The City of Ann Arbor is introducing a new kind of crosswalk system — one entirely controlled by pedestrians.

The city’s first High-intensity Activated CrossWalk (HAWK) is slated to debut Nov. 17 at the intersection of Huron Street and Third Street, about two blocks west of downtown Ann Arbor. The HAWK features an overhead lighting system in which all lights remain off unless activated by a pedestrian-controlled button on the sidewalk.

In a presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council last night, two officials from the Michigan Department of Transportation — Traffic Engineer Wendy Ramirez and Region Planner Kari Martin — said the roughly $70,000 project came out of a series of requests from pedestrians and residents for safer crosswalks.

“The community wanted to see some sort of crossing for pedestrian safety,” Ramirez said.

In an interview before the meeting yesterday, Ann Arbor City Council Member Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) agreed with Ramirez, saying council has been discussing safer crossing measures for years.

“We’ve had this continuing discussion of … how we get people across the street safely,” Anglin said in the interview.

During yesterday’s meeting, Anglin said HAWK might be the solution.

“There’s been years talking about this, and it’s here tonight,” Anglin told council.

In a separate interview last night, Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said the University plans to monitor the city’s first HAWK “with interest” to see if such a system would be successful on campus.

“We have a number of locations that are somewhat similar … so we’ll be watching this installation with a fair degree of interest,” Kosteva said.

In their joint address to council, Ramirez and Martin said the HAWK is designed with the pedestrian in mind.

Under the HAWK system, pedestrians will push a button that will immediately trigger a reaction on the overhead lights seen by drivers, Ramirez said.

As Ramirez explained, the overhead light will start flashing yellow as soon as the button is pushed — signaling to drivers that a pedestrian has pressed the button.

When it’s time to completely stop, the light will display not one but two solid red lights.

After that, a single red light will flash which means, “proceed with caution if clear,” according to a pamphlet distributed by MDOT.

But as Ramirez pointed out in an interview after the presentation, the overhead lights will remain completely blank when not activated by pedestrians, meaning traffic can flow freely and without interruption.

“They will only be active when a pedestrian pushes a button,” Ramirez said. “Otherwise, it’s dark.”

According to Ramirez and Martin, this has not presented an issue in Tucson, Ariz., where the HAWK system was developed to alleviate traffic congestion.

Council members at yesterday’s meeting widely supported the HAWK project, saying it offers a unique opportunity to improve pedestrian safety.

“It’ll be exciting to see this,” Council Member Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) told Ramirez and Martin.

Anglin also said in the interview that he supports the project and is looking forward to seeing how it works as a safety measure.

“I’ve been excited about (HAWK) only because it’s a new type of safety thing, and we’re really trying to push pedestrian safety in the city,” Anglin said.

Though the Huron Street HAWK is set to debut at a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 17, Martin emphasized that it isn’t part of a broader plan to fill the city with HAWK devices — at least not yet.

According to Martin, MDOT will test the effectiveness of this first HAWK before looking to expand its reach.

For his part, Anglin said he’s anxious to see the expansion of a HAWK-like system to the rest of the city.

— Devon Cox contributed to this report.

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