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Traffic Engineers Push Drivers to Pay Attention to New HAWK Signals

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa New traffic lights are flashing at drivers in certain areas around town.

The city is installing signals to reduce car versus pedestrian crashes. They're called "HAWK" signals. Right now, there are just two in the City of Five Seasons. You can see them on C Avenue Northeast near Rockwell Collins and near Metro High School on 12th Avenue Southeast.

Both intersections are very busy. So, over the past several months the city put up the signals to help pedestrians cross safely. Traffic engineers, however, are noticing a problem.

"We have seen quite a bit of confusion with it," said Cedar Rapids City Traffic Engineer Jon Resler.

Engineers are keeping a close eye on the intersections. They said drivers simply didn't know how the Hawk Signals worked, but it wasn't just those behind the wheel.

"It's confusing for me too sometimes," said Quincy Tobin.

Tobin needs to walk across the 12th Avenue crossing two or three times a week. He said the HAWK signal gives him more time to get to the other side, which is needed with his disability. Tobin uses a cane to get to where he needs to go. He said even with the new traffic technology, he is always on the lookout.

"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."

From the pedestrian standpoint, you just hit the button on the signal's pole. That triggers the HAWK light and lets you know when it's safe to cross the intersection. Then when you're about half way through the crosswalk, the signal gives a countdown to show you 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 can still steadily flow through the busy intersections as well.

Resler wants people to realize how these signals work and soon. A third is in the works for the 1st 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."

The city must first 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 on1st Avenue sometime in 2014.

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