The Washington Post

D.C. activating another special pedestrian crossing

The new signal in Cleveland Park is similar to this one farther north, near Chevy Chase Circle. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Drivers on Connecticut Avenue NW between Ordway and Macomb streets in Cleveland Park will notice Thursday morning that the D.C. Department of Transportation is activating the fancy new mid-block crosswalk.

The HAWK signal, which has been flashing yellow so drivers will notice its presence, is scheduled to be fully operational at about 10:30 a.m. The HAWK acronym is somehow derived from “High-Intensity Activated crossWalK. Some pedestrians fear that drivers will have as much trouble getting used to the signal as they have getting used to the name, but the main thing that you have to remember is that red means stop. And a flashing red means stop, then proceed with caution.

For pedestrians, the signal works the same as any other. Push the button to activate the light cycle, then when you see the walk sign, walk. It’s a little unusual for approaching drivers, because it’s not a traditional green, yellow, red signal. It stays dark until the pedestrian pushes the button.

Pedestrians like the traditional signals, but adding them can significantly slow traffic in some areas, and that creates its own safety hazards. This mid-block crossing point doesn’t meet the engineering standards for a traditional signal, but pedestrians still need better protection.

D.C. law says that drivers must stop for pedestrians within crosswalks. But on busy, roadways like Connecticut Avenue, only about one in four drivers stops, according to DDOT research. Safety advocates see the HAWK on-demand red signal as a promising option.

They’re not brand new. This is the fifth such signal installed in Washington. On April 30, Mayor Vincent C. Gray inaugurated a HAWK signal farther north on Connecticut Avenue.

How a HAWK signal works

Here’s DDOT’s description:

For motorists, the HAWK signal displays standard signal indications but in a new sequence. When not in use, the HAWK signal is dark, and motorists should proceed normally.

When activated, it will display a flashing yellow light, indicating to drivers to proceed with caution. Next it will display a solid yellow light for four seconds, indicating to drivers that they should slow down and prepare to stop.

Next it will display a solid red, indicating to drivers to stop. Pedestrians will get a WALK signal at this point. Next, the motorists’ signal will flash red in an alternating pattern to indicate to drivers that they may proceed, after stopping, if the crosswalk is clear and it is safe to do so.


Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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