WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If time is money, some of it's being lost each day along Sunset Boulevard – right in front of the House of Raeford chicken plant in West Columbia.
"Some of the cars, when they get there, they see it flashing. But I think the flashing starts and the beginning and it flashes at the end as well, so I think some of the drivers are still confused about how it works," said Dennis Breeland, the owner of Breeland Courier Service.
At first glance, the signal Breeland is referring to might look like a typical stoplight, but it isn't. It's called a HAWK signal – which is an easier way to say High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk.
It was put there for good reason, as Breeland can attest. The courier said the particular portion of Sunset Boulevard was chaos until the new signal because of the hundreds of chicken plant workers who cross there each day to reach lunch or their cars on the other side of the road.
"There was a lot of people just stepping right into traffic – right into the road – and then a lot of cars had to come to an immediate halt," he said. "There wasn't a way to control that because there was a crosswalk, but they could step into it at any time, and then the cars were going at a certain rate of speed."
The new signal is more orderly. When workers cross, they hit a button and the signal light blinks yellow.
"Then, it goes to a solid yellow to warn the motorists that a change is fixing to occur," explained engineer with Kimley-Horn Tony Sheppard. "Then it goes into a red indication for the motorists to stop and yield to the pedestrians. After the pedestrians have started crossing, and a lot of times some of the pedestrians completely clear the crossing, it goes to a flashing red operation."
Sheppard said the blinking red light is what's confusing drivers.
"When it's a solid red, you are to stop," he said. "But when it goes to a flashing red, just like at any other intersection when it goes into a flashing operation when that flashing red is there you treat it like a stop sign."
In other words, it means it's safe to proceed if the crosswalk is clear. But, for now, a lot of drivers are still a bit gun-shy.
Sheppard said he knows of only one other signal like this one in the Midlands. It's on Taylor Street near Finlay Park. He said, despite the hiccup, the signal in West Columbia is working – and everyone WIS talked to agreed.