The City of Columbia says it will work with the state Department of Transportation to possibly install a pedestrian signal at a deadly crossing on Millwood Avenue.
Columbia City Council on May 7 voted unanimously to support DOT in putting in what's known as a HAWK beacon signal at a crossing on Millwood Avenue near House Street.
A HAWK signal is a traffic control device that allows a pedestrian to push a button and activate a red light that signals traffic to stop until the pedestrian can cross. There are a couple such beacons already in use locally, including on Taylor Street near Finlay Park, and at the chicken plant on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia.
City public works director Robert Anderson told Council that, between DOT and the city, there could be enough available materials on hand to construct such a signal without too much expense.
“So, [DOT has] done the pedestrian study and they found the counts for pedestrians are such that they warrant a HAWK signal at that location," Anderson told Council. "They would like to install the HAWK signal sooner than later. DOT would fund most of the HAWK signal with parts they have [on hand]. They may need a control cabinet or something that we have around."
Anderson said, if a signal is put in and activated, the city would likely assume maintenance of it through an agreement with DOT.
Roughly 21,000 cars per day travel along Millwood Avenue from Gervais Street to Blossom Street, according to a pedestrian safety study recently completed by SCDOT. In three and a half years, there have been 145 car crashes on that road, including 51 rear-end crashes. Three pedestrians have been killed by cars along the street since 2015, including one in January of this year in the 2500 block of Millwood.
There are two painted crosswalks — with no traffic lights or walk/don’t walk lights — along the section of Millwood in question, including one near House Street that has proven particularly tricky for pedestrians to navigate.
On May 7, Councilman Daniel Rickenmann said it is like "playing Frogger" for people to cross that street, referring to the classic video game in which players try to navigate a frog across a busy street and avoid being hit by cars. Anderson responded that he had seen videos of how dicey it can be for people to cross parts of Millwood.
Improving conditions for pedestrians on Millwood has been a topic for public debate recently. On April 24, the Richland County Transportation Committee — a body made up of people appointed by the local legislative delegation — failed to approve funding for a larger upgrade to make the road safer.
At the April 24 meeting, CTC member Roger Sears put forth a motion to allot $500,000 toward several upgrades along Millwood. When that motion died for lack of a second, he later proposed allotting $250,000 to Millwood. That motion failed.
Sears said he'd bring the matter up again at a future CTC meeting.
SCDOT's Lori Campbell told Free Times after the April 24 meeting that the installation of a HAWK signal could happen independent of a larger, more extensive upgrade to the avenue.
District 3 Councilman Moe Baddourah made the motion on May 7 to encourage city staff to work with DOT on the installation of a signal on Millwood, saying he hoped it would happen "as soon as possible."
"These safety concerns have to be addressed sooner rather than later," Baddourah told Free Times. "A HAWK signal would be a good first step moving forward.”
At-large Councilman Howard Duvall says he also thinks a signal would be a good start.
"It is the easiest step we can take immediately," Duvall said when reached by Free Times. "The DOT has got Millwood on its radar, but it could be a few years out for a big repaving and restriping and more pedestrian crossings and that sort of stuff.
"We can’t wait that long. We need to go ahead and get some safety measures in. We’ve already lost three people on Millwood in the last few years. We need to take some action, and this is the first thing we could do.”