Crossing lights go dark

The city of Ashland is working to bring the crossing lights on Siskiyou Boulevard in front of Southern Oregon University back to life after the failure of three electronic "brains" darkened the flashing devices.

"We've been having some problems," said Jim Olson, engineering services manager. "Especially at Bridge Street, which is unfortunate because that's one of the busiest crossings."

The lights were installed in August 2009 through a joint effort by the city and SOU to make the crossings safer.

In February 2008, 22-year-old SOU student Gladys Jimenez was struck by a car as she walked across the busy Garfield Street intersection crosswalk, just as night was falling. She died from her injuries a week later.

Angered by the incident, students and officials at SOU called on the city to fix the intersection, which was then a long diagonal crosswalk with minimal lighting.

At the time, the city's Traffic Safety Commission, now called the Transportation Commission, considered installing traffic lights — the safest crossing option — but ruled them out as too costly and not in keeping with Ashland's small-town character.

SOU split the cost of the flashing beacons with the city and the city covered the rest of the improvements.

Ashland officials estimated that the entire project cost between $50,000 and $60,000, including the cost of labor from city employees.

The cost of fixing the lights is unknown because the city is hoping the manufacturer, Canada-based Carmanah Technologies Corp., will provide the parts needed at no cost.

The problem with the flashing lights stems from their reliance on solar power.

In the summer when days are long and sunlight is plentiful, the batteries in the devices are generally charged up well enough so that the lights can flash and the units can communicate with each other by radio waves.

But even in the summer, there was some trouble keeping the batteries charged, Olson said.

"It's been ongoing since a few months after they were installed," he said. "We had some problems initially and had some components replaced. They worked fine for a while but then it started again. Especially in the wintertime, it's problematic."

When the batteries run down, the energy management systems in each light system continue to try to transmit to each other until the units burn out.

To solve the problem, the city is looking at larger solar panels and connecting the units into the city's power supply for low sunlight times.

"We need new EMS units and we're going to work on tying the three that had problems to our power," said Assistant Engineer Karl Johnson. "We'll hook them up so that in winter they'll charge when the streetlights go on at night."

City officials don't have an estimate on when drivers should expect to see the flashing lights up and running again.

"It's slow, but we are still working on it," Johnson said.

In the meantime, SOU campus safety officials have placed signs at the intersection advising pedestrians of the malfunction and reminding them to take care when crossing the busy boulevard.

Reach reporter and editor Myles Murphy at 482-3456 ext. 222 or

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