Holly Street crosswalk signal keeps things safe

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A new crosswalk signal — the first of its kind in the city — is proving to be highly effective in protecting pedestrians and cyclists navigating the Centennial Link Trail as it crosses South Holly Street just north of Arapahoe Road.

The new signal system, known as HAWK, was installed in September and so far, has kept the busy crossing safe.

“We’re not aware of any accidents being reported since the HAWK was installed,” said Centennial spokesperson Allison Wittern, who added that the location chosen to install the HAWK “was not a problem crosswalk. The HAWK enhanced safety in this area where there was already a lot of pedestrian use,” said Wittern. “The HAWK also improved connectivity to the nearby trail.”

HAWK — or High-intensity Activated crosswalk — is a push-button activated hybrid beacon that city officials believe provides a safer crossing environment for walkers and cyclists.

Research has shown nearly 97 percent of motorists comply with the HAWK beacon.

The system’s design was imported from Europe, where it is used at both street and railway crossings.

But until 2010, the Federal Highway Administration categorized the HAWK system as experimental. In the U.S., the system was first deployed at a pedestrian crossing in Tucson, Ariz.

The system costs $132,000 and Centennial’s first HAWK crossing was funded through a partnership with South Suburban Parks and Recreation District.

The signal remains dark until activated by a push-button on either side of the crosswalk.

For pedestrians and cyclists using the crosswalk, the signal works much the same as any other push-button activated traffic signal.

But for drivers approaching the crossing, the HAWK system looks somewhat different.

After being activated, the HAWK system actually goes through five distinct stages:

When the crossing button is pushed, the HAWK signals on Holly begin flashing yellow to alert drivers the crosswalk will be occupied soon.

Then the signal turns solid yellow, warning drivers to prepare to stop after which it turns red, requiring drivers to stop at the stop line.

Finally, the signal flashes red to let drivers know that after coming to a complete stop, they may proceed with caution if the crosswalk is clear.

After completing a full cycle, the signals return again to their dark state.

The system also features a countdown clock on the WALK indicator to let pedestrians and cyclists know how much longer they have to cross the street.

Eric Milton, who was hiking along the Centennial Link Trail Nov. 11, said he uses the Holly Street crosswalk two or three times a week. “Since they put this new light in, it’s much easier and a lot less scary to cross here,” he said.

A few drivers who stopped at the crossing seemed to be confused when pedestrians cleared the crosswalk and the signals flashed red at the end of the HAWK cycle.

“I’ve never seen that before. I guess it means we can go now,” said one driver through an open window.

Several other drivers continued to idle at the crosswalk until the flashing red signals stopped and the HAWK system went dark again.

Asked if motorists had complained about the new signal system being confusing, Wittern said no. “We’ve actually received very little feedback” from the city’s Citizen Response Center about the HAWK crossing, Wittern reported.

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