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Drivers can get crosswise with Moorhead crosswalk on heavily traveled Eighth Street South

Traffic engineer offers primer on what the special traffic lights require of drivers, pedestrians

crosswalkMoorhead_2.jpg
A Moorhead city traffic engineer says drivers sometimes have difficulty understanding how pedestrian crosswalk at Eighth Street and Tenth Avenue South in Moorhead works. Chris Flynn / The Forum

MOORHEAD — A pedestrian crossing light in south Moorhead has caused confusion for many drivers.

That's why Jonathan Atkins, a traffic engineer with the city of Moorhead, appreciates any opportunity to talk about the situation and potentially improve driver awareness of how the traffic lights at Eighth Street and Tenth Avenue south work.

Technically, the crosswalk lights at that intersection go by the acronym HAWK, for High Intensity Activated Crosswalk Signal.

HAWK pedestrian signal
A pedestrian crossing in south Moorhead uses a special traffic signal to help pedestrians cross busy Eighth Street south. Graphic courtesy the city of Moorhead.

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Pedestrians and vehicles heading east on Tenth Avenue have a stop sign at the intersection with Eighth Street, and pedestrians may cross Eighth Street when an image of a pedestrian walking lights up.

Drivers going north or south on Eighth Street see a specialized traffic light.

Atkins explains the lights this way:

"When the signal is dark, you drive through it (the intersection) as normal.

"Then, when somebody pushes the pedestrian button, it (the signal) starts to flash yellow, and this is what the drivers sees," Atkins said, adding: "That yellow flash is just a warning saying the signal is about to change; then it goes to a solid yellow, just like a traffic signal. It means slow down.

"Then," he said, "you see two solid red indications and that's just like a traffic signal. It means stop; do not proceed," Atkins added.

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A pedestrian pushes the button to cross the street at Eighth Street and Tenth Avenue south in Moorhead near Concordia College. Chris Flynn / The Forum

The full stop period is when a pedestrian sees a figure of a walking person light up, a sign that it is safe to cross the street.

When the figure of a walking person begins to blink, Atkins said it means "don't walk" for pedestrians and it coincides with a blinking red light for drivers, which essentially acts like a stop sign — drivers must stop, but they can proceed if the road is clear and there are no pedestrians.

He said rear-end collisions can occur when some drivers understand what the lights mean while others don't.

Also, Atkins said, some people flat out ignore the control signal, potentially putting pedestrians at risk.

"Being by Concordia College, that is a heavily used signal," he said. "Students and pedestrians seem to get it, but drivers seem to have difficulty understanding what they're supposed to do."

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