Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coming Soon ... Fall 2009 Issue

Work is well underway on the fall issue of InTransition, which should be in the mail in November. If you’ve changed your address since the spring, be sure to update your contact information on our website or send us an e-mail letting us know what’s new.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories in our next issue:

Transit & the Economic Crisis: Even with ridership at record levels, transit agencies around the country are facing budgetary nightmares due to the economic downturn. A look at how they’re getting through it.

Connected Vehicles: Along with hybridization/electrification, some say connected vehicle technologies represent the greatest change the auto industry will see in the decades to come.

Cab-Sharing: Like matchmaking services for taxi riders, these new businesses are cropping up across the Web. Will they last?

Digital Billboards: With far more revenue potential than traditional static billboards, new digital signs are becoming more common along the nation's highways.

Please note, not all of the material in the printed edition will be available online. To sign up for a FREE subscription to InTransition, just fill out the simple form on our website.

NJ the Next to Debut Cutting-Edge Traffic Technologies

This article first appeared in Mobility Matters, a regional newsletter also published by the NJTPA.

By Karl Vilacoba

Gazing out the window of an English pub, a light bulb went on in Richard Nassi’s head—three actually, in an arrangement that would become one of the most statistically effective traffic signals in America.

Nassi was traveling with his wife, who was in the U.K. on business, but his mind was on a terrible crash that occurred back home in Tucson, Ariz. Five youths were struck by a vehicle while crossing a street in 1998, killing two of them. The driver fled the scene and, despite the best efforts of police, was never caught.

Nassi, Tucson’s traffic administrator at the time, caught a glimpse of an unconventional beacon the English call a “level crossing signal,” and began jotting down notes on how it might be adapted to prevent future tragedies in Tucson. “It started there on the back of a napkin and flew across the Atlantic with me to the U.S.,” he said.

The High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) debuted a year later in Tucson and has since spread to several other states, including an upcoming site in New Jersey. Although it is still considered an experimental technology, the HAWK will soon be listed in the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA)Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the standard for signs, signals and pavement markings in the U.S.

The HAWK consists of three lights that overhang traffic, typically at mid-block crosswalks and unsignalized intersections. The HAWK remains dark until activated by a bicyclist or pedestrian. The beacon initially flashes yellow, then shines solid yellow, warning drivers to prepare to stop. It then turns solid red while showing the pedestrian a “Walk” sign. Finally, alternating flashing red lights indicate that drivers can proceed if the pedestrian has safely crossed.

A study of HAWKs in Tucson showed crashes were reduced by 30 percent and the compliance rate by drivers was 97 percent, better than any other American traffic signal, Nassi said. The only apparent confusion by motorists—some remained stopped as the red lights flashed.

“If you’re worried about delays, it’s an issue,” Nassi said, “but if you’re worried about pedestrian safety, it doesn’t hurt one bit.”

Unfortunately, a fatal accident took place at what will be the first HAWK site in New Jersey. About three years ago, a mother and two children were struck by a motorist while crossing Route 27 in Roselle, killing one of the youths, according to the New Jersey Departmentof Transportation (NJDOT). A crosswalk and standard flashing beacon were installed at the site a few months later, but drivers still weren’t yielding to pedestrians on the busy four-lane highway. A HAWK is expected to be installed on the site soon, helping people walk and bike across safely.

Another new pedestrian crossing technology that will soon see action in New Jersey is the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB), sometimes called the Enhancer. The RRFB was first piloted in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2004, and was approved for interim use at crossings by the FHWA last summer. “The RRFB’s very high compliance rates are previously unheard of for any device other than a full traffic signal and a ‘HAWK’ hybrid signal, both of which stop traffic with steady red signal indications,” the FHWA noted in a memo on the beacon’s approval.

The mid-block crossing beacons feature super bright LED lights that flash rapidly in a “stuttering” pattern that’s hard for motorists to miss. St. Petersburg reports a 17 percent drop in pedestrian crashes since they started using RRFBs, and in observations at 19 test locations in the city, 82 percent of drivers stopped once the system was activated.

In northern New Jersey, RRFBs will be installed near the Metropark train station in Edison and on Route 4 in Elmwood Park.

Photos: Top right, A High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo courtesy Tucson DOT). Above left, Enhancer beacons feature bright, rapidly flashing LED lights that are hard for drivers to miss (Photo courtesy City of St. Petersburg).