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HAWK traffic device coming to busy Main Street in Williamsville

After a six-year wait, a HAWK is nesting in Williamsville.

The village is home to the newest high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK, beacon in the region. The traffic-control devices are meant to help walkers and bicyclists safely cross busy streets, and Williamsville officials have long sought one for the heart of Main Street.

Sometime Monday, the state Department of Transportation will activate the new signal installed in front of the Williamsville Branch Library.

Elected officials and business representatives say the signal will help make Williamsville more walkable and calm the flow of vehicles on the heavily traveled road. They say pedestrians and drivers may need to get used to how the new signal works, but the long-term benefits are clear.

"We have so many options right now with restaurants and shopping, and I just feel like the village is so much more vibrant, that creating a safer means for people to cross the four lanes of traffic is important," said Susan Ballard, branch director of HUNT Real Estate ERA's Williamsville office, which is at the HAWK's perch.

The region's first two HAWK signals were built on Kenmore Avenue, on the Tonawanda-Buffalo border, and on Sheridan Drive in the town. Both are located along Rails to Trails pathways linking the city and town of Tonawanda with North Buffalo, and they were the first in the state when they were activated in 2016.

When driving along Sheridan, watch for new HAWK beacon

Another HAWK beacon came online last year on Ridge Road outside the Lackawanna Public Library.

The signals feature two red lenses over a yellow lens. The lenses change from dark, to flashing or solid yellow to flashing or solid red to instruct drivers whether it's safe to travel through the crosswalk. The signals can take the place of a standard traffic signal and are activated only when someone wants to get across.

Both the DOT and the village have posted instructional materials online, but the first time approaching a HAWK beacon can be confusing for a driver.

Village officials have sought one of the signals since at least 2012 before finally winning approval from the state.

Williamsville Mayor Dan DeLano, who once compared trying to cross Main Street to the 1980s arcade game "Frogger," said village officials had hoped to get the first HAWK beacon in the state but Tonawanda earned municipal bragging rights when its device came online first.

"Not that that's a big deal, but they like to wave that in our face," DeLano said with a laugh.

The DOT installed the signal at the village's preferred site, with the Williamsville library and town/village municipal complex to the south and Ballard's office and the Bee Group Newspapers to the north. The work was part of the recently completed Picture Main Street reconstruction project in the village.

"It's a long block. It's the center of commerce," DeLano said. "No matter what we do, there was always jaywalking there."

The closest signals are some distance away at Cayuga Road to the west and Mill Street to the east.

"We hear the brakes, when people slam on their brakes. And the horns," Ballard said.

Further, this is a popular site for special events in the village, such as Old Home Days and Taste of Williamsvillle, and police officers have to help control traffic at the busiest times, DeLano said.

Starting up the HAWK will help make it easier for people to get back and forth for concerts, happy hours, shopping and errands, he said.

"Selfishly, I think it's great to have people walk across the street from the opposite side and see HUNT Real Estate," Ballard quipped.

The DOT should finish last-minute programming, and remove the bags that have covered the signal, early Monday, with the HAWK taking flight sometime in late morning, DeLano said.

The agency does not have a final cost for the HAWK signal, said spokeswoman Susan Surdej.

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