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Lighting the way to safer crosswalks

  • Michael A. Harrison, president and CEO of LightGuard Systems Inc., stands beside a table of assembled LED lights that are set into pavement for lighted crosswalks at LightGuard Systems in Santa Rosa on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

Good things can come from tragedy.

That's one lesson of the crosswalk safety system Michael Harrison of Windsor invented two decades ago.

In 1991, Santa Rosa had an alarming spike in crosswalk accidents in which 39 people were hit by cars. Six of them died.

LightGuard Systems Inc.

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One of the drivers who killed a pedestrian was a friend of Harrison's. It was the classic situation in which the driver said he didn't see the elderly man, who was out for ice cream as part of his nightly routine.

“He was obviously upset for some time,” Harrison said of his guilt-laden friend.

“It got me thinking about what it did to the individual — the motorist,” he said. “Everyone usually thinks of the pedestrian.”

Harrison, a corporate pilot at the time, drew his inspiration from runway lights. Why not a similar lighting system to help improve pedestrian safety?

He came up with an embedded flashing amber light system on each side of the crosswalk to alert motorists to the presence of a pedestrian. And so his LightGuard System was born.

Nowadays they are in use in many states and closer to home in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Windsor and Healdsburg.

Among the next crosswalks to get the in-road warning light system is likely to be one in Cloverdale where two boys were struck and seriously injured by a pickup truck on Halloween night.

The same crosswalk on South Cloverdale Boulevard at Healdsburg Avenue was the scene of a nighttime fatality last summer when a 68-year-old woman was struck by a pickup.

In both instances, the drivers said they didn't see the people in the crosswalk.

The accidents led to a public outcry for the city to do more to improve the safety of the darkened crossing, including adding more overhead lights.

Last week, a committee consisting of two City Council members, the police chief and other officials recommended more overhead lighting at the intersection, and the LightGuard system too.

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