The sequence of the High Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) signal, or pedestrian hybrid beacon, at the intersection of Causeway and North Channel drives has been a hot topic in public meetings recently due to confusion.
The light, which was installed in February 2013 near Wrightsville Beach School, activates when a pedestrian pushes the button initiating a sequence featuring six intervals.
The flashing red light is often what creates the most confusion in town, because motorists may treat the light as a stop sign instead of a stop light.
Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said during a Monday, May 19 phone interview it would make more sense to him to have a regular stop light.
A signal evaluation report from December 2013 indicates the vehicle compliance to yield to pedestrians rose from 27 to 74 percent after the beacon was activated. The report states there were still a large percentage of observations where vehicles did not stop for pedestrians after September 2013.
As far as he knows, House said officers have not written any citations for motorists running the light. He added that he is not 100 percent sure with the way the law is written whether it would constitute as a stop light.
“We, the rest of the town [and I], supported it, because I do think we need something there,” House said. “But I guess none of us really fully understood how different this HAWK light was going to be. I think most people just don’t understand what to do.”
While House has not personally seen anyone run the light, he said people have told him they have seen others run the light. He said most people stop at the light while it is flashing or solid red, which might tie up traffic longer.
Jessi Booker, deputy traffic engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said the department is looking into possible options educating drivers that they may proceed after stopping at the flashing red light if pedestrians are clear of the travel lane. The inquiry follows a request from the town for additional signage at the crosswalk.
“We’ve been asking around, I just don’t know that there are any options that would be beneficial enough to alert the motorists, only because signage has to be fairly large,” Booker said.
“Vehicles are supposed to come to a stop, it’s almost treated as a stop sign at that point, whenever it’s blinking red,” Booker said. “They need to stop, but after that they can proceed, they don’t have to sit through the whole blinking period.”
The light is not prominent in North Carolina with only two other locations Booker could place.
“There’s nothing more prominent than two red signals telling you to stop, so it was decided that since it was a beach community and there was heavy traffic as well as heavy car volumes it was warranted based on the volumes of both,” Booker said.
Because the light was newer during the time of approval, the department of transportation received input and approval from the state traffic engineer and regional traffic unit.
“Part of the confusion might be because it is not very well known, because it’s not used all over the state, but also because we’ve got tourists in that area all the time,” Booker said. “So even if locals are used to it, they’re not necessarily the ones that are going to be adhering to the signal.”
The standard function of the light is the blinking red in case pedestrians are still in the crosswalk, she said.
“We want it to be a positive installation, so it’s not great to hear that there’s been some negative reactions about it. We hope that they are seeing some of the benefits also that the vehicular traffic is yielding to the pedestrians, but we do understand that it can be frustrating.”
For more information, visit www.safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures and click on Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon.