BILLINGS- Drivers in Billings are familiar with roundabouts, but what should they do when they meet a pedestrian at a roundabout? New technology in Billings aims to ensure drivers know how to respond.
As crews wrap up a road construction project on Central Avenue, they will add two new roundabouts at 36th Street West and 38th Street West.
But there’s a twist: new pedestrian-activated beacon signals are also being installed to guarantee pedestrians can get across the road safely.
Pedestrian-activated crosswalks are not new, and various cities across the nation have installed these types of interactive crosswalks for years.
However, while Billings was one of the first cities in Montana to install roundabouts, federal regulations didn’t require a pedestrian-activated crosswalk to also be installed at those intersections.
“When Shiloh was built there was no requirement for pedestrians’ signals or activated signals on multi-lane roundabouts,” said City Traffic Engineer Erin Claunch.
Since then, that rule has changed. Claunch said now the Federal Highway Administration has standards for crossings on multi-lane roundabouts.
The roundabouts that dot Shiloh Road don’t have what’s often referred to as a HAWK pedestrian crosswalk. HAWK (short for High-intensity Activated crossWALK) beacon is a traffic control device used to stop road traffic to allow pedestrians to safely cross.
How do they work?
When pedestrians comes to the roundabout or a major street, they press the crosswalk button. The HAWK is then activated. Yellow traffic lights start to flash alerting oncoming drivers it’s time to slow down. Once the overhead traffic lights turn red, the driver should stop. This allows the pedestrian to cross. Once the overhead traffic lights start to flash red, it’s then okay for the driver to be on their way if they first came to a stop.
Similarly activated crosswalks are on Grand Avenue at 36th Street West and 38th Street West and Fourth Avenue North and Sixth Avenue North downtown.
The Billings Public Works Department regularly studies driver behavior at roundabouts.
“Biggest issue we see is when people aren’t yielding correctly,” said Claunch.
Claunch also explains that drivers are sometimes too conservative at HAWK crossings. Once the lights start flashing red, drivers can begin moving again. After all, the mission of a roundabout is to get traffic moving at a regular pace.
Still, Claunch believes Billings drivers could improve their pedestrian etiquette.
“I think Billings drivers could do better with yielding to pedestrians both within crosswalks and within HAWK signalized crosswalks,” said Claunch.
The addition of two more HAWK pedestrian crosswalks will ideally help with that.
“Being courteous of pedestrians, abide by state laws that are on the books that require you to yield to pedestrians,” all things Claunch says drivers should work on.
As for if new HAWK signals could be installed now on Shiloh Road roundabouts, Claunch said a traffic study may be performed in the future to do just that.
Drivers should expect to see the new pedestrian-activated crosswalks on Central Avenue by the end of October when construction wraps up.