D.C.'s Official Pedestrian Advisory Body

Appointed by the D.C. Council to advise the Mayor, the D.C. Council, DDOT and other agencies.

Next Meeting: July 8th, 2024

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MPD continues pedestrian safety actions in Wards 3, 5, 7 and 8

MPD conducted a pedestrian safety enforcement action at the HAWK signal on Connecticut Ave. NW in Cleveland Park on October 9.
Following on the Ward 4 actions highlighted previously on this blog, the Metropolitan Police Department continued its series of pedestrian safety enforcement actions during the weeks of September 15, 22 and October 6 in Wards 3, 5, 7 and 8. The intersections were chosen based upon their proximity to pedestrian crash locations and/or complaints from the public and included signalized intersections in Friendship Heights, unsignalized intersections in Brentwood, Brookland, Deanwood and Randle Highlands, and a High-Intensity Activity crossWalK (HAWK) signal in Cleveland Park. Pedestrian Advisory Council member Eileen McCarthy, along with George Branyan of DDOT and PAC staffer Heather Edelman, attended some or all of these MPD enforcement actions.

MPD officers issued citations to drivers along Benning Road NE during a pedestrian safety enforcement action on September 24.
On September 18, Sgt. Terry Thorne of MPD’s Traffic Safety and Specialized Enforcement Branch led enforcement actions at Brentwood Road and 13th Street NE and at 12th and Jackson streets NE. On September 23 and 24, Officer Arlinda Page, also of MPD’s Traffic Safety and Specialized Enforcement Branch, conducted enforcement actions at the intersections of Wisconsin Avenue and Jenifer Street NW, Wisconsin and Western avenues NW, 45th Street and Benning Road NE, and Minnesota Avenue and 21st Place SE.  Officers Whitfield, Foreman, Huff and Johnson took part as well.  Overall, the officers issued numerous citations to drivers who failed to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks and/or committed other serious traffic violations (e.g. handheld cellphone use while driving). They also counseled pedestrians on safe street crossings and listened to driver and pedestrians concerns about traffic safety issues.

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.

District ranks third among safest cities for pedestrians

The District ranks third on a list of the safest cities for pedestrians, according to a study commissioned by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Released Oct. 7, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index lists the 15 safest pedestrian cities based on statistics reported by the cities and surveys of residents’ perceptions of safety. The District rates behind Seattle and Boston and just ahead of San Francisco and New York.

Top 15 Safest U.S. Cities for Pedestrians
  1. Seattle, Wash.
  2. Boston, Mass.
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. San Francisco, Calif.
  5. New York, N.Y.
  6. Portland, Ore.
  7. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  8. Minneapolis, Minn.
  9. Chicago, Ill
  10. Atlanta, Ga
  11. Denver, Colo.
  12. Philadelphia, Pa.
  13. Baltimore, Md.
  14. Columbus, Ohio
  15. Los Angeles, Calif.

Source: Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index

“The goal of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index is to recognize the U.S. cities that are taking exceptional measures to keep their streets safe and to help others across the country learn from those best practices," according to David Melton, managing director of global safety for Liberty Mutual Insurance. Features highlighted by the company include adequate crossing time, visible crosswalks, sufficient street lighting and good signage. While releasing the study, Liberty Mutual Insurance also listed safety tips for drivers and pedestrians:

  • Don’t use cell phones while driving
  • Drive slowly and be prepared to stop quickly, especially in residential neighborhoods and school zones and when approaching crosswalks

  • Don’t use cell phones while crossing the street
  • Use sidewalks and crosswalks and wait for the walk signal
  • Look both ways, even when there is a walk signal or stop sign