Pedestrian HAWK Signal


HAWK signals are one of many strategies to empower pedestrians trying to cross busy streets. Push the button (yes a beg button, but think of it more as a command button), and the lights, which had been flashing, change to solid red, so cars stop and you can safely and respectably cross the street. This in particular is important in the case of multi-lane roads where the center lane(s) cannot necessarily see a pedestrian in a cross-walk if the right-lane car stopped.

The literature is quite favorable in terms of pedestrian crash reductions:

The UK has a whole set of bird-like crossing signals that do similar things:

As well as Belisha Beacons to help flag the standard Zebra crossing.

There are a few in Minnesota, (e.g. St. Cloud [1], [2], and Burnsville [1]) but not many. Which unsignalized intersections on multi-lane roads warrant this treatment?

HAWK Signal Indications

HAWK Signal Indications

15 thoughts on “Pedestrian HAWK Signal

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    It seems like a slightly worse version of a PUFFIN crossing, which actually has pedestrian detection to change the light after the pedestrian has finished crossing. The HAWK design instead uses the flashing red lights to indicate that stopped cars may proceed if appropriate. That’s probably OK for narrower streets, but for a wide stroad like this, both directions of traffic might receive the flashing red sign before you reach the farther half of the street.

    But perhaps timing is adjusted to account for this?

  2. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I definitely would like to know more about the pros and cons of pedestrian detection in these intersection systems – sounds like a wonderful idea.

    As far as which intersections warrant this treatment, I’m hoping that a bicycle boulevard designation would warrant this treatment. The issue is that these unsignalized intersections may not have a lot of people trying to cross presently because they are so unsafe. People either choose to find a parallel signalized (arterial) street to cross or choose to get in their car because the road is just too much of a barrier. I’m unhappy if we only consider intersections worthy of this treatment if there is a recorded high volume of crossings or pedestrian/auto crashes. I think of it as induced demand for pedestrian crossings. If we designate it as a safe crossing for bike/ped as a neighborhood and community because that’s where we want the safe crossing to occur, that should warrant the treatment, and soon people will choose that route.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Might be legally tricky, depending on the facility. In general a bike on the street doesn’t have crosswalk-like right-of-way at a cross street, while a bike on a bike/ped-only trail, or a side path generally does.

      Would definitely be worthwhile for crossings like Hiawatha LRT at 26th St and the various crossings of the SWLRT Trail/Greenway extension through SLP.

      1. Rosa

        but bikes can hitchhike across when pedestrians go – and pedestrians seem to prefer the bike boulevards I use. It makes sense, since the boulevards (Blaisdell & 17th Aves & 40th Street are the ones I’m most familiar with) seem to have been chosen because they already had highway pedestrian bridges or stoplights at some main roads.

  3. Paul

    Interesting. Wisconsin HAWKS are a different animal. In Wisconsin HAWKS have yellow flashing lights which are activated when the pedestrian hits the button. (no red lights at any time) The lights are the triple-flash LED’s like those used on highway department trucks.

    Since the HAWK only activates when a pedestrian is present, rather than a walk light as part of a stoplight cycle which takes time even when not used, I’m hopeful that drivers will accept the HAWK when my community gets its first one next year.


      1. Paul

        Thanks Sean,
        I’ll try to gently correct folks on the correct identification.

        Is Minnesota making any progress on the locations of the beg / command buttons? Often they are on the stoplight pole, which is several feet out of line with the curb cut. Inconvenient for a bicyclist, and would be a real hazard for wheelchair or scooter.


        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Most jurisdictions have one on the signal post (the direction that makes sense), and one on a stub pole. Here’s an example done by Mn/DOT.

          Hennepin County seems to be one of the worst agencies for new signal installations. Many do not have stub posts even when needed, and they only do APS on a case-by-case basis. And they do not do pedestrian detection or activate the walk signal automatically, even on legs where no changes would be needed to the green.

          1. Monte Castleman

            I’ve commented before about how backwards other agencies are compared to Mn/DOT, but in this case Mn/DOT is required make every signal they own “accessible” (Audible push-buttons parallel to the crosswalks, countdown timers, that metal bump thingy, curb cuts that meet standards) over the next few years as part of a legal settlement. The Mn/DOT intersection was a recent retrofit and the Hennepin County intersection was built just as the standards were being settled and before all new installations had to meet requirements. Agencies aren’t enthusiastic because of the expense, and the new buttons are expensive, have to be custom programmed, break a lot, and are knocked over by drunks a lot.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    My technical concern with HAWKs are that the two red lights are in the same configuration as the alternating red lights at a railroad crossing. Which obviously means do not proceed at a railroad crossing. But with a HAWK, it means stop and proceed with caution.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Actually, they seem pretty analogous. Most people will proceed after the train has passed, even if the lights haven’t stopped. This gets dangerous for double track — and is often restricted by gate arms — but is pretty common for single track.

  5. Thatcher Imboden

    Saw a HAWK in action in Downtown Salt Lake City. Seemed to work fine on the five-lane road I was walking along. The biggest value seems to be the safety improvement of crossing multi-lane streets where the double/triple threat is present.

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