Disregarding concerns that collisions could rise as much as 300 percent, Sault Ste. Marie City Council voted last night to try late-night flashing traffic lights at Wellington Street West and Lyons Avenue, Lyons and Patrick Street, and at Wallace Terrace and Korah Road.
The lights will flash between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. during a one-year pilot project, councillors decided.
East and westbound traffic on Wallace Terrace, Lyons Avenue and Wellington Street West would get amber flashing lights, while red lights would blink on intersecting streets.
"People want this, so I think this is worth testing out," said Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker, who persuaded council in early March to look into flashing signal lights.
Shoemaker says he contacted the police chief of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
The Michigan Soo has intersections where traffic signals flash at night along the I-75 business spur.
Shoemaker requested accident data for those intersections and was advised that that not one accident had occurred in the past three years at night at those intersections with flashing lights.
He asked for a limited pilot project to determine whether late-night flashing red lights should be rolled out across the Ontario Sault.
A survey of almost 1,100 residents conducted for the city's transportation master plan found support for flashing red and amber lights at intersections.
However, a number of studies have questioned the use of flashing lights..
"Based on the findings of the literature review, it could be concluded that flashing traffic signals are not generally safe, and in most cases, accident rates tend to increase when they are implemented," said one study done by the University of Alaska.
"While late-night flash operations saves electricity costs and reduces delay to drivers, it gives drivers the responsibility of looking for other traffic, and errors can happen," said another study by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center.
"Having the lights go on flash at night, I'm not comfortable with that," said Larry Girardi, the Ontario Sault's commissioner of public works and transportation.
"Talking to the traffic experts that I deal with, they do not recommend it," Girardi told councillors.
"Based on the data collected and material reviewed, staff is of the opinion that there is a well-documented increase in liability with the implementation of late-night flashing practice as collisions typically increase," said a report prepared by Susan Hamilton Beach, the city's deputy commissioner of public works and transportation.
Ward 5 Councillor Fata expressed concern about excessive speeds on Lyons Avenue and poor sightlines at the intersection of Lyons and Patrick.
"That is an accident waiting to happen," Fata said.
In addition to the flashing-lights pilot project, councilllors voted to remove all above-ground traffic signal infrastructure at Wallace Terrace and Goulais Avenue, to save on maintenance and operational costs.
The underground signal infrastructure will be left in place there.
Earlier this year, City Council decided to remove traffic signals at two intersections along Huron Street, at Cathcart Street and at Albert Street West.