Remember jaywalking as a kid? Well, outside of that dangerous little practice being against the law, crossing the street has gotten a lot more sophisticated. You still have to look both ways, but there are new items in place that make it easier and safer for pedestrians to use a specially marked, highly visible crosswalk.
Several cities are opting to use a variety of crosswalk solutions. Last summer, Asheville, N.C.’s, transportation department installed new high-contrast crosswalks, according to Polly McDaniel, communications specialist for the city. She noted the city’s aim was to improve pedestrian safety.
These are called ladder-type crosswalk markers, said City Traffic Engineer Jeff Moore. One high-profile area where they’ve been installed is at the intersection of Haywood Street and Battery Park Avenue. He added, “This location has more pedestrians than vehicles.”
The white part is a nonslip thermoplastic that sticks to the pavement. The high-contrast markers also serve as aids to visually impaired pedestrians, who may not be completely blind.
While also improving the visibility of crosswalks for both drivers and pedestrians, some cities are also installing new high-tech signals that aim to streamline crossings.
Lakewood, Ohio, gives high intensity activated crosswalks a go
According to Joe Beno, director of public works in Lakewood, his city installed its first high-tech crosswalk a year ago in April 2016. The pedestrian hybrid beacon, or high intensity activated crosswalk, is designed to stop traffic only as needed when pedestrians are present at the crosswalk.
“A big challenge in implementing our high-tech crosswalk at the Manor Park and Detroit Avenue intersection was that many residents just wanted the traffic light back that used to be there,” Beno admitted. “The most vocal citizens still complain that they want a full traffic signal. People don’t tend to call city hall to say that something is going well so most of what we hear is negative. However, the signal is doing its job.”
The purpose of a crosswalk, after all, is to get pedestrians safely across the road, either at an intersection or in the middle of the street. Some towns have elected to supplement these specially marked crosswalks with advanced overhead or post-mounted warning signs, flashing lights, audible tones or supplemental pavement markings.
The unrest of the Lakewood residents could just be due to their being used to the way things were and not wanting anything different. So their feelings may gradually change.
Beno brought up another point.
“Our situations were not typical installations because they were replacing fully signalized intersections,” he said. “The signals were removed because they did not meet any traffic or pedestrian warrants, but due to the locations of these intersections, the city felt that something was needed here to assist crossing the street.”
He added, “I think that reactions would be different if these were locations that had nothing and then the HAWKs were added. Like any crosswalk whether it has a signal or not, pedestrians need to pay attention to traffic and not assume that every car is obeying every traffic control measure on the road.”
Lakewood’s Mayor Michael P. Summers noted that there was one other installation of the HAWK pedestrian signal on Madison Avenue, which leads to Madison Park.
He said, “These signals are effective but require driver ‘retraining.’ We are not used to them in our city. Drivers are unaccustomed to seeing flashing red lights to turn to solid red. We are gradually improving in our compliance with them. More pedestrian activity helps get the point across.”
Summers added, “We are coming off a 50-year stretch where cars ruled the road. Lakewood is working hard to balance this with bike and pedestrian activity. This signal helps communicate that all modes are welcome and have a right to share the road.”
Asked if he were aware of similar systems for disabilities, Summers said no, “other than the chirping sound. Many citizens who rely on mobile chairs successfully use these signals.”
Neenah, Wis., embraces variety of high-tech approaches
James Merten, P.E., traffic engineer of Neenah, pointed out that in addition to HAWK, rectangular rapid flash beacon can be used on some crosswalks.
“The reception here has been positive,” said Merten. “We installed two RRFB systems this spring — one on Winneconne Avenue (aka Highway 114) at Zemlock Avenue and one located downtown on Main Street at Wisconsin Avenue. Th e RRFBs have been pretty complaint free. In fact, the crosswalk at Main/Wisconsin has been the largest complaint-producing crosswalk before the beacons were installed. It is on a tight bend on the major street in a downtown setting, resulting in a situation with lots of drivers and pedestrians interacting on a corner with tight vision clearances. We did a traffic survey for the downtown area last year, and this crosswalk was the top safety issue identified in the survey results.”
When it came to HAWK, however, Merten said, “The HAWK has caused some confusion to drivers with the alternating flashing red sequence. Some drivers will stop and wait through the entire alternating red phase and some drivers have falsely assumed that once the car in front begins to proceed, the drivers behind don’t need to stop. However, each vehicle needs to stop at the stop bar before proceeding when the red lights are flashing. We have had to do some public outreach initiatives to help educate the public. While the system hasn’t yielded perfect results, responses have been that it is better than what it used to be.”
Neenah now has seven crosswalks with RRFBs, one with a Blinker sign system and one HAWK/pedestrian hybrid beacon. They are all installed on major thoroughfares, some two-lane and some four-lane. All systems are push-button-activated. We have considered using pedestrian detection devices to trigger the beacons, however feel that the push button alternative is safer because it requires an action by the pedestrian before they attempt to cross the street.”
According to Merten, the biggest obstacle in installing these high-tech crosswalks is public outreach, which is very hard to do. It’s not so much organizing it, but rather, “reaching out to the people who are most affected by the device in an impactful and executable manner,” said Merten, adding that statistics by the Federal Highway Administration seem to suggest that the new crosswalks are safer.
The cost of the crosswalk varies. Eau Claire, Wis., paid $150,000 for its high-intensity activated crosswalk system, and other cities have comparable bills. Some research online can provide cost estimates of various systems.
On the Web
To see a HAWK signal demonstration, check out the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nty_HpzmCrc.