A an example of a HAWK signal

The City of Tucson is investigating ways to make pedestrian signals throughout the region more bicycle friendly.

According to Tucson’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager Tom Thivener, there are over 90 pedestrian-specific HAWK signals in the Tucson area.

HAWKs allow pedestrians to cross major streets by stopping traffic using lights similar to stop lights, but after a brief period of time, the HAWK flashes red, which allows cars to treat the light like a stop sign. The HAWK is turned on when pedestrians press a button located at the corner of the intersection.

HAWK signals can be converted into TOUCAN signals, which provide facilities for both bicyclists and pedestrians. The trouble, Thivener says, is that the conversion process can cost $90,000-$150,000, which isn’t feasible in the current economic environment.

“There are some crossings that make sense to convert, but for some other crossings it is optimal to leave it as a HAWK and make as many bike-friendly improvements as allowed so that we can save some money and legitimize bicyclists,” Thivener said.

Thivener said he is working with department of transportation engineers to change and add additional signs to encourage bicycle use of the HAWK signals.

An example from the city's website of a TOUCAN
He said he’d like to change the sign, which hangs from the signal and usually says “crosswalk” to a sign that says “crossing” and has a picture of a pedestrian and a bicycle.

Thivener said he wants to add a second sign near the button that activates the light, which would tell cyclists they can also use the signal.

The HAWK signals pose some risk to cyclists who ride through the intersection after the light has been activated for some time because the lights will have started flashing and motorists will be proceeding through the intersection.

Because the lights can’t be seen by cyclists riding through the intersection, they have no idea when the light will begin flashing and because cyclists are moving so fast, Thivener said it could cause a collision.

To help prevent collisions, he said he also wants to add a sign telling cyclists to proceed through the intersection carefully.

“By and large, [HAWKs] do work for bicyclists if the bicyclist uses it cautiously,” Thivener said.

According to Thivener, the upgrades to the signage shouldn’t cost more than $3,000 per intersection.

Adding signage that expressly allows cyclists to use a HAWK signal would clear up what Thivener says is a gray area in the law as to whether or not cyclists are allowed to ride through crosswalks.

According to AZBikeLaw.org, the City of Tucson’s attorney suggested riding in crosswalks is not illegal illegal. Local bicycle attorney Eric Post prepared a paper arguing cyclists are allowed to ride through crosswalks.

Despite the legal arguments, cyclists occasionally receive tickets for riding in the crosswalk.

Thivener said he has suggested making the changes to a few intersections throughout the city to see how they work.

“At the very least I want to get one or two of these HAWKs to acknowledge bikes,” he said.

Editor’s note: I’ve begun working on a map plotting where each HAWK signal in Tucson is located. Please add the HAWKs you are aware of to the map.

View HAWK signals in Tucson in a larger map

17 thoughts on “Making pedestrian signals bike friendly”
  1. Changing the signage to allow bikes to use HAWKs without fear of a ticket from TPD… Excellent idea. I never understand why bikes are treated more like a car than a pedestrian.

  2. It would be nice to get some assurance from City Atty that Tucson Police won’t cite bikes riding in crosswalks.

  3. My biggest gripe is the button is too far away from the street. I have to waddle up the sidewalk to press the button. I don’t usually do that, only on really busy streets where I can’t get a break.

  4. ^^^^ agree with all the above comments. There is also a hawk crossing at country club and Silver

  5. Thanks for shining some light on this subject which seems to be a recurring problem/grey area. I think you misstated when you said above referenced 1998 memo from the Tuscon attorney’s office; that memo, as well as Eric Post’s paper agree that it is NOT illegal to ride through a crosswalk. However getting police and the city attorney to act appropriately can be challenging.

  6. So, how does the city’s attorney define the enforcement of a suggestion? Anyway, nothing written there really validates his suggestion. Is it all just an ‘out’ for the cheap tickets cops write?
    The Tuesday Night Bike Ride used the HAWKS on Treat at Grant and at Speedway last night and the cars were accommodating. Although some drivers will never like it and the laws may remain fuzzy and abused, left on their own, people will eventually work it out. Changing the signs would be good.

  7. The HAWK crossings are usefull, but the TOUCAN’s are complete waste of taxpayer money and make drivers angry. Cyclists should be pushing for repaving roads and more bike lanes. Not wasteful street crossings that many drivers disregard anyway. Do I feel safe when I have to move from the bike lane to the center of the road (many times, weaving through traffic to get there)? NO!!!!!

  8. “I never understand why bikes are treated more like a car than a pedestrian.”

    I think because bikes are a vehicle and feet are not. I mean, we aren’t allowed to ride on sidewalks, or ride opposite of traffic. It’s perfectly understandable that there would be question as to if bikes are allowed to use a HAWK. In some cases I don’t think bikes really need to be using HAWKS, but in others I think it can be pretty much necessary. I think this is where the tricky subject of the differing opinions on what Bike/Car equality means comes in…

  9. If you want cycling culture to become larger here you can’t just think of cycling as cycle jocks and male commuters on fixies. You want higher numbers of people of both sexes and all ages. If a kid or older person, or any person who is just getting into cycling feels like they need a light to cross a major intersection to be safe, let them do it.

  10. I’m a UA student. There is a HAWK on the southern edge of the University, right by Sixth Street Garage, that spans E. 6th St. and sort of connects a certain bike path on the north side and Fremont Ave on the south side.

    The north bike path passes under the garage, and there are a lot of bike racks and lockers there, not to mention a CatTran bus stop. On the south side, Fremont Ave. has two bike shops and some restaurants.

    If the government is going to convert any HAWKs into TOUCANs, I’d want it to be this one. Seriously, a bike path leads right to it. And lots of bicyclists use it.

    But then again, there’s a nice bike-friendly intersection a quarter mile away on Highland Ave, and maybe there are HAWKs elsewhere in Tucson that don’t have another bike-friendly intersection nearby and that would be a better place to convert.

    It would be nice, nonetheless.

  11. That crossing is a Pelican…it stops one lane of traffic at a time and makes pedestrians walk along a median for a short distance. They are awkward for bicycles…I am not sure why this design was thought to be good.

  12. The intersection at Park & 6th is almost aready a Toucan since cars cannot procede across 6th…all that would need to be done is to make a bicycle sequence out of it. The crossing does not, however, tie into a bike path directly.
    Ideally, there should be an underpass or two on 6th as on Speedway. They would be useful now and probably prove even more handy in the future.

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