Auburn North Street crosswalk

Auburn Mayor Mike Ley, far left, leads a procession across a new crosswalk on North Street at noon Wednesday. It was the first day of use for the walk with a pedestrian-activated stop light system.

AUBURN — Children walked safely across busy North Street on Wednesday, using a new crosswalk stop light system for the first time.

With the push of a button, the system activated a flashing yellow light for 7 seconds, high above the street where drivers could see it easily.

Solid red lights followed, giving pedestrians 12 seconds to cross. Then a countdown of 20 seconds began while the red lights flashed, before traffic could proceed.

Auburn Mayor Mike Ley led the procession of about a dozen children from the YMCA of DeKalb County’s Early Learning Center.

The children will be among the crosswalk’s users as they travel between their center one block to the north and the main YMCA building on the south side of the street.

Ley said the project sprung from his conversation with Bob Krafft, CEO of the YMCA.

With both the Early Learning Center and YMCA soccer fields on the north side of the street, “We really ought to have some sort of a crosswalk system,” Ley said Krafft told him.

The city already had two pedestrian-activated crossing lights for its trail system on North Main Street and North Indiana Avenue.

“But they’re just a caution light, only. Bob asked the question: ‘Is there a system that requires the traffic to stop?’” Ley said.

The answer was “yes,” and the city purchased a Hawk system for the crossing.

“It just worked out perfectly, because it coincided with our reconstruction of North Street,” Ley said. “We were able to cut the curbs out, depress them, create a handicap curb access on both sides of the street, made the sidewalk handicap-accessible.” Poles to hold the lights were repurposed from elsewhere on North Street.

“We’re very, very pleased that we were able to do this,” Ley said. “It just goes hand in hand with our belief that whatever we can do for our community, whether it’s this organization or a church or any other organization or the citizens, we’re very willing to take a look at it and see if there’s any way we can help.”

The city paid the $35,000 cost of the project.

“That’s nothing for the safety of what this offers and convenience of adult users,” Ley said. “We’re pleased to offer that.”

The city’s street, engineering and electric utility departments contributed to the project, the mayor said.

“We’re really grateful and thankful to the city for helping to provide this crosswalk,” Krafft said.

Up to 150 Early Learning Center children will cross North Street to use the YMCA pool, gymnasium and playground, Krafft said.

The YMCA’s long-term plan to build a fieldhouse alongside its soccer fields eventually will add to the need for the crosswalk. Along with providing a sports venue, the building would allow the YMCA after-school program to grow from 100 children to 250 who will cross North Street on a regular basis.

“This is a safe way to provide that access,” Krafft said. “It also is going to be great for our citizens who are accessing the trail system, because this trail that goes all the way around the 10-acre Y property here is connected to the mile-and-a-half trail at the soccer park, and that’s connected to the Rieke Park trail system, which really gets a lot of connectivity for the people who use it for cycling and running.”

The new crosswalk will not be stopping traffic on North Street very often in the immediate future, however.

“We will not be using it until COVID subsides, as the children have not been able to visit the Y for swimming or gym time due to COVID restrictions,” Krafft said. “We are hoping and praying that things will get better soon.”

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