Bill Burnett

P.E.

Vice President Public Development

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons, commonly known as HAWK or High-Intensity Activated crossWalK signals, are a relatively new way to facilitate pedestrian crossings without a fully signalized intersection.

The HAWK signal is highly visible to drivers. Trail crossings or busy segments of road where pedestrians dart into traffic because there are no crossings nearby can benefit from a HAWK signal. The National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends them for bicycle boulevards, mid-block crossings or trail crossings. 

HAWK Signal

How it works

A Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon is a group of three lights, two above and one beneath. When a pedestrian or cyclist pushes the button it activates the system and the single yellow light begins to flash, prior to turning a steady yellow to alert motorists. The higher the posted roadway speed the longer the recommended yellow cycle. Next, the two red beacons light up to signal cars to stop and pedestrians are given the OK to cross. When the countdown for crossing pedestrians has ended the red lights flash alternately to notify cars that the signal cycle is almost complete. Traffic is free to proceed during the red flashing lights if pedestrians have cleared the intersection. The beacon then goes dark and remains that way until activated again by another pedestrian.

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon - Arizona Department of Transportation

HAWK signals are recommended by the Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System along with advanced yield lines on multi-lane roads and rectangular rapid-flash beacons. 

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons or HAWK signals were first used in Tucson, Ariz. in the early 2000’s. A 2011 Federal Highway Administration study on the safety effectiveness of HAWK crossings using Tucson data noted a 69 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes in 21 HAWK signalized intersections there. 

However, a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon is not a replacement for a signalized intersection. Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons or solar powered strobe beacons may be a solution at intersections with less traffic or a lower speed limit.

Why you may need a HAWK beacon

1. Safety

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons are supported by Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD Section 4F.

2. Signal requirements 

If the crossing is part of a major pedestrian thoroughfare, trail, or bike crossing, but is at a mid-block location that does not warrant a traditional traffic signal, a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon may be a solution.

3. Moderate traffic

Justification for a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon is spelled out in the MUTCD based on speed, number of pedestrians crossing the street, and the number of vehicles approaching. If the conflict between vehicular and pedestrian traffic becomes too excessive, a bridge or a tunnel may be needed.

If a pedestrian crossing has moderate traffic with a need for improved safety, it may be time to consider a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon.