly as “in-pavement flasher crosswalks” -- has been in disrepair for several months, if not years.

"Two out of the 15 in-pavement flasher systems for the crosswalks in the City are functioning," said Senior Transportation Planner Beth Rolandson. "Many of those systems have been out of service for at least one year."

Top City officials have been aware of the problem.

Last October, the City Council directed transportation staff to repair the flashing crosswalks and move forward with more regular inspections. But according to transportation officials, there has been a significant delay in receiving parts, such as new lights.

"There has been a long lag time for the replacement time for the products," Rolandson said. "We do have parts on order for the remaining 13 (crosswalks), and we are putting in a budget request that we can change out all the systems throughout the City to yet another brand."

Currently, the City uses two in-pavement crosswalk systems. Six of the 15 systems at Santa Monica intersections were manufactured and sold by Lightguard Systems, and the remainder -- known as Smartstud -- were sold by Econolite, which has a contract with the City.

Econolite, which sells a wide variety of lighting systems, stopped selling the Smartstud model by October of last year, if not sooner, creating a dilemma for the City, according to information revealed at the October 10 City Council meeting.

"I heard from the staff that the contract to install (smartstud systems) is belly-up," remarked Bob Holbrook during the hearing on the item. "We've been searching for other contractors that can do the maintenance to replace them and keep them working, and it's a very, very difficult problem to keep those lights operating.

"I know staff is very aware of it and very concerned about it," he said.

While The Lookout spoke briefly with a company spokesperson for Econolite, the only information she divulged was that the company "no longer used the Smartstud system," and that it was "a business decision" to discontinue the services.

An active web address for Smartstud systems is marketing the product in several countries around the world, but Econolite representatives did not return follow-up calls seeking additional informtion.

City Transportation Manager Lucy Dyke did not return calls or emails from The Lookout over the past five days asking why Econolite discontinued using the Smartstud System and the status of the current contract with the company.

Rolandson said she did not know the particulars of the contract and could not answer those questions.

Lightguard Systems also is responsible for the delay in fixing the problem crosswalks.

"We were the company to first invent the product," said Lightguard Systems President Michael Harrison, whose company is upgrading the product.

"There has been a delay, but it's because we've been waiting for a whole new system," Harrison said. "There is a brand new model that snaps onto the old system… It's more robust and brighter."

The company -- which provides thousands of such systems nationwide, including hundreds in California, including 30 in Glendale and 8 in Petaluma -- is experiencing a backlog in replacement orders due to tweaks in engineering, Harrison said.

"It's partially our fault, because the product was supposed to be delivered sooner than later," he said.

For the past decade, the City has used the flashing crosswalks as a way to ensure pedestrian safety, without significantly slowing traffic on some of Santa Monica’s major east-west arteries.

Starting in the late-1990s with a handful of pilot crosswalks along Pico Boulevard, the City approved expanding the use of the systems in 2000. There are now six flashing crosswalks on Pico, five on Santa Monica Boulevard, three on Ocean Park Boulevard and one on Montana Avenue.

The only flashing crosswalks that work are at Ocean Park Boulevard and 16th Street and Pico Boulevard and 22nd Street. Traffic officials could not immediately determine if the working crosswalks used the Smartstud or Lightgaurd systems.

City officials, however, did offer one reason why some of the systems have malfunctioned.

"The problem frequently has to do with the settling of the lights in the asphalt, and over time, with traffic and such, the conduit breaks," said Rolandson. "So it has to do with how the asphalt settles over time."

Using concrete instead of asphalt could help solve the problem, she said.

Whenever possible, it is the City, and not the vendors, that repairs the crosswalks, Rolandson said.

"Typically, we have the City crew responsible for the traffic signals change out the lights," she said. "But on some occasions, if it's a more systematic problem, we’ll ask the vendor or contract out the work."

So far, reactions to the high-tech crosswalks have been mixed. While staff and City officials say it promotes safety, others in the community have spoken out against their use, especially when they are broken.

"I think they inspire a false sense of security in some pedestrians," said Zina Josephs, president of Friends of Sunset Park, a neighborhood group in the southeast side of the city.

"While driving west on Ocean Park Boulevard, I've seen some adults press the button at 16th and plunge right into the crosswalk without looking to see if drivers have time to stop for them," she said.

FOSP members and Ocean Park merchants have sent numerous emails complaining about the ineffectiveness of the in-pavement crosswalks on Ocean Park Boulevard at 16th and 18th Streets, Josephs said.

"The proof of the pudding is in the number of pedestrians who have been run over in the crosswalk at 18th and Ocean Park Boulevard,” said Josephs. She said that two pedestrians were struck in separate accidents during one of the December sidewalk sales on the boulevard.

In October, City staff said they would hold a community meeting this month to discuss the redesign of Ocean Park Boulevard that would include a discussion of the crosswalks. However, the City has yet to send out a notice of the meeting.




"Many of those systems have been out of service for at least one year." Beth Rolandson


"It's a very, very difficult problem to keep those lights operating." Bob Holbrook


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