A crossing point on a busy road near Los Banos High School is the first intersection in Merced County to be installed with an innovative traffic signal that can be activated by pedestrians, officials said.
The new signal, known as the HAWK for High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk, works like a traffic signal at the point where Scripps Drive meets Mercey Springs Road. But rather than have traffic stop when no pedestrians are present, it is only activated when someone presses a button on either side of the busy road, which also is known as State Route 165.
“It’s very innovative and it allows for a much safer crossing,” Caltrans public information officer Warren Alford said, noting that unlike other pedestrian crossing alternatives, the HAWK system installed last week requires vehicles to completely stop at a red light.
“The traffic speed there is pretty fast,” Alford said. “We want to enhance safety and this system helps us do that.”
Moorpark-based Traffic Development Services installed the $95,000 system at the intersection, which is a main path used by students of Los Banos High, which sits west of Mercey Springs Road.
The intersection also is near Mercey Springs Elementary, but school officials said there is no need for their students to use the crossing because the school’s boundaries don’t extend west of the highway.
The crossing operates much like a normal traffic signal, Alford said.
Pedestrians press a button to activate a flashing yellow light over the roadway. When the light turns a solid yellow, cars are required to slow down and stop.
A solid red light indicates that cars must be stopped. And that is followed by a flashing red light, signaling the presence of pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk.
The HAWK signal is the second one in Caltrans District 10, which includes the counties of Amador, Alpine, Calaveras, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne. The first HAWK signal in Oakdale was made operational four days before the Los Banos signal was, Alford said.
The project, which has been years in the works, is aimed at improving the safety and mobility for pedestrians as per the state’s Active Transportation Program, according to a Caltrans news release. It proposes to increase the number of walking and cycling trips, and enhance public health by reducing greenhouse gases.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, HAWK signals have been shown to reduce pedestrian crashes by up to 69 percent, and total roadway crashes by up to 29 percent.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562