|MPD conducted a pedestrian safety enforcement action at the HAWK signal on Connecticut Ave. NW in Cleveland Park on October 9.|
|MPD officers issued citations to drivers along Benning Road NE during a pedestrian safety enforcement action on September 24.|
The videos below show MPD Sgt. Terry Thorne and MPD Officer Arlinda Page in plain clothes crossing Brentwood Road and Benning Road during MPD's crosswalk enforcement actions.
An enforcement action also was conducted on October 9 by MPD’s Second District at the mid-block crosswalk on Connecticut Avenue NW in Cleveland Park, which is regulated by a HAWK signal. Most drivers yielded to pedestrians, but MPD Officer Anthony McElwee issued four citations to drivers and counseled a pedestrian about waiting for the walk signal.
|MPD Officer Anthony McElwee watched for drivers who failed to stop at the crosswalk in Cleveland Park during a safety enforcement action on October 9.|
The District got its first HAWK signal in 2009 on Georgia Avenue NW at Hemlock Street NW after DDOT received consistent complaints from elderly residents who were having difficulty getting to the library, said George Branyan, DDOT’s pedestrian program coordinator. At the time there was a marked crosswalk at Hemlock but no traffic signal, making it “a very challenging place to cross,” Branyan said. Although HAWK signals were not part of the national highway safety engineering manual at the time, Branyan knew that Tucson, Arizona had implemented about 80 of them and suggested the District install them, as well. Arizona now has hundreds of HAWK signals in use, and Tucson locations studied experienced a 69 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes and 29 percent reduction in all traffic collisions, Branyan said.
The HAWK signal in Cleveland Park was installed in May 2013 because of the high number of pedestrians crossing the busy commercial section of Connecticut Avenue between Ordway and Macomb streets, the closest fully signalized crosswalks in the same area. The long distance between Ordway and Macomb streets led pedestrians to cross Connecticut Avenue in between the two signalized intersections. While such a crossing is not illegal under DC law, pedestrians do not have the right of way outside of crosswalks. After a study by Howard University students of such crossings, DDOT concluded that this section of Connecticut Avenue, which is traveled by nearly 40,000 cars daily, did not meet engineering standards for a traditional traffic signal but was appropriate for a HAWK signal.
While a HAWK signal appears different to motorists than a standard traffic signal, the signal works for pedestrians similarly to other push-button-activated traffic signals by stopping vehicular traffic with a red signal and allowing pedestrians to cross with a “WALK” signal, according to a description from DDOT. While one DC HAWK signal (at 16th and Jonquil streets NW) is automatically activated by the presence of pedestrians, the one in Cleveland Park is activated only when a pedestrian pushes a button to request a signal. The traffic lights never turn red if pedestrians are not present (or do not push the button).
The DDOT website describes the signal this way:
“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.”
The video below shows the cycle of the HAWK signal on Connecticut Avenue NW in Cleveland Park.
The HAWK signal in Cleveland Park is one of only six in the District, which may explain why some drivers are a bit confused by it. In particular, some stopped drivers are unaware that they may proceed with caution if no pedestrians are in the crosswalk once the solid red light turns to a flashing red light. In Cleveland Park, the signs explaining this fact to drivers are placed behind the stop lines, meaning that the drivers of the first cars stopped at the light may not see the signs. Frustrated drivers behind them often start beeping. In any case, drivers lose mere seconds of time waiting until the light goes dark and all drivers proceed.
For pedestrians, confusion about HAWK signals may be created by the fact that while signs posted at the crosswalk do advise pedestrians that they should push the button to request a WALK signal, the same signs also appear at many other intersections where pedestrians do not actually need to push a button to get a WALK signal; in the latter case, the WALK signal is triggered automatically as part of the traffic light cycle and requires no action by the pedestrian. Pedestrians also should be aware that their right of way under DC law at signalized crosswalks is triggered by stepping into the crosswalk while the WALK signal is still flashing; a pedestrian who does begin crossing with a WALK signal has the right of way until reaching the other side of the street (or a “safety island” if one exists). On the other hand, a pedestrian who steps into a crosswalk after a “DON’T WALK” (or orange flashing hand) signal begins flashing does not have the same right of way.
Despite the unfamiliarity of District drivers and pedestrians with HAWK signals, the signal in Cleveland Park daily allows hundreds of people to cross busy Connecticut Avenue at a signalized crosswalk much more safely than crossing elsewhere. This makes shopping and dining on that commercial strip more appealing for pedestrians. As is the case in Cleveland Park, HAWK signals are appropriate for very specific types of situations, which include busy, fast-paced streets, the presence of many pedestrians, and significant distances between signalized intersections. Perhaps more HAWK signals in the District would increase familiarity and acceptance, as well as contribute to the economic growth of some of the District’s busy arterials.