Yellow light, red light

New pedestrian traffic beacon will debut in

The old flashing yellow lights at County Road 11 and 140th Street/Evergreen Drive in Burnsville will be replaced by a pedestrian-activated, overhead beacon with both yellow and red lights. (Photo by John Gessner)

A newfangled pedestrian traffic beacon will soon make its debut in Dakota County, at an intersection near Echo Park Elementary School in Burnsville.

Mounted on arms extended over the road, the pedestrian-activated beacon will function much like a conventional traffic signal.

It will replace the yellow flashing caution lights at the crosswalk where County Road 11 intersects with 140th Street/Evergreen Drive.

The continuously flashing lights on both sides of County Road 11 were installed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, said Suzanne Hanrahan, the county’s assistant traffic engineer. Those devices are no longer considered effective safety tools, she said.

“The studies show they’re not effective at changing driver behavior, at least not long term,” Hanrahan said.

The new device, known as a hybrid pedestrian beacon, employs a yellow light followed by a red light ordering the driver to stop. The cycle will be activated by the push of a button that will give pedestrians a walk signal.

The beacon will remain dark until a pedestrian activates it.

The yellow light warns that the red stoplight is coming, Burnsville City Engineer Ryan Peterson said.

“That’s one of the reasons we really like it. It operates very similarly to traffic signals, which motorists understand,” Peterson said. “The Burnsville Police Department likes it because it’s very enforceable.”

The county is scheduled to begin the installation this month at a cost of about $100,000, according to Hanrahan, who said it will be finished before school opens.

The project stems from a Safe Routes to School collaboration between the county, some District 196 schools including Echo Park, and area cities, Hanrahan said.

While the old flashing yellows “might not have been the most effective,” the city and school district balked at a county suggestion that they be removed, Peterson said.

Many years ago a child was struck and killed in the intersection. The accident wasn’t during school hours, Peterson said. The child was crossing from the east side of 11 to play at the school, which is on the west side.

District 196 designates the crossing as hazardous based on County Road 11 traffic volumes, which means students living across 11 are assigned bus routes, Hanrahan said.

But some families choose to have their students walk the short distance to school instead of taking a bus.

“Through the discussions with the city and the school, it became clear that this was a location with an established crossing,” Hanrahan said. “There were definitely people crossing there.”

The hybrid beacon emerged as an alternative to leaving the crossing without any traffic lights.

“I would say it was a joint effort between the city and the county to investigate the options and come up with the idea,” Peterson said.

Once the beacon is activated, a flashing yellow light will be followed by a solid red light. At that time, the pedestrian will get a walk signal, Hanrahan said.

After a short period, the solid red will become a pair of alternating red lights, at which point the driver can proceed once the pedestrian has cleared his lane of traffic, Hanrahan said.

It’s the county’s first hybrid pedestrian beacon, but they’re found elsewhere in Minnesota, she said.

“This is not a tool that’s going to be widely implemented,” she said. It’s suitable for “mid- to lower-volume roadways, and preferably a two-lane roadway.”