January 30 -- Only two of Santa Monica's 15 flashing
crosswalks designed to alert motorists of a pedestrian in the
road are functioning, the Lookout News has learned. The
rest have been out of order, many for at least a year, including
one at an intersection where an elderly man was killed last week.
Police Sunday identified Yakov Krivulin, 80, as the pedestrian
who died soon after being hit Wednesday at around 3:10 p.m. in
the middle of an out-of-order flashing crosswalk on Santa Monica
Boulevard and Euclid Street.
No charges have been filed in the accident, which police have
initially attributed to "driver inattention."
Although it is unclear if the broken crosswalk may have contributed
to the accident, the Lookout News has confirmed that
nearly the entire citywide system -- known commonly as “in-pavement
flasher crosswalks” -- has been in disrepair for several
months, if not years.
"Two out of the 15 in-pavement flasher systems for the crosswalks
in the City are functioning," said Senior Transportation
Planner Beth Rolandson. "Many of those systems have been
out of service for at least one year."
Top City officials have been aware of the problem.
Last October, the City Council directed transportation staff
to repair the flashing crosswalks and move forward with more regular
inspections. But according to transportation officials, there
has been a significant delay in receiving parts, such as new lights.
"There has been a long lag time for the replacement time
for the products," Rolandson said. "We do have parts
on order for the remaining 13 (crosswalks), and we are putting
in a budget request that we can change out all the systems throughout
the City to yet another brand."
Currently, the City uses two in-pavement crosswalk systems. Six
of the 15 systems at Santa Monica intersections were manufactured
and sold by Lightguard Systems, and the remainder -- known as
Smartstud -- were sold by Econolite, which has a contract with
Econolite, which sells a wide variety of lighting systems, stopped
selling the Smartstud model by October of last year, if not sooner,
creating a dilemma for the City, according to information revealed
at the October 10 City Council meeting.
"I heard from the staff that the contract to install (smartstud
systems) is belly-up," remarked Bob Holbrook during the hearing
on the item. "We've been searching for other contractors
that can do the maintenance to replace them and keep them working,
and it's a very, very difficult problem to keep those lights operating.
"I know staff is very aware of it and very concerned about
it," he said.
While The Lookout spoke briefly with a company spokesperson
for Econolite, the only information she divulged was that the
company "no longer used the Smartstud system," and that
it was "a business decision" to discontinue the services.
An active web address for Smartstud systems is marketing the
product in several countries around the world, but Econolite representatives
did not return follow-up calls seeking additional informtion.
City Transportation Manager Lucy Dyke did not return calls or
emails from The Lookout over the past five days asking
why Econolite discontinued using the Smartstud System and the
status of the current contract with the company.
Rolandson said she did not know the particulars of the contract
and could not answer those questions.
Lightguard Systems also is responsible for the delay in fixing
the problem crosswalks.
"We were the company to first invent the product,"
said Lightguard Systems President Michael Harrison, whose company
is upgrading the product.
"There has been a delay, but it's because we've been waiting
for a whole new system," Harrison said. "There is a
brand new model that snaps onto the old system… It's more
robust and brighter."
The company -- which provides thousands of such systems nationwide,
including hundreds in California, including 30 in Glendale and
8 in Petaluma -- is experiencing a backlog in replacement orders
due to tweaks in engineering, Harrison said.
"It's partially our fault, because the product was supposed
to be delivered sooner than later," he said.
For the past decade, the City has used the flashing crosswalks
as a way to ensure pedestrian safety, without significantly slowing
traffic on some of Santa Monica’s major east-west arteries.
Starting in the late-1990s with a handful of pilot crosswalks
along Pico Boulevard, the City approved expanding the use of the
systems in 2000. There are now six flashing crosswalks on Pico,
five on Santa Monica Boulevard, three on Ocean Park Boulevard
and one on Montana Avenue.
The only flashing crosswalks that work are at Ocean Park Boulevard
and 16th Street and Pico Boulevard and 22nd Street. Traffic officials
could not immediately determine if the working crosswalks used
the Smartstud or Lightgaurd systems.
City officials, however, did offer one reason why some of the
systems have malfunctioned.
"The problem frequently has to do with the settling of the
lights in the asphalt, and over time, with traffic and such, the
conduit breaks," said Rolandson. "So it has to do with
how the asphalt settles over time."
Using concrete instead of asphalt could help solve the problem,
Whenever possible, it is the City, and not the vendors, that
repairs the crosswalks, Rolandson said.
"Typically, we have the City crew responsible for the traffic
signals change out the lights," she said. "But on some
occasions, if it's a more systematic problem, we’ll ask
the vendor or contract out the work."
So far, reactions to the high-tech crosswalks have been mixed.
While staff and City officials say it promotes safety, others
in the community have spoken out against their use, especially
when they are broken.
"I think they inspire a false sense of security in some
pedestrians," said Zina Josephs, president of Friends of
Sunset Park, a neighborhood group in the southeast side of the
"While driving west on Ocean Park Boulevard, I've seen some
adults press the button at 16th and plunge right into the crosswalk
without looking to see if drivers have time to stop for them,"
FOSP members and Ocean Park merchants have sent numerous emails
complaining about the ineffectiveness of the in-pavement crosswalks
on Ocean Park Boulevard at 16th and 18th Streets, Josephs said.
"The proof of the pudding is in the number of pedestrians
who have been run over in the crosswalk at 18th and Ocean Park
Boulevard,” said Josephs. She said that two pedestrians
were struck in separate accidents during one of the December sidewalk
sales on the boulevard.
In October, City staff said they would hold a community meeting
this month to discuss the redesign of Ocean Park Boulevard that
would include a discussion of the crosswalks. However, the City
has yet to send out a notice of the meeting.