Flashing beacons aim to increase pedestrian safety in Davidson

Sharon Beamer was 3 miles into a 5-mile walk with her dog, Tedde, on Monday morning when she approached a traffic circle on Griffith Street near Interstate 77 Exit 30.

She pressed the pedestrian crosswalk button, and beacons suddenly flashed at oncoming motorists. Cars stopped, and Beamer and her Benji-look-alike dog crossed the busy thoroughfare.

When she pressed the button, a recorded voice said, “Wait! Warning lights activated. Vehicles may not stop. Cross with caution.”

“I think they’re great,” Beamer, 70, said of the new flashing beacons after she crossed the street. “People in cars don’t stop, and this really gives them a heads up to slow down.”

Town officials on Monday unveiled 16 flashing beacons at four crosswalks on Griffith Street, at two roundabouts in what’s known as the Circles@30 area. A constant chirping sound directs pedestrians who are visually impaired to the buttons that activate the beacons.

“Davidson is a walking- and bicycle-friendly community, and we want to keep it that way,” Mayor John Woods said in unveiling the beacons outside the Char-Grill restaurant on Griffith Street.

The beacons were paid for with a $120,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program.

Community School of Davidson, a public charter school, and the private Davidson Day School are near the roundabouts.

Flashing beacons also were installed this year at Davidson-Concord Road and Robert Walker Drive. The town paid about $17,000 to install those beacons after a teenage skateboarder was injured at the intersection when he collided with a pickup truck, police said.

The Griffith Street beacons were prompted not by collisions but by concern for schoolchildren, exercise walkers and people trying to cross the street to get to businesses, town officials said.

Woods said the town has implemented various other pedestrian safety measures since beloved Davidson College professor Robert Whitton died in November 2011, days after he was struck by a sport utility vehicle as he used a crosswalk on a rainy night near campus.

Measures included mid-street signs warning of pedestrians, Woods said, along with red flags at crossings. A group of Community School of Davidson eighth-graders made the flags as part of a school project, Woods said.

Charlotte also has some flashing beacons, but “Davidson is kind of a leader in this,” said George Berger, who coordinates Active Routes to School projects in an 11-county region. Active Routes to School is a partnership between the N.C. DOT and N.C. Division of Public Health.

“A lot of towns haven’t gotten into it as deeply as Davidson has,” Berger said.

While the beacons had motorists braking on Monday, Doug Wright, the town’s public works and projects director, cautioned walkers that “you still have to wait for cars to stop.”