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New traffic signal system focuses on pedestrian safety

October 13, 2015

Crossing IUPUI streets is about to become a bit safer, thanks to plans to install several new traffic-control devices on Michigan and New York streets, perhaps as early as late November.

The new system is called HAWK, short for a High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon. It provides an electronic system to stop vehicle traffic for a few moments, long enough to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely.

HAWK in action

A HAWK traffic signal has been installed near parking areas at Eli Lilly and Co. to help provide greater safety for pedestrians. IUPUI is planning to install similar signals this fall, according to the IU Police Department Indianapolis.

According to IU Police Department Indianapolis Chief Robert True, plans call for at least one HAWK system on New York Street and as many as three on Michigan Street.

True said a few systems are already in place around Indianapolis and should be very helpful in places like IUPUI that combine high traffic volume for both pedestrians and vehicles.

True said the HAWK system works like this:

  • Pedestrians press a button the device and wait for the signal to slow and then stop vehicles.
  • When pedestrians see a "hands up," they must wait.
  • The signal for the pedestrians will soon change to a "start crossing" advisory coupled with a flashing countdown giving them an idea of how much time they have to safely cross the street.

The HAWK system has several advantages, True said, pointing to a 2010 study by the Federal Highway Administration that showed a 29 percent reduction in total crashes, 69 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes and 15 percent reduction in severe crashes.

The police chief said the HAWK system provides greater safety for mid-block crossings similar to those along IUPUI's New York and Michigan streets.

"The new designs for New York and Michigan streets are intended to slow traffic through campus," True said. "Our normal traffic-enforcement tactics -- radar, directed patrol, traffic direction -- will supplement the new designs and the HAWK lights to increase safety for campus pedestrians."

True believes the campus might need an adjustment period, though. "The signals are relatively new, so pedestrians and drivers will need to be extra-cautious for the first weeks they are in service," he said.

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