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.
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