Flashing Crosswalks for Safer Streets

Committee: Streetsmarts

Cost: $176,000

Location: 10 locations citywide

Short Description: This project would fund rapid flashing beacons at 10 high pedestrian risk crosswalks. These beacons increase the visibility of pedestrians, especially at night. They can alert drivers to crossing pedestrians, thereby preventing crashes.

Long Description: Between 2010 and June 2016, 516 pedestrians were struck by vehicles while crossing Cambridge streets. Many of these incidents occurred near intersections without traffic signals. Seven different Participatory Budgeting submissions from the community highlighted this danger in different areas of the city. These proposals recommended adding speed bumps to slow down cars on major roads like Cambridge Street and Mass. Ave. However, these roads are also emergency vehicle routes. Fire trucks and ambulances need clear access on these roads to respond rapidly to incidents throughout the city. Because of this tradeoff, adding speed bumps would require a lengthy approval process without a guarantee of success, meaning Participatory Budgeting funds might not be allocated.

Fortunately, there are other street crossing enhancements that mitigate pedestrian crossing risk without hampering emergency response effectiveness. One such enhancement is the rectangular rapid flashing beacon. These beacons resemble regular street crossing signs, but they incorporate a bright, flashing light to alert drivers that a pedestrian is crossing the street. The flashing light can be triggered either by a button that the pedestrian can push, or by a motion sensor. Flashing beacons are typically powered by integrated solar panels; as such they have no impact on the city’s electricity consumption.

Rapid flashing beacons alert drivers to pedestrians attempting to cross the street. As a result, more drivers yield to pedestrians and avoid dangerous collisions. A study of rapid flashing beacons in Florida showed that rapid flashing beacons prompt more drivers to yield to pedestrians crossing the street.

This project would fund the installation of rectangular rapid flashing beacons at 10 high-risk crosswalks throughout the city. The potential locations below reflect high-priority crosswalks according to Participatory Budgeting proposals and multi-year crash data available on the Cambridge open data portal.

Please click on this link to see a video of rapid flashing beacons in Bellevue, Washington.

NOTES: Budget Delegates decided to resubmit the winning proposal from last year (which is why this looks familiar) to fund additional locations for flashing beacons (last year's proposal called for six locations). The final location of the flashing beacons would be subject to feasibility constraints and would be decided by the City. The $176,000 cost estimate includes $8,000 per beacon for a total of 22 beacons—16 would be on typical roads (2 beacons required per location = 8 locations) and 6 would be at locations with a median (3 required per location = 2 locations).

Potential rapid flashing beacon locations:

By proposal suggestions:

  • Mass Ave at Edmunds St
  • River St at Blackstone St
  • River St and Putnam St
  • Cambridge St at Prescott St
  • Cambridge St at Irving
  • Kirkland St at Irving St
  • Kirkland St at Roberts St
  • Hampshire St at Elm St
  • Broadway St at Norfolk St
  • Broadway St at Tremont St
  • Broadway St at Prescott St
  • Broadway St at crosswalk near CRLS
  • Broadway St at Ellery St
  • Sherman St by Cadbury Common
  • Vassar St

By pedestrian incident severity:

  • Mass Ave at Dana St
  • Mass Ave at Temple St
  • Mass Ave at Pearl St
  • Mass Ave at Norfolk St




Map of proposed beacon locations:




Showing 4 reactions

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  • Astrid Dodds
    commented 2017-12-08 23:57:18 -0500
    No one should vote for this until s/he has tried to cross Mass. Ave. at Garfield St. where ped-activated flashing yellow lights continue to confuse drivers and (therefore) threaten pedestrians. Drivers need reliable, familiar, standard symbols warning about Peds-in-the-road, such as red stop lights or red STOP signs combined with reflective thermoplastic zebra stripes. Unfamiliar symbols sow confusion for everyone.
  • Michelle Monsegur
    commented 2017-12-05 21:21:06 -0500
    Nate B, Budget Delegates decided to use last year’s winning proposal text to put this idea back on the ballot. This proposal would fund flashing beacons at 10 additional locations (on top of the 6 locations funded last year). Hope that helps!
  • Nate B
    commented 2017-12-01 14:08:28 -0500
    How is this proposal different than the successfully passed project from PB Cycle 3? http://pb.cambridgema.gov/safer_crosswalks_for_busy_roads_104_000

    Is there a reason for me to vote for this when it seems to have already been funded?
  • Elie Yarden
    commented 2017-11-27 10:50:43 -0500
    The crosswalk on Putnam Ave. between River Street and Pleasant Street is poorly lit from above. And not at all on ground level. I find it strange that this crosswalk was not examined in view of the fact that that block and the one following are part of a major commuter route to and from the connection to the Massachusetts Turnpike