CHESHIRE — The West Main Street crossing for the Farmington Canal Linear Trail is one of the most challenging in town.
Due to the amount of traffic on West Main Street each day and the rate of speed many cars travel down that particular section of road, the town installed a high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon traffic control device — commonly referred to as a HAWK system.
Now, the town is mulling over ways to change how traffic moves through that area to make it easier for motor vehicles and safer for pedestrians.
At a Town Council meeting last month, Councilor Sylvia Nichols presented a proposal to try another solution for pedestrians and cyclists on the trail.
“This has been an ongoing problem that we all know about when the trail crossed West Main Street,” Nichols said during the Nov. 16 meeting. “We installed the HAWK system from the very beginning to try and make that crossing safer. It’s been observed and documented that the users (of the trail) are not utilizing the HAWK system, and some are crossing that intersection at a high rate of speed, both on bicycles and vehicles going up and down (the street).”
Currently, the HAWK beacon system requires pedestrian to press a button when they are ready to cross, which causes the traffic light to switch to a flashing red light to inform motorists that a pedestrian is ready to cross. The flashing light signals vehicles to stop and only proceed if it is clear to do so. If the light stays red, the vehicle is to stop immediately and only proceed once the light starts flashing.
“A lot of people have called me to say that they really don’t know how to react to the lights, with the double blinking red lights, the double solid lights, it just seems really confusing,” Council Chairman Rob Oris added.
To address the issue, the town initially installed a variety of temporary measures to slow trail users down, which did not work, Nichols stated.
“… We were trying to encourage residents to use the HAWK system by installing chicanes at each entrance to slow users down,” Nichols said. “It helped a little bit, but it was not significant. (So,) with funding from DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection), we would like to replace the current gates now with permanent offset gates to slow the traffic on the trail.”
A chicane is a permanent fence used to force pedestrians to stop and move through the gateway. The new fences would be situated in an S-curve formation, requiring pedestrians, and specifically cyclists, to physically navigate through that curve before moving on.
“I am certainly going to support this. I think we’ve all talked about this for some time now,” Oris said. “This HAWK lighting system is a disaster in my opinion. I just think it’s a tragedy waiting to happen. The lighting there, in my opinion, is very confusing. … I really, in addition to these chicanes, would like to reach out to our legislative body or whoever we need to at the state to collaborate about how we can modify (the crossing) to be safer.”
The funding from DEEP comes and would pay for roughly 80% of the project, which will cost $30,000, according to Nichols.
The council voted unanimously to accept the grant to install chicane gates at both entrances of the trail’s West Main Street crossing.
No date for the installation has been announced.