Manual signal remains green until activated by trail user

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Some boys take advantage of the brand-new mid-block signal crossing on the Waterhouse Trail on Walker Road just west of Schendel Avenue. Trail users can manually activate the signal with a button before they cross the street.A new mid-block crossing system that makes it easier for Waterhouse Trail users to cross Walker Road in Northwest Beaverton serves as a precursor to a similar crossing plan for the Fanno Creek Trail at Southwest Hall Boulevard.

A signalized crossing signal on Walker Road between Schendel and 167th avenues opened last week. The system provides a manually activated signal that walkers, runners and bicyclists can use to continue their treks on the 5.5-mile north-south Waterhouse Trail while creating what Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District officials call only a “minimal” impact on the vehicular flow of traffic.

At the crossing — on both sides of the street as well as a narrow middle island — users push a button that turns the overhead traffic signal from green to yellow to red. Motorists are required to stop briefly to let the trail users cross, before continuing on after the signal turns green. The signal is activated only by hand, and will not change colors if no one is attempting to cross Walker.

“There’s not a real long waiting time,” said Brad Hauschild, a planner with the park district. “It stays green unless some trail user comes along and pushes the button.”

Like most modern intersection signals, the “walk” and “don’t walk” indicators include a 17-second countdown clock that lets trail users know how long they have before vehicles get the green light.

Design work for the project began in summer 2011, and construction started last September. Primary funding came through a $243,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. The park district, which added $27,000, applied for the grant in 2010 with the support of Washington County officials.

In conjunction with the mid-block crossing, the park district — using system development charges for funding — realigned about 150 feet of the trail on the south side of Walker Road to improve accessibility.

“We don’t have very many mid-block crossings in our district, so it’s exciting to add this one,” said Bob Wayt, park district spokesman. “The Waterhouse Trail is a popular trail. Being able to create a safe crossing for users of the trail is a real benefit to them.”

Park district officials estimate between 80,000 and 100,000 people use the Waterhouse Trail each year.

The “mid-block” crossing model at the flat, straight stretch on Walker Road is similar in design, if not surrounding topography, to a signal system planned for Hall Boulevard between Greenway Drive and Nimbus Avenue where Fanno Creek Regional Trail crosses Hall at Greenway Park.

Design work for the Fanno Creek crossing is set to begin by mid-March, with the project slated for completion by the end of the year. The city of Beaverton will take the lead on design for the project, a collaboration between the city and the park district.

Once in place, the signal system will allow trail users to cross Hall Boulevard with a push of the signal and a brief wait, avoiding current options of trekking up to Greenway to use the signal there, or heading across the thoroughfare during a break in traffic, a rare occurrence during morning and evening rush hours.

“Human nature being what it is, people are going to dash across the boulevard,” Wayt said. “What the crossing will do is enable bicyclists and runners to have a safer crossing. It’s certainly more efficient.”

The park district Board of Directors and the Beaverton City Council chose the mid-block signal crossing option, which carries an estimated cost of $350,000, as preferable to a bridge or a tunnel. Cost estimates to build a bridge came in around $3.4 million, while a tunnel under Hall Boulevard was estimated to cost about $9 million.

As the park district trail systems continue to expand, Wayt and Hauschild said trail users should get used to the mid-block signal crossings as the most likely method of trails crossing busy thoroughfares.

“In most, if not every case, we are going to go with the least expensive route,” Wayt said. “We’re going with public safety as much as possible. Trail users are safe if motorists obey the traffic signals. It’s going to be a change for those who drive Hall Boulevard frequently. They will have to stop.”

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