Oregon’s longest state park is receiving safety upgrades to make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross intersections in Klamath Falls and Altamont.
Klamath County Public Works has been installing rapid reflective flashing beacons (RRFBs) where the OC and E Woods Line State Trail crosses significant connector streets in Klamath Falls’ unincorporated suburb.
Jeremy Morris, director of Klamath County Public Works, said the crosswalks needed improvements because of the high number of trail users and cars that are funneled into tight spaces.
“You have thousands of cars and hundreds of people using the trails,” he said. “There’s a ticking time bomb for when an accident occurs.”
Stretching 109 miles between Klamath Falls and Bly, the historic OC and E Trail doubles as a commuter corridor running through the urban area, allowing Klamath Falls residents to walk or bike to work or school. Mazama High School and Ferguson Elementary School lie within walking distance of the trail in Altamont, and the route connects with other urban trails near downtown Klamath Falls. State park leadership estimate that hundreds of people use the trail per day, especially during the school year.
Because it was an old railroad line, OC and E bypasses many intersections and allows trail users to travel multiple blocks before having to cross a street. Morris said when they are forced to, the crosswalks haven’t been well-marked, causing cars to hit pedestrians or rear-end each other when stopping too quickly.
RRFBs are lights attached to crosswalk signage that flash when a pedestrian pushes a button to cross the road. The blinking lights signal to drivers in both directions to stop. Once the pedestrian safely crosses 6 feet into the blocked-off center lane, the first car they pass is allowed to continue forward. Once they reach the other side, traffic resumes as normal, allowing for a more efficient flow of cars that only stops when a pedestrian needs to cross.
Morris points out that motorists are already required by law to yield to marked pedestrian crossings, but added RRFBs makes them more visible to drivers who may not be expecting them, especially since the OC and E Trail crosses most streets mid-block.
The Federal Highway Administration designated RRFBs as a suitable safety upgrade for crossings between street intersections in 2009, after a study found that the solar-powered lights led to an increase in cars yielding from 18 percent to 81 percent. Based on feedback from trail users, Morris said Klamath’s installations are on a similar track.
“They’ve all commented on how much safer they feel and how much better the compliance is for stopping,” he said.
Over the past few months, the county has installed RRFBs where the OC and E Trail crosses Altamont Drive, Summers Lane and Homedale Road. The city of Klamath Falls installed one on Washburn Way in 2014 and on South 6th Street last year. The Oregon Department of Transportation is working on a crossing for Highway 39.
Morris said the county crossings had ramps that needed to be updated to meet ADA standards, so they added more signage and RRFBs (which made up about a third of the cost of each project) at the same time.
“We just took advantage of already being here to do some other work to make it low-cost,” he said.
The county will complete another crossing at Madison Street by the end of the summer. They’re considering constructing eight more RRFB crossings in suburban school zones, after which they’ll evaluate other crossings on a case-by-case basis.
Morris said he hopes drivers and trail users take advantage of the new safety infrastructure. Pedestrians just need to remember to push the button at the crosswalk, and drivers should stop when they see flashing yellow lights.