Episode 36 – HAWK Pedestrian Beacons

Topics: HAWK Pedestrian Beacons


Websites and Citations:

Example of a HAWK Beacon
(source: FHWA.dot.gov)
Example of a HAWK Beacon


Episode 36 – HAWK Pedestrian Beacons

Hello and welcome to another edition of Talking Traffic. My name is Bill Ruhsam and I run this podcast and it’s sister website, Talking Traffic .org. Today is Sunday, February 13th, 2011.

The topic of today’s episode is the HAWK Pedestrian beacon, but let me first give you a teaser on something coming up. It’s also a warning, if you choose to just skip the next episode.

I talk about transportation funding a lot, and the politics involved in it. Last year, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill that is almost the poster child of the saying, “Politics and sausage: two things that you don’t wan tot watch being made”. My next episode will be about that bill in particular, and how it illustrates the compromises that go into providing for transportation funding.

But now, on with the show. HAWK Signals.

The HAWK signal is a pedestrian activated crosswalk signal. HAWK stands for High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon. Yes, it’s a bit of an acronymical stretch.

The HAWK is also called, officially, the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon, but I have *never* heard anyone actually say that.

The HAWK is used for a very specific purpose. It is to allow a signalized pedestrian crossing at a location where a traffic signal is not warranted, or where one or more warrants have been met but the decision was made not to install a traffic signal. At those spots, a HAWK signal can increase driver awareness of a pedestrian crossing, thus making it safer to walk across the road.

What is a HAWK? It’s quite simple, actually. So simple that I can describe it over a podcast. A hawk is a cluster of three signal faces in a triangular formation, one yellow and two red. It’s like you dissected a standard red-yellow-green traffic signal and rearranged it so that there were two reds side by side on top and a yellow hanging beneath them on the bottom. I’ll post a picture on the show notes. So, we have this two over, one under — red on top/yellow on the bottom signal cluster. It hangs over the road, typically on a steel pole projecting out over the travel lanes. A crosswalk is painted on the road beneath the HAWK beacon.

During times when there are no pedestrians, the signal remains dark; no red or yellow lights are on or flashing. When a pedestrian walks up and pushes the button, the signal starts flashing the yellow light, alerting drivers that there is something going on. Then the flashing yellow turns into a solid yellow, which then turns into a solid red on both the red lights. At this time, the pedestrian WALK signal turns on, telling the pedestrian that it is safe to cross the street.

When it’s time for the pedestrian clearance interval, the Pedestrian signals starts flashing with the DON”T WALK signal, just like a normal crosswalk, and the HAWK starts doing an Alternating red flash, going back and forth between the two red lights. When the clearance interval is over, the pedestrian signal goes to a solid DON”T WALK and the HAWK lights turn off and go dark.

As a reminder, a clearance interval is the time it takes for, in this case a pedestrian, to complete their maneuver across the intersection. It’s timed, basically so that someone who steps off the curb during the WALK signal will have enough time to cross the road before the DON”T WALK turns solid and cars try to run you over. You’ll notice in some places that pedestrian signals have about 4 microseconds of WALK before going to the flashing DONT WALK. That is because engineers like me want to maximize the amount of time for vehicles in places where there is very low pedestrian traffic.

So the HAWK is for pedestrians. Does it work? Yes it does.

This device was an experiment installed by the City of Tuscon, Arizona during the 90′s. They installed a bunch of them and were very happy. The FHWA started looking at using these as a standard in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and in 2007 it was recommenced that they be included. The most recent edition of the MUTCD in 2009 has the HAWK as an option that can be installed, but again they call it the Hybrid Pedestrian Beacon. Boooooring.

As a part of the whole process, the FHWA also commissioned a study, which I’ll link to in the show notes, entitled Safety Effectiveness of the HAWK Pedestrian Crossing Treatment. The results of their before/after safety analysis was that there were statistically significant reductions in Total Crashes and in Pedestrian Crashes. There was also a reduction in Severe crashes, but that value was *not* statistically significant. Total crashes dropped by 29% and Pedestrian Crashes by 69%.

So, does it work. Yes, it works.

You might start seeing these installed in your area. If you happen to live in Metro Atlanta, you can already see some installed around DeKalb county. And if you live in Tuscon, this is old hat.

Thanks for listening to this episode of talking traffic. If you liked what you heard, please drop a line to Bill at talkingtraffic.org. Or you can leave a comment on the shownotes. This episode is released under a creative commons attribution non-commercial share alike license. You may use this podcast for your own, non commercial use and even change it if you care to, but please give me and talking traffic credit.

The music you hear is by Five Star Fall and can be found at Magnatune.com.

Until next time, have a good week.

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4 Responses to Episode 36 – HAWK Pedestrian Beacons

  1. Amanda says:

    Hey Bill,
    Great site!
    FYI – Cobb DOT has a HAWK coming up this Fall across from Six Flags.
    Will send you more info.

  2. Suzy Haas says:

    Do you know if this can be used in conjunction with an Accessible Pedestian Signal (APS) for the blind? The HAWK looks like a great solution for a crossing at a local High School. Students cross this busy road everyday to get to the pool and a workshop for the kids that are studying in a “functional curriculum” There are also several visually impaired students who cross there as well. Any information that I can present to my local traffic engineer would be great; including information on incorporating the auditory (APS) component.
    Thanks!

  3. Bill Ruhsam says:

    Suzy: There is no reason why additional accessible features can’t be incorporated into a HAWK. The only things that are specified about the signal are how the signal heads are situated over the lanes and how they flash (or not) in cooperation with the pedestrian signal lights.

    I confess that I have little experience or knowledge about pedestrian crossing features for the blind. I’ll have to go look up the state of practice on those. I’m aware that there are products that make a sound so that the pushbutton can be found, and we have the chirping walk signals all over downtown Atlanta, but that’s about the extent of my experience.

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