HAWK beacon

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HAWK Signal
Animation demonstrating the operation of a HAWK beacon (Click to animate)

A HAWK beacon (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon) is a traffic signal used to stop road traffic and allow pedestrians to cross safely. It is officially known as a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB). The purpose of a HAWK beacon is to allow protected pedestrian crossings, stopping road traffic only as needed. Research has shown motorists' compliance with the HAWK beacon at up to 97%, higher than with bare, un-signaled crossings,[1] but significantly lower than conventional traffic signals.[citation needed]

HAWK beacons are unique to a small number of pedestrian crossings in the United States only. Where standard traffic signal 'warrants' prevent the installation of standard three-color traffic signals, the HAWK beacon provides an alternative based on railway level crossings.

The first beacon was developed in Tucson, Arizona by Transportation Administrator R. B. Nassi, P.E., Ph.D., and installed in 2000. The bird name HAWK was suggested by his wife. Until December 2009, the HAWK beacon was categorized as an experimental device. United States transportation agencies wishing to use a HAWK signal were required to obtain approval from the Federal Highway Administration, as well as collect and submit data on the effectiveness of the device. It was finally included in the 2009 edition of the US Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as a "Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon."[2]

The vehicular signal faces suspended above the roadway have two round red lenses side-by-side, above a single yellow lens. There must be at least two HAWK beacons facing each vehicular approach to the crossing. Unlike an ordinary traffic signal, the HAWK beacon only lights when activated by a pedestrian who wishes to cross.[3] Generally, activation is by a push-button. The HAWK beacon sequentially flashes yellow, then displays steady yellow, and finally steady red over a period of several seconds. (To reduce bewilderment, extensive driver re-education has been recommended). Pedestrian signal heads at either end of the crosswalk display the upraised hand (don't walk) signal until the HAWK beacon displays th steady red signal. At this time, the pedestrian heads display the walking-person (walk) indication.

As at conventional signalized crossings, the pedestrian signals display flashing "don't walk" indications when typical pedestrians no longer have enough time to cross before the HAWK beacon releases cross traffic. At the same time as the "don't walk" indication, the HAWK beacon displays a flashing red indication to vehicular traffic (the equivalent of a stop sign, indicating that vehicles on the roadway must stop), and may proceed after yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk. When vehicle traffic is about to restart, the pedestrian signal goes to steady "don't walk". Then, the HAWK beacon goes dark and the pedestrian signal remains in "don't walk" mode until the signal is activated by another pedestrian.

A HAWK beacon is used only for some crosswalks; however, there is potential for it to be applied to crossings on multi-use paths. A HAWK (or other bird name system) beacon activated by bicyclists is also suggested. All of the functions of the HAWK signal can be performed with other more familiar traffic signal devices. For example, a similar traffic signal consisting of a single red light over a single yellow light is treated identically but is more familiar and less confusing to drivers.


HAWK signals are used on the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia for crossings that are not grade-separated on non-rural roads. Many of the HAWK crossings are from Smyrna just outside Atlanta to Powder Springs. Then occasionally, the rest of the way to the Alabama state line.[citation needed]

The city of Memphis installed two signals along the Shelby Farms Greenline in 2011: one at Highland Street and one at Graham Street. Both of these crossings are major thoroughfares. When the multi-use trail is extended east, this type of signal could be used at the crossing with Germantown Parkway.[4]


  1. ^ Alexandra, VA "Local Motion" webpage Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  2. ^ Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Chapter 4F, Federal Highway Administration, 2009, http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009/part4.pdf
  3. ^ Mike Chalmers, "New traffic signals make it safer for pedestrians". USA Today, August 9, 2010 Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  4. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcXEn83bv20

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