From left to right, 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, 5th Ward Alderwoman Eileen Halloran, 5th Ward Supervisor Rick Scalera, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, and Hudson City School District Superintendent of Schools Maria Lagana Suttmeier pose with a new signal light at a crosswalk in front of the elementary school in Hudson. Aliya Schneider/Columbia-Greene Media

HUDSON — The Department of Public Works is in the process of installing eight solar-powered crosswalk lights, funded by a $100,000 grant and $15,000 of city funds.

The lights are called Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons, or RRFBs.

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, announced the $100,000 Department of Transportation award Feb. 6, 2020.

The city contributed $15,000 from its fund balance in May 2020 and the devices were purchased in August, Treasurer Heather Campbell said.

The beacons are meant to instruct vehicles to yield as they approach crosswalks at locations with no stop lights. When a button is pressed by a pedestrian, lights blink for 20 seconds to call attention to drivers. The lights can be customized to last different amounts of time, 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante, who spearheaded the project, said.

Three of eight beacon pairs have been installed, located on Union Street by the post office, in front of the elementary school and at 325 Columbia St., Merante said. Each location has a unit on both sides of the crosswalk.

Merante, Barrett, 5th Ward Alderwoman Eileen Halloran, 5th Ward Supervisor Rick Scalera and Hudson City School District Superintendent of Schools Maria Lagana Suttmeier gathered last Thursday at the recently installed system in front of Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School on the corner of Harry Howard Avenue and Paddock Place, in the 5th Ward. The crosswalk connects the Empire State Trail with the elementary school.

“Safety is our top priority during any school year,” Hudson City School District Superintendent of Schools Maria Lagana Suttmeier said. “The new signal lights in front of the Montgomery Smith Elementary School and in front of the Junior/Senior High School will help our students safely walk to and from school each day. We are very thankful to Alderman Dominic Merante for writing the grant that made this possible.”

A 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration study examined the effectiveness of yellow rectangular rapid-flashing beacons at multilane uncontrolled crosswalks. The study found the installation of these devices leads to more cars yielding at crosswalks and more in advance of crosswalks. A problem that may arise in the use of the devices is that if a device is not activated, meaning a pedestrian does not push the button to turn on the lights, it is not effective, the study concluded.

Merante wrote the grant application and Barrett helped secure the funds, Merante said. Installation is done by the Department of Public Works.

“I am happy to have worked with the city of Hudson to secure the $100,000 grant needed to install eight solar-powered crosswalk signs in the city,” Barrett said. “This funding was secured through the State Multi-Modal Grant Program. These crosswalk signs are one step of many to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety in the city of Hudson. My office also secured funding for the city to perform the origin-and-destination study on truck traffic currently being conducted. I look forward to continuing our partnership to address traffic safety issues.”

A beacon set is planned to go up by the high school. The beacons were expected to be done already, but installation was held up by technicalities with construction, Merante said.

Another is planned to be installed at 802 Columbia St., another connecting Grazin’ Diner, 717 Warren St. to Seventh Street Park and another on the other side of the park before the railroad tracks on Columbia Street, Merante said.

The device by the tracks will have to be installed after winter because of the level of excavation needed to work around the train tracks to avoid creating a weak spot for frost and water to get in, potentially damaging the road, Superintendent of Public Works Robert Perry said.

The devices are ideal for state highways, county roads and open spaces, Perry said. The beacons are over 16 feet tall and the concrete base is 2 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep, he said.

“When you’re out in the country, that’s fine,” he said. “When you’re in an urban environment where there are underground utilities, it’s extremely difficult.” The height can conflict with overhead utilities and the base can conflict with underground sewage, gas, fiber-optic, power and phone line systems, Perry said. A device that was supposed to be put in front of the emergency room at Columbia Memorial Health conflicted with a duct bank with fiber-optic and telephone lines underground.

“We’re still working within the confines of the original request, but as I explained to Dominic, they might want to look for a smaller product for some of these other locations that will have a smaller footprint,” Perry said.

The beacons that were supposed to go up by the emergency room will go elsewhere, potentially Warren Street, Merante said. The Department of Public Works and the police department are helping pick the locations.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to get as many locations as we have,” Perry said.

Merante plans to do an instructional video showing the public how to use the beacons, he said.

“Allowing safe passage through the city is one of the goals and I think the combination of the eventual sidewalk improvements and with other initiatives that are ongoing, hopefully in the next five years, there is going to be a definitely different feel and safety for our pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone involved,” Merante said.

In between the planned crosswalk beacons on Harry Howard Avenue are solar-powered speed radar signs Merante sought out grant funding for from Cornell Cooperative Extension, he said.

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