New HAWK pedestrian signals emerging in Cedar Rapids

Signals creating some confusion with local motorists

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New traffic lights are flashing at drivers in certain areas around town.

Cedar Rapids is installing signals to reduce car versus pedestrian crashes. They’re called HAWK signals. Right now, there are just two — one on C Avenue NE near Rockwell Collins and one near Metro High School on 12th Avenue SE.

The two intersections are very busy. In the past several months, the city put up the signals to help pedestrians cross the streets safely. Traffic engineers, however, are noticing a problem.

“We have seen quite a bit of confusion with it,” Cedar Rapids traffic engineer Jon Resler said.

Engineers are keeping a close eye on the intersections. They said drivers simply didn’t know how the HAWK Signals work, but it isn’t just those behind the wheel.

“It’s confusing for me too sometimes,” Quincy Tobin said.

Tobin needs to walk across 12th Avenue two or three times a week. He said the HAWK signal gives him more time to cross the street, which is needed with his disability. But even with the new traffic technology he is always careful.

“When I cross, I cross cautiously because you never know if cars will stop or not,” Tobin said. “You know, people don’t pay attention to signals like they should sometimes.”

The HAWK signal goes through a series of lights to stop cars for pedestrians to cross. It flashes yellow, turns solid yellow, turns solid red and then flashes red.

“It’s kind of a cross between a traffic signal and a stop sign,” Resler said. “So, when you see a solid red you have to stop and stay stopped. When it turns to flashing red, you need to stop and if it’s clear, you can proceed.”

Hitting the button on the signal’s pole, triggers the HAWK light and lets pedestrians know when it’s safe to cross. Then the signal gives a countdown to show pedestrians when you need to get to the other side.

City traffic engineers said they program the HAWK signal so pedestrians can’t set it off too often. They want to make sure traffic still can steadily flow through the busy intersections as well.

Resler wants people to realize how these signals work. A third is in the works for the First Avenue crosswalk in Downtown Cedar Rapids near the Convention Complex.

“We are looking at that right now and developing a HAWK application for that,” Resler said. “We had some unique geometry and criteria, so we are looking at how we apply all of those standards to that location.”

Cedar Rapids needs to approve plans and funding for the signal. Engineers estimate each HAWK signal cost anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000. It’s expected to go up on First Avenue sometime in 2014.

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