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New signal aims to aid student safety
HAWK South Main crosswalk operational Tuesday
Temporary signs warn drivers that a new, permanent stoplight will become operational Tuesday at a new pedestrian crossing on South Main Street (U.S. Highway 301) in front of Georgia Southern University. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

A new crosswalk on South Main Street, with a signal system that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians alone, will begin functioning Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced.

The crosswalk with a HAWK beacon was installed in front of the Super 8 motel near Parrish Drive, at a point where there is no traffic light for an intersecting street. For several days now, flashing temporary signs have alerted drivers, "New Signal Ahead - To Begin Jan. 5."

It is the first of its kind in Statesboro and is the latest effort to improve safety for pedestrians, mainly Georgia Southern University students, who cross the five-lane segment of U.S. Highway 301 between the university and several apartment complexes on the other side.


'Extreme caution'

HAWK is a contrived acronym for High-intensity Activated CrossWalK. These are also called hybrid beacons. To pedestrians, the system presents a pair of those push-button crosswalk signals that count down the seconds while it's still OK to cross. But to motorists, the beacon flashes a less familiar sequence of attention-getting signals.

"Although the HAWK signal is very similar to the pedestrian's view of a normal traffic signal, the motorists view will be quite different so, we urge drivers to use extreme caution until they become more familiar with this type of signal," Georgia DOT District Engineer Karon Ivery said in a news release.

The HAWK beacon remains dark to keep traffic flowing - until a pedestrian presses the button to activate the signal. Then the beacon facing highway traffic first flashes yellow, indicating that drivers should prepare to stop. It then turns solid yellow, telling motorists they must come to a stop; then solid red, signaling that motorists must not cross the stop bar, the bold stripe painted across the pavement.

When the time for pedestrians to cross expires, the beacon signals "toggle red," with a back-and-forth motion, meaning that after drivers have first stopped and pedestrians completely clear the roadway, drivers may proceed.

On toggle red, the second motorist in line should still pull up to the stop bar and make sure the roadway is clear before proceeding, the Department of Transportation advises.

There is no green beacon. A dark signal means drivers can proceed through the pedestrian intersection.

Driver and pedestrian safety is the Georgia DOT's top priority, Ivery said in the announcement from the department's Jesup office.

"Improving pedestrian safety via HAWK signals is contingent upon compliance by pedestrians and motorists," cautioned the statement from Georgia DOT District 5 Communications Officer Jill Nagel. "Georgia DOT wants to remind motorists that roadway safety should be everyone's priority."

The state, through the Department of Transportation, paid for the signals and crossing at a contract cost of $95,574, reported Statesboro City Engineer Brad Deal. The main contractor was Corbett Electrical Construction.


City-GSU cooperation

However, city of Statesboro and Georgia Southern University officials had first voiced concerns about pedestrian safety at this location, Deal noted. The Georgia DOT advised the city to apply for the signal, and the university contributed by building a sidewalk from Forest Drive to South Main, at separate cost.

The only cost for which the city will be responsible is the monthly power bill for the signal, Deal told City Council last summer.

Before the city applied for the signal, he reported on a traffic study performed for the city by the engineering consulting firm Wolverton & Associates in 2013 and updated this year.

In May 2013, during one 24-hour period, 18,164 motor vehicles traveled this stretch of South Main, according to the Wolverton report.

At the city's request, the Georgia DOT in 2012 had lowered the speed limit in this area from 45 mph to 35 mph.

But in its 2015 update, Wolverton found that southbound motorists' average speed on May 19-21 was 43.5 mph, with 92 percent of cars exceeding the speed limit. The 85th percentile speed was 49.2 mph, meaning that 15 percent of motorists were going faster than that, and the top speed recorded was 84.8 mph.

Meanwhile, Deal estimated that during Georgia Southern's spring and fall semesters, about 50 pedestrians per hour cross at this location. In a story published in July, GSU Associate Vice President of Facilities Marvin Mills confirmed that the university worked with the city to propose the crossing.

"We have some concerns about our students, of course, crossing 301 where there's no stoplight," Mills said. "We see a lot of students who are actually crossing right there at Parrish Drive."

Officials said they hope students will now use the new crossing and marked crossings at intersections.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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