Safer passage for Ninth Street

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 photo by Ann Richardson  photo by Ann Richardson

HAWK signal to help crossing between West and Bay

OCEAN CITY — There’s a new traffic signal in town, and while it will help make crossing Ninth Street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, it’s likely to cause some confusion as motorists get used to dealing with it.

It’s called a HAWK signal – high-intensity activated crosswalk – and it’s located where Aldrich Avenue meets Ninth Street, between Simpson and Haven avenues, near TD Bank. 

“It’s somewhat confusing and complicated,” said Capt. Steve Ang, spokesman for the Ocean City Police Department.

HAWK signals are used at uncontrolled intersections to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. The signaling device includes a beacon; when activated by a pedestrian, the process begins.

“When you push the button, a timer starts,” Ang said. There are signals on either side of Ninth Street. The HAWK signal is timed with traffic signals at Bay Avenue and West Avenue.

“The lights will start to flash yellow when the button is pushed,” Ang said.

When the lights on Bay and West avenues turn red, then the HAWK signal will turn solid red and stay that way for a pre-determined time to allow pedestrians and cyclists to get across safely. When the lights flash red, motorists can start moving, Ang said.

Ang said work crews finished construction of the signal, including painting lines across Ninth Street, just in time for heavy traffic to begin on Memorial Day weekend. The signal is in place but will not be activated until later this week.

“We’re going to have a demonstration, we want everyone, especially the media, to see it and understand how this works first,” said Ang. “We won’t turn it on until we’ve had the media blast and get the word out about it.”

The HAWK signal is the first in the area and only the second in New Jersey.

“It’s extremely unfamiliar, not only to Ocean City but to the entire South Jersey area,” said Ang. “The last thing anyone wants to do is create more traffic and confusion. We need to do a thorough public education about it, to give people time to get used to it.”

In March, City Council awarded a $238,857 contract to Diehl Electric Company of Hammonton to complete the work on the signal. The city also used a $100,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation Safe Street to Transit Program grant. 

Drew Fasy, a member of Bike OC, a local advocacy group, said he is excited about the new signal.

“It’s great, and much-needed,” he said.

Fasy acknowledged that there are concerns.

“It’s new, and it’s going to throw people off,” he said.

“We are already hearing that there are some concerns, for traffic on Ninth Street,” he said. “That surprises me, that people are more concerned about traffic on Ninth Street than they are (about) people, for the safety of our pedestrians and cyclists. I am more concerned about the safety of people, about people getting run over on Ninth Street than I am traffic.”

The HAWK signal is part of an island-wide bicycle initiative, to create safe riding from the north end of the island to the south end, beach to bay. Over the past several years, a bike path has been created along Haven Avenue from Ninth Street to 36th Street, and West Avenue to 55th Street. At Ninth Street, riders take Aldridge Road to Simpson Avenue, which was designated the safe route from Eight Street north to Battersea Road, where cyclists can use West Atlantic Boulevard to the Gardens Parkway.

While the bike lane along West Avenue in the south end remains a work in progress, the missing link was a means of crossing Ninth Street. The new Ninth Street Bridge and Causeway boasts a multi-use pathway, and cyclists coming over the bridge have no safe means of crossing Ninth Street to head north, nor do cyclists on Haven Avenue have a safe means of crossing Ninth Street to get the Aldrich and onto Simpson.

Fasy likened crossing Ninth Street to playing the arcade game “Frogger,” where the frogs had to cross busy streets and hazardous rivers to get home.

“You have five lanes of traffic,” he said. When vehicles have a green light at Bay Avenue entering the island, they are often traveling at high speed.

Fasy said there are numerous near-misses each hour on a busy summer day along Ninth Street as cyclists and pedestrians attempt to cross.

“Going back to the Complete Street idea, yes, roads are for cars but we have to make them safe for people too,” he said. The idea, he added, is for motorists to co-exist, to share the road. “You have people walking, biking and people who are handicapped, everyone has a right to be safe.”

Ninth Street, he said, is intense in terms of vehicle traffic and pedestrians and cyclists. 

“People should go to the corner,” he said, as they navigate the bike path along Haven Avenue heading north or Aldrich Avenue heading south, but they don’t.

“They cross, but they’re not going to the corner, they just don’t do it,” he said. “It’s not happening. As you cross, Aldrich and Haven don’t meet, so people are not even going straight across, they’re going across and over and it’s harrowing, it really is. I’ve witnessed it. This signal is really needed.”

Next up, Fasy said, is a more permanent solution along West Avenue and a new path behind the Primary School where Simpson Avenue is interrupted. This work will be completed using a NJDOT Safe Routes to School transit grant.

“The Ninth Street crossing is a huge piece of the plan,” he said.    

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