Post #260, James Madison Drive HAWK light

Posted on May 2, 2019

The new High-Intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) light is now up at James Madison Drive.  I’m writing this post based on a bad experience I had with the other HAWK light, just up the street at Maple and Pleasant (Post #225.)

The issue is the timing of the walk signal.  I think there needs to be a long lag between when the HAWK light turns red, and when the walk signal comes on.  In this post, I will explain why.

  1.  Drivers in this area routinely “clip” red lights.  That is, they run through the initial second or so of the red signal, driving at speed or speeding up.  Anyone who drives around here sees this happen every day.
  2. In most cases, that’s not a hugely dangerous thing to do.  If it were, we’d have a lot more accidents.
  3. People can get away with clipping the red light because it takes the cross-traffic a second or two to get into the intersection. In other words, clipping the red works because there is a lag between the time your light turns red, and the time there’s something in the intersection you are going to hit.
  4. For most intersections, there is also a lag between the time the walk light comes on, and the time the pedestrian reaches the oncoming automobile path-of-travel. The mere fact that the corner is rounded means that you have to travel some distance before you enter the path of vehicle travel.   At Maple and Nutley, it’s about 16′.  (This does not apply everywhere, and the outstanding exception to this is the W&OD crossing on Maple, which is a mid-block crossing, just like the HAWK light crossings.)
  5. But for the HAWK light, situated in the middle of the block, there’s no such buffer.  By the time you’ve taken, eh, less than two full steps, you are in the path of oncoming traffic.

Now for a little math.  The average person walks at about 3 miles an hour, which works out to 4.4 feet per second.  Suppose a pedestrian could instantly reach full walking speed the moment the walk signal comes on.  On the rounded corner, it takes the pedestrian 3.6 seconds to reach the point where a red-light runner would flatten him.  But at the HAWK light, the equivalent lag is just over one second.

To give the HAWK-light pedestrian the same lag as the rounded-corner pedestrian, you’d have to delay the walk light by about 2.5 seconds, after the HAWK light turns red.

Without that lag, you really can’t step into the road when HAWK light gives you the walk signal.  As I found out — almost the hard way — as described in Post #225.  It was dark, the driver who clipped the red light probably didn’t even know I was there.  But I had the sense to wait for traffic to stop before stepping into the road, despite the walk signal.

For the James Madison Drive HAWK light, throw in the fact that high school kids in general are in good shape and have quick reflexes, but may sometimes be a little short on caution.  Throw in the fact that a lot of drivers are not familiar with HAWK lights.  Maybe add a light drizzle or some wintry mix.

I realize these HAWK lights are designed for minimal disruption of traffic.  They give you time enough to scoot across the road, and that’s it.  That said, I think that adding some seconds of delay between red light and walk signal would be prudent for the new James Madison Drive HAWK light.