New flashing beacon in place - MnDOT still tweaking system.

After a summer of the community wondering when (and why) it was going to happen, the stoplights at First and Main were removed on Monday, Aug. 7 when the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) brought in a big crew to complete the job.

In the days leading up to the announced Aug. 7 date, smaller work crews began preparing for the project—dismantling the crosswalk push buttons and setting poles for the new crosswalk signage. Under a lot of highway traffic on Monday morning, the old traffic lights were removed.

MnDOT officials have said the old lights were past their expected life and if for any reason they decide this new crosswalk system is wrong for the intersection, entirely new traffic signals would have to be installed. Next summer, when Highway 14 is resurfaced through town, the traffic signals at Highway 4 will be replaced with new ones.

The west side crosswalk is the official pedestrian crosswalk with the RRFB (Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon) signal that is triggered by an overhead sensor when a pedestrian approaches the crosswalk. There is also a push button to start the beacon.

Scott Thompson, MnDOT Traffic Engineer, was in town Monday to oversee the project. Thompson said the beacon was placed on the west side because vehicles traveling on First Avenue are more likely to turn east onto the highway and would not be as likely to notice the flashing beacon. Pedestrians are free to cross at either corner, but should be advised that the beacon is not triggered on the east side of the intersection.

While taking several trips outside for photos, this reporter did not observe any pedestrians having trouble crossing Main Street—even before the beacon was activated. Thompson said pedestrians should cross as they would at any intersection.

“Regarding guidance for pedestrians at the First Avenue intersection, and all other intersections—including at traffic signals, we'd reiterate the basics,” said Thompson.

“Pay attention; put down the phone and pull earbuds out.

“Don't rely on the RRFB exclusively; look before you cross.

“Watch for turning vehicles.

“Make eye contact with drivers to ensure they are aware of your presence and intention.”

In other words, don’t step out right in front of traffic. Drivers need to have adequate time and space to stop—and then when the driver sees the beacon flashing and a person in the crosswalk, they will stop.

MnDOT will be observing conditions in the intersection, making equipment and signage adjustments where necessary, and determining if the change is permanent.