December’s Village Corner

Sam Kaufmann, Opinion Editor

The intersection of Eighth Street and South Century Avenue is one that sees frequent use from students and staff on their way to school each day. Most of the time, the intersection is fully functional and traffic moves smoothly in each direction. However, before and after school, the intersection sees both heavy congestion and steady pedestrian traffic. Last month’s incident in which a Waunakee student was hit by a vehicle before school here initiated discussions on safety at Eighth and Century. While the crosswalk is painted in a terra cotta color to help drivers see pedestrians, there are other improvements that should be made.

One problem with the area occurs every morning. With many students and staff traveling southbound wanting to make a left on Eighth to get to school, a long queue of vehicles forms. Eventually, one frustrated individual decides to fly around everyone else in the travel lane-sized bike lane. These individuals can create a dangerous situation for both pedestrians and the school crossing guard. The village reconstructed Century Avenue in the summer of 2017. The project created a marked bike lane on the side of the road, wide enough for a vehicle to pass people turning. It’s surprising that a left turn lane for people wanting to turn onto Eighth was not included. It would be an easy project to do, only requiring a few cans of yellow and white paint. The bike lane near Eighth could serve as a passing lane, allowing Madison-bound commuters to continue around high schoolers wanting to turn. This simple project would play a key role in decreasing congestion, particularly in the mornings, in the Century Avenue corridor. 

In addition, it would be a great idea to add a flashing yellow pedestrian signal at the intersection. In engineering, these traffic control devices are known as rapid repeating flasher beacons, or RRFBs. There are already three of these on Century Avenue; one each at Legends Drive, Fifth Street, and Centennial Parkway. Others exist on Main Street and Woodland Drive. These signals allow for pedestrians to cross the road safely while also alerting drivers to them using lights and fluorescent yellow signs. RRFBs work especially well during times when a crossing guard is not present.

However, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Traffic Engineering, Operations, and Safety Manual, generally pedestrian crossing signals have a minimum spacing of 1,200 feet as a “rule of thumb.” Looking at Eighth Street, the distance to the RRFB at Fifth Street is about 1,050 feet and Centennial Parkway is roughly 1,160 feet. Thus, the Department of Transportation might not allow the installation of an RRFB, but it is still worth a shot. According to pedbikesafe.org, the average cost of an RRFB is $22,250, but costs can range anywhere from $4,000 to $52,000. Perhaps the village and school district could share the cost of an RRFB to reduce the impact for both entities. According to a federal Transportation research study, RRFBs “can reduce pedestrian crashes by 47%,” making it easier for school students and others to cross roads safely.

Overall, the intersection of Eighth Street and Century Avenue sees a lot of traffic each day from both drivers and pedestrians. Adding an RRFB and a southbound left turn lane is something that the village, school district, and residents should get behind.