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Kirkland News Room

Feds Direct All Cities to End Use of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons

Current beacons will stay; safe, effective alternatives will be implemented

Contact: Kathy Cummings
Communications Manager
kcummings@kirklandwa.gov
(425) 587-3021

Kirkland, WA - On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration notified the City of Kirkland, as well as all cities nationwide, that the use of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons has been terminated due to a patent issue associated with the device. There are no safety issues related to the beacons, which studies have shown are highly effective in getting cars to stop.

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons are pedestrian-activated safety devices that contain highly visible flashing lights placed near or on the street at crosswalks. The Flashing Beacons are just one of a number of pedestrian safety devices used throughout Kirkland. None of the other devices are affected by this Federal Highway Administration decision.

The Federal Highway Administration’s notification came because patented devices are not allowed for inclusion in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the document that governs which traffic control devices are allowed in the public right of way. Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons are under patent and were approved for interim use by the Federal Highway Administration in July 2008.

While the Federal Highway Administration informed the City of Kirkland that there can be no new installations of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, two beacons that were already purchased and scheduled for installation will be put in place. Previously installed beacons may remain in service until the end of useful life of those devices.

The City has 52 sets of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons currently installed. These were funded by the 2012 Streets Levy, Kirkland’s Capital Improvement Program, the Neighborhood Safety Program, and private development.

“The inability to use Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons in the future is unfortunate, as they are proven to be very effective at making crosswalks more safe and comfortable for pedestrians,” said Councilmember Jon Pascal, Chair of the Council’s Public Works, Parks and Human Services Committee. “We know how popular the safety device is with our community, but there are viable alternatives. Our Public Works staff are currently evaluating those options in terms of pedestrian safety, visibility and cost.”

One possible alternative is pedestrian-activated flashing LEDs, a similar technology to the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons. The flashing LEDs blink white or yellow along the border of a pedestrian crossing sign when activated by a pedestrian. This and other alternatives are being evaluated closely, and Kirkland residents will be notified as soon as the decision is made.  

“The City of Kirkland continues to be committed to ensuring pedestrian safety for its residents,” said Pascal. “Despite this recent change in our ability to use Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, we’re continuing to move forward with projects that improve pedestrian connectivity, provide better access to transit, and enhance safe school walk routes for the community.”

For more information on the City’s pedestrian safety programs, such as the volunteer-run Pedestrian Flag Program, the Neighborhood Safety Program or the Neighborhood Traffic Control Program, please visit our website. 

For more information, or to contact the Federal Highway Administration about their decision to terminate use of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, please visit https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/conventional/unsignalized/tech_sum/fhwasa09009/

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