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Fairfield to upgrade troublesome crosswalk this summer

The city council approved a contract this week to upgrade the intersection.

The map shows the intersection of North Ninth Street and West Burlington Avenue in Fairfield. The city plans to add crosswalks on Burlington Avenue so pedestrians do not have to cross in front of the traffic on Ninth Street like they do now. The city is also planning to add a countdown clock to tell pedestrians how much time they have to cross, push buttons to signal their intention to cross, and curb ramps.
The map shows the intersection of North Ninth Street and West Burlington Avenue in Fairfield. The city plans to add crosswalks on Burlington Avenue so pedestrians do not have to cross in front of the traffic on Ninth Street like they do now. The city is also planning to add a countdown clock to tell pedestrians how much time they have to cross, push buttons to signal their intention to cross, and curb ramps.

FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield City Council approved a contract with Wesley Barton Construction of Mt. Pleasant Monday, May 11, to upgrade a pedestrian crossing at the intersection of West Burlington Avenue and North Ninth Street.

The council has been meaning to upgrade the crosswalk ever since the outdoor pool moved from O.B. Nelson Park to where it is now, adjoining the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center near the southwest corner of that intersection. City Engineer Melanie Carlson said many residents worried about the large number of children who would cross the intersection to go to the pool.

While the city was drawing up plans and seeking funding to reconfigure the intersection, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a car at that very spot in 2017. That prompted the city to make upgrading the intersection a high priority.

The city was able to secure more than $60,000 through a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation. At Monday’s council meeting, the council awarded a bid to Wesley Barton Construction for just under $80,000 to perform the upgrade. The city will be left paying for about a third of the total project cost, when engineering expenses are factored in.

Carlson said the contractor has until Aug. 31 to complete the project, which might require closing Ninth Street. However, she said West Burlington would remain open, though it might be reduced from three lanes to two.

That intersection is unusual in that the traffic on North Ninth Street have to take a slight jog to the west as they proceed north through the intersection. Under the current configuration, the crosswalk has pedestrians traverse West Burlington in the middle of that jog, to put them in line with cars merely going straight on North Ninth.

Carlson said this was not a great design because drivers are not accustomed to having to look for pedestrians crossing in the middle of the road when they’re going straight. Likewise, pedestrians are not used to having to watch out for cars going straight through an intersection.

The city will fix this problem by creating two crosswalks, one on the western edge of the intersection and a second one on the eastern edge. Drivers will still need to be mindful of pedestrians when they are turning, but in theory the new configuration is designed to make it easier for cars to track pedestrians and vice versa, because they will be where they are used to seeing them just like at every other intersection.

Data from the Iowa Department of Transportation showed there were 27 crashes at the intersection between 2008-2017, including 19 injuries. The DOT ranked it No. 1 in the city as the intersection most in need of attention.

Other upgrades

Apart from creating two new crosswalks and removing the old one, changes to the intersection include:

• Repainting the existing crosswalks on Ninth Street;

• Adding pedestrian signals with a countdown clock at each crossing;

• Adding push buttons for pedestrians to signal their intention to cross;

• Making all curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a draft application for the grant, the city cited a 2012 article in the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal supporting recessed crosswalks because they make it easier for motorists to see pedestrians.

Council member Michael Halley, who helped secure funding for the project, said during an earlier discussion that it’s unfortunate Ninth Street was laid out in such a way that it is offset at that intersection.

“Everyone who goes through that intersection [headed north or south on Ninth Street] has a moment of panic,” Halley said in 2018. “As long as everyone uses their turning signal, you don’t have to worry. Drivers are already on high alert watching for other traffic, and when you add pedestrians, you’ve got a dangerous mix. Getting pedestrians out from the middle would be helpful for them, and it would be one less thing for drivers to think about.”