HAWK Signals Can Improve Pedestrian Safety

HAWK Signals Can Improve Pedestrian Safety

Have you heard of HAWK signals?  Not many folks have, but they are a proven way to protect pedestrians while keeping traffic flowing. A HAWK signal (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon) is installed at pedestrian crossings and stops road traffic only as needed.

In a study of HAWK signals in Tucson, Arizona, there was a 29 percent reduction in total crashes and a 69 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes.


A HAWK signal in Tucson, AZ









Councilmember Roger Berliner, Chair, Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, just issued a memo to the Montgomery County delegation encouraging the State Highway Administration to allow HAWK signals.  For some reason, the SHA does not permit them although the Federal Highway Administration codes. Below is an excerpt from Councilmember Berliner’s memo:

I am asking that you give serious consideration to introducing legislation during the 2017 General Assembly that would require the state to adopt either 1) the Federal Highway Administration Manual or 2) the specific language of Chapter 4F in the Federal Highway Administration Manual.

HAWK signals are used at marked pedestrian crossings that do not meet warrants for standard traffic signals. The signal remains dark to allow traffic to move through unless a pedestrian activates the device’s push-button. At that time, drivers will generally see a flashing yellow signal for a few seconds, then a solid yellow signal indicating they should slow down and prepare to stop, followed by a double solid red signal requiring them to stop. This will allow the pedestrian to cross safely until the double red signals begin flashing. The signal will then go dark until activated again by a pedestrian.

A July 2010 study of HAWK signals by the Federal Highway Administration found that vehicle and pedestrian crashes were reduced by 69 percent. Another 2010 study of HAWK signals in Kansas found 97 percent of drivers complied with the signals, more than at crossings with a traditional signal or continuously flashing yellow signals. The District of Columbia, which employs HAWK signals on high-traffic roadways, has found that only about 1 in 4 drivers are willing to stop for pedestrians in non-signalized crosswalks, despite it being required by District law.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t be using these signals at popular non-signalized crosswalks across Old Georgetown Road, Wisconsin Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and others.  We have already seen too many tragedies occur in crosswalks, making improved crosswalk safety critical in the Vision Zero effort. HAWK signals are a proven solution in this regard that I believe we must embrace.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Pike District had HAWK signals to improve walkability and keep pedestrians safe?

Amy Ginsburg


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