The Westfield City Council recently approved funding for a nearly $123,000 HAWK signal for the Monon Trail crossing on 161st Street. A HAWK signal uses a traffic signal to stop cars when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.
Council members Scott Willis and Jake Gilbert voted against the system after Gilbert said he observed a similar system in Noblesville and noted the traffic backup it caused. The Indiana Dept. of Transportation also encourages the system to implement 30-second reactivation times, and even suggested that if the reactivation times were set for 15 seconds or less that it would close the U.S. 31 interchange ramps to and from 161st Street.
The system is outside of INDOT’s jurisdiction but could still affect traffic on U.S. 31, which is within INDOT’s jurisdiction. INDOT sent the following email to the City of Westfield:
“This proposed installation is out of the jurisdiction of INDOT as it is a local road and beyond the extent of the limited access right of way line,” the email stated. “However, according to the operational analysis, the proposal is clearly detrimental to the integrity of operations for the U.S. 31 freeway system. The stated queuing for the proposed 15-second reactivation time will block not only the U.S. 31 southbound exit ramp but also the northbound exit ramp. This will immediately queue traffic down the ramps and onto the freeway which will critically compromise safety. Should the HAWK signal, with short or no reactivation times, be installed at this location rather than the planned pedestrian tunnel, INDOT will be forced to consider closure of the U.S. 31 interchange ramps for safety reasons during times of poor 161st Street operation.”
INDOT went on to state that “this action would only be necessary if the proposal that is understood to harm traffic operations is willfully chosen to be implemented. With longer reactivation times, the memo notes that performance will be acceptable.”
Willis released the following statement regarding INDOT’s statement:
“Our city engineer and the engineering firm we hired to look at traffic patterns and safety at the intersection of 161st and the Monon Trail have recommended against the use of a HAWK system,” Willis stated. “Going against those recommendations is short-sighted and politically motivated instead of doing what is best for the Westfield community. I believe we should listen to the experts and move forward with a long-term solution – a tunnel. It is the best option to keep traffic flowing through this critical artery and eliminate the risk altogether of vehicular and pedestrian interaction.”
Council President Mike Johns said the memo from INDOT states the HAWK Signal could be detrimental only if reactivation times are 15 seconds or less. Johns said the city plans to implement reactivation times of 30 seconds or more, meaning once a pedestrian crosses the crosswalk, the signal will not activate again for at least 30 seconds to allow traffic to flow.
Johns said an engineering study conducted in October found that a 15-second reactivation period could cause an 1,860-foot back up of traffic, but a reactivation period of 30 seconds or more could only cause a 250-foot back up.
“That nowhere near approaches the ramps or 31,” Johns said of the 30-second reactivation time.
Johns said his main concern was bringing immediate safety to the citizens.
“It’s a good system that will bring immediate safety to our citizens, and that’s what we voted on,” Johns said. “I trust my public safety department and engineers to implement the system correctly. The system is designed to and allows you to set the reactivation times to whatever traffic (dictates). This HAWK system could be up and running within a couple weeks, and a tunnel wouldn’t be done for two years.”
Johns also said he requested the city also implements reduced speed limits in the area, a police officer to regular monitor traffic, speed bumps for cyclists and more to ensure safety.
Although funding has been approved for the signal, Johns said he is unsure when it will be installed.