Some drivers and pedestrians confused by lights on College Avenue

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COLUMBIA - The new lights on College Avenue are causing confusion some among drivers and pedestrians. 

The new "High-Intensity Activated WalKs," or HAWK beacons/lights, were installed to provide controlled crossing points on College Avenue, but they pose challenges for people who are unfamiliar with how they work.

Steven Sapp, the Columbia Public Works spokesperson, said the city looked at several studies and found the "HAWK" signals were the best fit for the street and its two mid-block crossings. 

"I think, overall, the process has been a success, because now we have pedestrians crossing at two points, rather than just all over the half mile radius," Sapp said. 

However, he said he is aware of the educational issues. He said some drivers do not know the difference between the blinking red, which acts as a traditional stop sign, and the solid red, which is like a traffic light red signal. 

"From the pedestrian side, what we are hearing is that the signal timing is too slow," Sapp said.  "I think it is about 60 seconds after you press the button that the walk signal comes on. Do we want the pedestrian to wait for the signal? Absolutely. Will they always? Probably not."

Sapp said the city is working to resolve the issue of the slow wait time.

Lance Tamerius, the director of the Christian Campus House, said he commutes to work everyday. Christian Campus House is located on College Avenue and is very close to one of the two "HAWK" lights and crosswalks. 

Tamerius was a part of some of the discussions the city held during the initial planning process for the new lights. 

"We gave them a lot of different alternatives, like maybe reducing the speed on College Avenue, only to find out that they had already taken the grant for the option that we never had originally chosen," Tamerius said. "So the process was a little frustrating."

Tamerius said a part of the confusion drivers and pedestrians are having is because the lights are so different from anything else in town. 

"It is not uncommon to pull up next to someone who is driving that has no idea what to do," Tamerius said. "When there is no light that is showing on the signal or a blinking light, they don't know what to do and a group of students are lined up at the side and drivers don't know whether to stop or go."

He said he sees a lot of pedestrians not using the new light system. Instead, they just walk across two lanes to the median and wait until there is no traffic and then cross the remaining two lanes, just like many did in the past. 

"I think there is a constant uncertainty of what the walkers are going to do when they are lined up at the side. Somebody could get hit," Tamerius said. 

He said East Campus Neighborhood Association would not have agreed on the new "HAWK" lights and crosswalks, if it had been only its decision. Since drivers cannot turn into the median, it causes more traffic in the back-end of East Campus. Tamerius said that has made it harder for people who live and work in the area.

When asked about what the city did in response to the neighborhood association's concerns, Sapp said, "The design engineers listened to the concerns and in their final report highlighted those issues and some future projects which, depending on what future traffic studies show, could be implemented to reduce any impacts the barrier may or may not have on traffic flow.

Sapp thinks the traffic flow issues will resolve themselves as drivers get used to the new traffic flow.