New HAWK Crosswalk Signal Spreads its Wings at UK: A Bird’s-Eye View of Pedestrian Safety

Lexington, Ky.–In an effort to enhance pedestrian safety, the city has announced that it will upgrade the crossing signal on S. Limestone at Pine Street to a High-Intensity Activated crosswalk (HAWK) system. This traffic control device is designed to facilitate safer mid-block crossings for pedestrians in areas without a traditional traffic light.

S. Limestone and Pine Street. (Google)

Unlike standard traffic signals, the HAWK system remains inactive until a pedestrian activates it. This means vehicular traffic can proceed without stopping until someone needs to cross the street. The transition from a passive to an active signal begins with the signal flashing yellow, progressing to a solid yellow, and finally a solid red, indicating that cars must come to a full stop. Following the solid red light, a flashing red light signals that cars may proceed once the crosswalk is clear.

For pedestrians, the HAWK system maintains familiar indicators seen at traditional traffic signals, including ‘wait’, ‘walk’, and ‘don’t walk’ signals.

Senior Transportation Planner, Scott Thompson, explains that these pedestrian safety traffic control measures have been proven effective, “reducing pedestrian crashes by 55% and crashes that result in serious injury or fatality by 15%”. Jeff Neal, Traffic Engineering Director, further highlights the city’s commitment to pedestrian safety, stating, “The installation of a HAWK is a proactive approach to increasing pedestrian safety in our community.”

The HAWK system on S. Limestone at Pine Street is expected to be activated on Thursday, June 1, according to David Filiatreau, the Traffic Engineering Manager.

HAWK beacons, officially known as pedestrian hybrid beacons, were first developed in Tucson, Arizona by Transportation Administrator R. B. Nassi in 2000. The purpose of these beacons is to allow protected pedestrian crossings, interrupting vehicular traffic only as necessary. Prior to being officially recognized, the HAWK beacon was deemed an experimental device and required interim approval from the Federal Highway Administration. Its full implementation came in 2009 when it was included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as a pedestrian hybrid beacon.

The effectiveness of the HAWK system is significant, with one study by the Federal Highway Administration reporting a 69% reduction in vehicle/pedestrian crashes following installation. In terms of compliance, up to 97% of motorists adhere to the HAWK beacon’s instructions, a rate higher than that of signalized crossings or crossings with flashing yellow beacons.

However, it’s important to note that when first introduced to an area, some motorist confusion can occur until drivers understand how the beacon works. This issue underscores the need for enforcement and public education during the initial rollout of HAWK signals.

The design of the HAWK beacon differentiates it from traditional traffic control signals. During inactive periods, the HAWK beacon is dark, indicating the right of way for vehicular traffic. This could potentially cause confusion among motorists used to conventional traffic signals, where a dark signal is usually indicative of a malfunction, such as a power failure. Another unique feature of HAWK beacons is the alternating flashing red signal, which allows drivers to proceed once the crosswalk is clear, differing from the common interpretation of flashing red lights that generally mandate a full stop.

Overall, the introduction of the HAWK system at S. Limestone and Pine Street signals a significant step forward in prioritizing pedestrian safety. As motorists and pedestrians adapt to this new system, the hope is that the streets of our city will become safer for everyone.

Can this "HAWK" STOP LIGHT make walking feel SAFE again?
2022 YouTube video review of HAWK crosswalks.