The Inventors of In-Roadway Warning Lights (IRWLs) — and Gold Standard in Lighted Crosswalks
How We Began
In 1991, Michael Harrison, LightGuard Systems President began exploring the idea of an LED pedestrian warning system after a close friend was involved in a fatal accident at a crosswalk. After two years of initial research and development, a beta system was developed and thus the first ever lighted crosswalk system was born. The novel system that we call Smart Crosswalk™ consists of in-roadway warning lights (IRWL) with flashing amber light emitting diodes encased in a durable housing designed to alert motorists of a pedestrian about to enter or inside of a crosswalk.
California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC)
By the end of 1993, this initial IRWL concept was presented to the State of California through the CTCDC, a panel of transportation affiliated professionals that authorizes testing and evaluation of innovative technology and makes recommendations to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
Subsequently, LightGuard received state and local approval for testing their initial IRWL system with an endorsement from the CTCDC for “innovative thinking”. The CTCDC mandated that the IRWL lights be “shielded from the view of the pedestrian,” thus limiting any “false sense of security” a pedestrian might feel from seeing the lights operate.
Phases of Development
The IRWL system was designed, tested and recommended for approval in that form. Phase One of operational testing and evaluation of the system began in Santa Rosa, California, in September 1994.
The CTCDC continued their evaluation process through 1996 for Phase Two, with the approval of additional field study grants for six locations in four cities. Two of the cities, Ft. Bragg and Willits, obtained a rarely given Caltrans authorization to experiment on California State Route 1 and U.S. Highway 101.
In September of 1996, the CTCDC voted 8-0 in favor of expanded testing and evaluation of the IRWL crosswalk warning system. Phase Three testing was completed in 1997 with CTCDC voting to recommend approval and adoption of the system, which was tested by Caltrans, as a standard traffic control device. (See: FHA “Authorization to Proceed” letter)
The CTCDC recommendation was based in part on the compelling data compiled in the final report, Evaluation of an Experimental Crosswalk Warning System, April 1998. The report was a comprehensive evaluation of LightGuard’s IRWL system based on field studies conducted in the California cities of Fort Bragg, Petaluma, Lafayette, Santa Rosa and Willits.
Field Study Evaluations
The field study evaluations were conducted with funding from various sources, including the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the University of North Carolina State Highway Safety Research Center and the Center for Applied Research.
Positive and compelling results from the expanded tests formed the basis for the CTCDC to formally recommend approval of the IRWL System as a standard traffic safety device in California. The evaluation results were forwarded to Caltrans with a directive to develop specifications, guidelines and standards for the device.
Caltrans responded in April of 1998 with the announcement: “In response to a recommendation of the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC), Caltrans plans to adopt standards and specifications for pedestrian crosswalk lights pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 21400.”
Permission to Experiment
In June of 1998, Caltrans issued “Interim Guidelines for Experimental Crosswalk Pavement Lights,” allowing interested agencies in California the opportunity to install, with an abbreviated evaluation by the local traffic engineer, the IRWL pedestrian crosswalk warning light, now referred to as a Smart Crosswalk™ system.
In 1997, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), upon submission of the application by the City of Santa Rosa, CA approved the “Request to Experiment” on a national level. This unique federal designation is titled “FHWA#IV-138 (E) Pedestrian Crosswalk LED Warning Lights”.
An update report followed and was released in April 1998 based on field studies in the cities of Orinda, CA, Petaluma, CA and Kirkland, WA, funded by the FHWA’s Pedestrian Facilities Program under contract with the University of North Carolina Highway Research Center.
This designation allowed LightGuard Systems to begin the process of data collection and evaluation nationwide for review and consideration for ultimate inclusion in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This process has brought nationwide recognition to the Smart Crosswalk™ in-roadway warning light (IRWL) lighted crosswalk system.
Adoption into the MUTCD
In January of 1999, LightGuard Systems presented an overview of their Smart Crosswalk™ IRWL system along with our test site results, recommending amendments to the existing manual. Both the Federal MUTCD Marker and Signals Committees approved of the recommendations.
In June of 1999, at the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), a motion was presented for a general vote and passed in favor of those recommendations. The recommended language based on factors learned through experimentation, reports and studies conducted was forwarded to FHWA for inclusion into the Federal Register for public comments.
The FHWA made the final decision on the language and inclusion of IRWL technology in the Millennium Edition of the Federal MUTCD. As a result of Michael Harrison’s vision and years of persistence, LightGuard Systems® Smart Crosswalk™ in-roadway warning light (IRWL) system is a recognized traffic calming standard that no doubt save lives and prevent injuries across the nation daily. (See: MUTCD Section 4N)
Birth of the Lighted Crosswalk Category
As the lighted crosswalk system category continued to grow, LightGuard Systems continues its product innovations with the invention of the Automatic Activation Bollard Sensor pedestrian detection system, and flashing LED border-enhanced signs; LightGuard’s President Michael Harrison served on the NCMUTCD in Washington DC in 1999 and helped LED signs to be included into the Millennial Edition of the MUTCD as well.