The HAWK signal’s name isn’t the only thing that requires some getting used to. Some pedestrians worry they won’t get the full benefit of the new High-intensity Activated cross-WalK on Connecticut Avenue because drivers won’t understand what the signal is telling them to do.
If so, that won’t be the fault of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who twice strode through noontime traffic Tuesday to demonstrate how the new thing is supposed to keep walkers safe. Once, a police officer concerned about the city’s First Pedestrian held up his arms in front of southbound traffic, which seemed a bit unsportsmanlike, considering that the mayor appeared perfectly willing to take his chances with the signal system.
After completing his own crossings, Gray hung around a while to give other pedestrians at Connecticut Avenue and Northampton Street some advice on how to get the most out of the signal’s safety features.
People who weren’t within earshot of the mayor’s mini-seminar would ask why the city hadn’t just installed a regular green-yellow-red traffic signal instead of the HAWK lights, which remain dark until activated by pedestrians, then go through a sequence of yellow and red lights to get drivers’ attention so they will stop. (The cycle ends up with flashing red lights before going dark again.)
George Branyan, the District’s pedestrian safety program manager and one of the smartest guys I know on how to keep people safe, said that the intersection doesn’t meet the standards for a full signal. Not enough pedestrians.
Still this multi-lane crossing where the traffic is heavy and fast needed some enhancement to get people safely over to the Avalon Theatre and the Magruder’s market. At such locations, the HAWK signals are becoming more popular.
The District installed its first HAWK across Georgia Avenue at Hemlock Street NW in August 2009. The District Department of Transportation did some tinkering with that pilot project, extending the length of the walk cycle so older people could make it all the way.
The Federal Highway Administration approved the devices for more widespread installation in 2010, and the District has since deployed others. HAWK signals are at 16th and Jonquil streets NW and at Minnesota Avenue and C Street NE. One for Connecticut Avenue NW between Ordway and Macomb streets should be done by the end of May. And DDOT plans to put another at 11th Street and Florida Avenue NW.
In his statement at the Tuesday event, Gray said:
My administration is committed to identifying and implementing the tools and technologies that will help create safer street conditions throughout the District. In the Sustainable DC Plan we released earlier this year, we set an aggressive-but-realistic goal of increasing the use of public transit, biking and walking to comprise 75 percent of all commuter trips in the District in the next 20 years. To meet this goal, we must continue to improve overall street safety for all.
In other words, as the mayor told me afterward, the future of city travel is about sharing routes safely. Look for more bus routes, streetcars, bike lanes and devices like HAWK signals that make walking safer and more popular without infringing on people’s ability to drive autos.
(And for walkers worried about the HAWK signals: Yes, each new one takes some getting used to, but it’s not that hard. If any driver can’t figure out that a red light means stop, there’s a sign to remind them. From a pedestrian’s viewpoint, the setup is pretty familiar: Push the button and wait for the walk sign.)