Pedestrian-friendly crossing

April 3, 2019

La PORTE – Motorists driving on Pine Lake Avenue have some new rules of the road to follow.

Last week, the city of La Porte and the Indiana Department of Transportation activated a new traffic control system for the recently completed Pine Lake Avenue (U.S. 35) crosswalk near East Shore Parkway. The traffic light, called a pedestrian hybrid beacon, will only activate a red light when walkers, runners or cyclists attempt to cross the roadway.

Normally, the traffic signal will remain unlit, allowing motorists to drive without disruption, just like a green light on a traditional system.

When someone looking to cross activates the walk light call button, though, the yellow light on the bottom of the traffic signal briefly blinks, warning drivers the system has been activated. The light then becomes solid, at which point motorists approaching the light must stop, if able to do so safely.

The bottom light will then switch off and the two red lights above will activate, requiring all traffic at the crossing to stop. The white walk light will then turn on for an ample time to cross the highway, similar to a traditional crosswalk.

When this period expires, the red traffic lights will begin to flash, which allows stopped motorists to continue driving once the pedestrians have crossed. Drivers who approach the crossing while the red lights are flashing must stop first and check to see if the crosswalk is clear before proceeding.

After a short period of time, the red lights will stop flashing and the traffic signal will go dark once more, allowing traffic to again cross without interruption.

“There’s a bit of a learning curve, mostly for motorists,” said INDOT spokesman Adam Parkhouse. “For pedestrians, it works mostly the same as a traditional crosswalk.”

INDOT worked with the city to install the pedestrian hybrid beacon as part of the first phase of the latter’s Chessie Trail, a mile-long path from Pine Lake to NewPorte Landing. Though La Porte leaders paid for construction of the crosswalk using a combination of federal funds and grant dollars from the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, INDOT will maintain the crossing, as it was erected on a state-controlled roadway.

La Porte Park Superintendent Mark Schreiber and INDOT officials thought the pedestrian hybrid beacon was the best available choice for the crossway, given available resources, Schreiber said.

“Certainly, building a bridge over or under the road was an option we looked at, but that would have taken up every bit of funding,” Schreiber said. “By doing it this way, we could get a really good start on our trail system.”

A crosswalk utilizing traditional signals would not have been a good choice, either, as it may have disrupted the flow of traffic, Parkhouse said. Not only is the crosswalk just a short distance south of a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 35 and Ind. 39, but a relatively small number of vehicles use the nearby East Shore Parkway.

The pedestrian hybrid beacon is the first INDOT has installed in Northwest Indiana, though the University of Notre Dame installed one outside its campus in 2013. While still uncommon locally, the system is growing in popularity in other parts of the country, Parkhouse said.

Since its activation last week, La Porte officials have not received any complaints about the system, Schreiber said. In fact, many pedestrians used the crosswalk during Friday’s Chessie Trail ribbon-cutting ceremony, including several mothers who ferried children across in strollers, the superintendent said.

Schreiber said the Parks Department would consider installing additional pedestrian hybrid beacon systems in future projects, if appropriate.

That said, both city and INDOT officials ask motorists to pay extra attention while approaching the crosswalk, and pedestrians to look both ways before crossing Pine Lake Avenue.

INDOT officials shared an instructional video for the pedestrian hybrid beacon on the department’s northwest division Facebook page, facebook.com/INDOTNorthwest.